Emergence of young talent helps ease W-League into post-Sam Kerr era | Ella Reilly | Football


After an off-season which seemingly stretched for a lifetime, the 2019-20 W-League is finally underway – to quite some relief. The first round kicked off a mere 24 hours after Australia’s best player confirmed her move to Chelsea and heralded a league desperately readjusting in the post-Sam Kerr era.

The storylines thrown up by these opening exchanges – the face-off between last season’s premiers and champions in this year’s first Big Blue; a club legend returning to her old stomping ground in new colours; the blooding in of new import players – wrenched attentions immediately back onto the league and the players still in it.

These narratives were ripe with potential, but there was none more striking than those offered by two notable young forwards: Mary Fowler and Shadeene Evans.

Sixteen-year-old Fowler, Kerr’s heir apparent, featured in the first “Hersday” fixture of the season as Western Sydney Wanderers hosted Adelaide United. The talented young forward, a four-time Matilda making her first professional appearance, led Adelaide’s line in the No 9 shirt.

Before kick-off, questions were asked as to how she might make the step up to full-time senior football at such a tender age, how she would adapt to the demands of the W-League. She gave an emphatic answer with her first W-League goal after just 39 minutes.

The second Alex Huynh left out out her leg in an attempt to prevent the nimble Fowler from advancing any further into the penalty area, there was no question as to who would be charged with taking the spot kick. Composure personified as she shouldered on the responsibility, Fowler took the honour of becoming the first goalscorer of the new season.

For Fowler, opening her professional account relieves the pressure to some extent. The teenager has made no bones about the fact that she is here to score goalsand an attack is being built around her own prodigious potential. How that will manifest as the season progresses remains to be seen, but what cannot go unnoticed for now is how she threatened the Wanderers back line throughout Thursday’s game. It was a a warning to the rest of the W-League. Mary Fowler is here. Take note.

Mary Fowler

Mary Fowler looks to get a shot off at Marconi Stadium. Photograph: Brett Hemmings/Getty Images

On Sunday, as the 19th edition of the W-League’s Big Blue entered its 86th minute, there was little chance of Sydney FC letting the game slip from their fingers with a two-goal buffer and only minutes left on the clock. Having shown themselves to have recruited astutely during the off-season, , Sydney could have directed the ball to the corners and managed the game until the clock hit 90.

Cue Evans, who entered the fray to make only her second W-League appearance, replacing the returning Remy Siemsen, whose two goals had put the defending champions into a match-winning position. With no pressure on her shoulders – Siemson’s first half efforts had ensured that – Evans had the freedom to announce herself to the game any way she liked.

And so she did. Evans’s first act was to latch onto a ball pumped down the right wing, making herself a thorn in the side of American defender Emily Menges, as she cleverly used her body to dispossess the American and then turn the recently capped Matilda Jenna McCormick, to make her first foray into the penalty area. Evans’s own warning sounded out: she too is here to play.

Then, as she ghosted between Emma Robers and Haley Hanson to meet Angelique Hristodoulou’s 92nd minute cross, there was a hint of inevitability about the outcome. Evans’s celebration was something to behold as she wheeled away in an exuberant expression of pure, unbridled delight. In that instance there was more than something reminiscent of the unadulterated joy Kerr expresses in her own goals.

Both moments, both goals, could have import beyond the context of games in which they were scored.

Ultimately, Fowler’s goal counted for nought on the night, as Adelaide succumbed 2-1 to Western Sydney; and Sydney, mathematically, didn’t need Evans’s strike as Victory were already well beaten.

In their own discrete moments, neither youngsters’ goals meant much in the immediacy of the match, yet therein lies the pure, uncomplicated joy and significance of such moments, confined as they are to the seconds in which they occur.

As more young players grace W-League pitches and experience the rush of scoring their first goals, in a season where many teams are rebuilding, more moments like these will undoubtedly emerge. And as one superstar departs the W-League, others are nascent and beginning to sparkle.


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