Adelaide United are enjoying the greatest season in their history. Ben Gilby had the opportunity to speak to two of their key young players, striker Chelsie Dawber who has scored 75 goals in 46 games at State League level and Emily Condon, who made her W-League debut for the South Australian side at the age of 15 and holds a full Matildas cap.
Can you give us a bit of information about your background?
CHELSIE DAWBER: I grew up in Salisbury Heights, I have two brothers who also play soccer in the SA NPL (the elite level of the South Australian State League). My older brother plays for Metro Stars and my younger brother plays for Adelaide City (in the South Australian State League). I’ve been playing football since I was three or four years-old. The whole side of my Dad’s family plays soccer and they are originally from Liverpool in England.
You’re a Liverpool supporter then?
Emily, what about yourself?
EMILY CONDON: I’m part of a family of five, I have an older brother, a younger brother and my Mum and Dad. We grew up in Port Pirie (142 miles north of Adelaide). I started playing soccer when I was seven years old for the local school teams, St. Mark’s College. At the time it was almost all boys, only a handful of girls.
What has you own footballing journey been so far?
CD: I first played among boys up until I was twelve. I was then selected in the South Australian state team and played in the state system until I was seventeen. I’ve played for Adelaide City in the SANPL (state league) for the last three years and Adelaide United in the W-League for the past four years.
EC: After playing for my school, I got selected into the local boys club, the Northern Demons and I played in an U13s team with my older brother, who is two years older, so I was playing two years up from my age group with him and around a lot of his mates. I was then in the South Australia State Team at U13s and also went through U15s and U17s as well. Sometime around then I was invited to my first Young Matildas camp. I got selected into the team and we travelled to Vietnam. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel on five overseas trips with the Young Matildas team which is very exciting. At the age of fifteen, I signed my first professional contract for Adelaide United. So I was very young at the time playing with a lot of older girls. This is now my eighth season at United. Two years ago I went away to live in Sydney for a few months as part of the Future Matildas program there. Just prior to that I was fortunate enough to travel away with the senior Matildas squad and got to make my debut against Portugal in the 2018 Algarve Cup and now here I am back at Adelaide United!
Who have been your most important supporters in your career so far whether it be family or most prominent coaches?
CD: My biggest supporters have always been my family. Both of my parents and brothers are really supportive. My Grandad has also been great. He would always call me up after games and stuff to talk about my soccer. In terms of coaches, my coach at Adelaide City two years ago, Andy Calderbank, had a big positive influence on me as well as Ivan Karlovic that year playing with Adelaide United.
Why have these people been so important to you, Chelsie?
CD: Both Andy and Ivan believed in me which instilled confidence in myself that I was good enough to play W-League week in week out and push me to the next level. I’m a confidence player, so they had a big impact on me.
Emily, who has it been for you?
EC: My Mum and my Dad. For me living in the country there was hours and hours spent travelling back and forward to Adelaide for training three or four times a week (Port Pirie to Adelaide is at least a five hour round-trip), so massive credit to them. I couldn’t have done it without them. I’d also like to give credit to George and Connie Comitzus who were my coaches growing up in an all-boys state and championships team up in Port Pirie. Also to Jeff Napier. I was fortunate that my brother used to play and he used to travel to Jeff Napier’s Academy and go to England. From there I got to know Jeff and train with Jeff a lot. He’s really helped my skill development and I pretty much credit him for making me the player I am today.
What has been the biggest challenge that you have faced in your career so far?
CD: That would have to be my post-concussion syndrome which I suffered in 2016 which meant I didn’t go to school and didn’t play soccer for pretty much eight or nine months. That was a slow process coming back into training. It happened when I hit my head on a wall after being hit by a ball at an indoor tournament.
So Chelsie, through that period did you ever come close to giving up, or did it help you to come back stronger?
CD: A brain injury is very different to a broken leg or something. I knew when I was going to get better. The thing was a fear of the unknown. I did come out more stronger, more determined to play. I realised how much I do enjoy soccer and that I wanted to pursue it as a career.
And for you, Emily?
EC: I’ve been fortunate enough not to have suffered any major injuries. However, coming back from the Young Matildas a few years ago I got really badly sick with Rhinovirus. If you Google it, it just says it’s a common cold, but it completely wiped me out for four months. I was back ready to start a new W-League season and it was just a health battle for me really. I was itching to come back every week and play a game for Adelaide United but just couldn’t do it, so that would be the major challenge. In the past I’ve been dropped from teams and things like that, but fighting that health battle was the toughest.
Tell us about life at Adelaide United in terms of atmosphere, ethos etc?
CD: It’s definitely evolved in the few years that I’ve been involved. Having the same core girls in the team has made a huge difference. We’re all best friends, we all hang out outside of training and see each other each day, sometimes twice a day. It’s a great atmosphere to be in and culture.
EC: We really understand each other. There’s a core group of girls and we’ve gelled well as a team this year. This season the environment is better, a lot more positive.
What has Adrian Stenta brought to the club since he came in as head coach?
CD: He has instilled a belief in us. We’re doing things for the first time this year – winning more games than we ever have and creating that home grown vibe that we have around the team – that South Australia has enough to be a strong contender in the league. He has instilled that belief that we are good enough to play Finals.
EC: Adrian was assistant to Ivan (Karlovic) so he’s been among this core group of girls for a couple of seasons now. He’s got to know us and our style of play and things like that. He understands the individual player which has really helped this season with positioning and knowing where to play players which has helped the group of girls and our mannerisms. Going into training and games we really understand each other.
Adelaide United have had a great run of results. What do you feel are the reasons behind them and what do the team need to do to ensure they make Finals football for the first time this season?
CD: It’s definitely the best start we’ve had to a season. The biggest thing is that this is the third or fourth year of us all playing together, so we’ve got used to what different players like. In terms of ensuring we make finals – we’ve just got to keep going but most importantly keep believing in ourselves that we are good enough to do it.
EC: This is our best season to date. We’re pushing for Finals this year which is a first for the club. It’s a credit to the core group of girls who have stuck together over the years no matter how we’ve gone previously. A lot of players have kept at the club and just kept pushing. We’ve all got that same goal that we want to make Finals. We are a team that are competitive and not just there to make up numbers. All of us have that one mind set. Ivan helped to instil that in us in the previous years. The coaching staff are all on the same page.
Emily, you’re a South Australian and have been at the club since 2013, how have the club evolved in that time? What is it about the club that has kept you there so long?
EC: Growing up, I always wanted to play for Adelaide United, they are my home town team. To represent Adelaide United and South Australia was always a goal of mine which can be seen with all the travelling I did when I was younger. The club is getting stronger each year. The improvement and the time and the care that Adelaide United are putting into the women’s side has been very evident over the past couple of seasons in terms of training venues and being able to play a couple of matches at Coopers Stadium (the men’s A-League side’s 16,500 capacity stadium). We’d love to play a couple more games there, but we take what we can get! In terms of promotion and growing of the game in South Australia, there are a lot more girls playing the sport now.
Chelsie, you made your debut for Adelaide United as a 16 year-old in 2017. What was it like coming into the side at such a young age?
CD: It was quite scary coming into a group of older girls. I felt welcomed but it did take a time for me to find my feet, but it was a pretty cool experience to be playing at sixteen. Not many girls get that opportunity, particularly at the age of sixteen. It was pretty exciting!
Emily, you touched on briefly earlier being picked for the senior Matildas side in 2018. What was that experience like?
EC: I went to one lead-up camp before the Algarve Cup when Alen Stajcic called me and told me to pack my bags for Portugal. My goal growing up was to one day represent Australia by playing for the Matildas. It’s such an honour to represent your country. All that work that you’ve put in as a kid and growing up with all that travelling made it feel worth it in the end. Obviously it was a cool experience to be playing with some of the best players in the world like Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord. To have the opportunity to travel with the team and be in that environment and at that level was an amazing experience and something I was striving for my entire life. My debut against Portugal was such an honour but very, very nerve racking.
So, now obviously there’s a new head coach, Tony Gustavsson at the helm of the Matildas. What do you think you need to do to return to national colours?
EC: He is going to come in with his own mind-set of what he wants in the players in his team. We’ve got a couple of big tournaments coming up starting with the Olympics and it’s always in the back of my mind to make it back to the national level. All I can do really is to try to keep performing week in week out and put my best efforts out on the park. We’ve got the last few games of this W-League seasons ahead, so I have to be at my best. That’s all I can control at the moment.
Chelsie, you came back last year after the concussion lay-off and won the W-League Rising Star Award, how would you review your 2019/20 season?
CD: It was definitely a break-out season for me. It was coming off a season with Adelaide City with the coach Andy (Calderbank), so I really believed in myself through the off-season. Moving to the W-League, I was playing week in week out made a big difference. I think my W-League success season was really put down to all the hard work I did in the off season.
Chelsie, you’ve played for the Young Matildas and were involved in a Future Matildas camp at the back end of last year. What were those experiences like on and off the pitch?
CD: I did U14s and U18s ones. The U18s one was pretty cool, we had the senior Matildas assistant coach there some of the time. It was different going into that not knowing anyone as they were all from Sydney but it was a great experience. I really enjoyed learning from all the other players and coaches. The camp I just went to in September was really awesome. It had all the coaches from the Matildas. We did all the things that the senior team do; how they prepare, how they eat. We also did education and training things which were important and pretty cool too. That was a great experience for myself. I don’t think I felt out of place, but I do need to be doing a lot more outside of that program to be pushing towards a place in the senior Matildas squad.
What would you like to achieve in the game over the next five years – with Adelaide United and the Matildas, but also for yourself?
CD: In terms of the club, if we can keep the same core group of players, we should be pushing Finals every year. That should be the ultimate goal for us. We need to maybe add a few more players whether that be from South Australia, interstate or overseas, but that is the main thing. Personally, I’m studying at the moment, I’d like to complete my degree in Speech Pathology and I’m interested in going to play overseas. I’m not really sure where or when yet, but it’s something I’d like to do in the next five years. In terms of the Matildas, I’m definitely looking at being in the mix for the 2023 World Cup squad, but I know I need to get some overseas experience to be able to do that and I need to be excelling and succeeding in the W-League each week. Obviously I have lots of work to do outside the W-League program in the off-season and I need to be doing a bit more than everyone else to make it.
EC: Well, firstly with Adelaide United, obviously every time you play for the club you want them to do the best they can and for us that is making Finals. I’m hoping that we can achieve that goal this season and build on that, so always making Finals then needs to be the goal before moving on to making a Grand Final and then winning that. Also, it’s really important to help the club build – promote it, get more girls involved and help create a pathway into the W-League. I’d like to see a youth league or a reserves league like they have with the men – expanding the game in that sense. Being back for the Matildas and representing my country again is obviously a goal that I’ve set for myself so sometime in the future I’d like to achieve that, but I can only control what I can. If an option came up to play overseas in August, I’d consider it, but at the moment I’m just happy here playing for Adelaide United.
Ahead of this season’s W-League Finals Impetus will be talking EXCLUSIVELY to Adelaide United Head of Women’s Football Ivan Karlovic. Keep your eyes peeled on social media!
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