Majella Card is a well-known fan of women’s football in Australia due to her work with the Matildas Active Support and Brisbane’s Roar Corps supporters group. Ben Gilby spoke to her ahead of the Queensland side’s Finals campaign.
We opened our conversation by exploring the history of the Roar’s women’s football side.
“Brisbane Roar started life as the Queensland Roar in 2008 as one of the foundation teams of the W-League – the club changed names to Brisbane Roar in 2009. We have a really proud history at the club, having taken the Premiership and Championship double in the inaugural season as the first of three total Premierships and two Championships in the league’s history. We have been really fortunate to have so many wonderful players kit up for us, including Nadine Angerer when she was FIFA World Player of the Year! We’ve had a host of Matildas players, none more noteworthy than Clare Polkinghorne who had been with us from the very beginning until the end of the regular season this year when she went to Sweden. She is a legend of the club. We haven’t lifted any silverware since our Premiership in 2017/18, but hoping to change that this season.”
With Majella a key member of the Roar Corps fans group, I was keen to know what a typical match day looked like from their perspective.
“A Roar home game is always a really fun experience. Game day involves getting to the ground early and setting up banners and the active area before the game. For the past couple of seasons we have played games between Dolphin Stadium in Redcliffe to the north of Brisbane or Lions Stadium in the west of the city. Whichever venue, many fans drop into the clubs attached to the ground to catch up and have a meal and a few beverages before the game. We have a really diverse and raucous crowd at games and The Roar Corps aim keep up and making noise for the full game with chants and fun banter. I’m usually on one of the drums during games and never have much of a voice remaining when the whistle blows! One of the great things about W-League is also the time the players take to speak with fans after the games. COVID restrictions have put a bit of a dampener on getting autographs recently, but we’ve been so grateful to still be able to attend games. There is always a line-up of kids (and adults!) waiting to say hi to players after the game and they are really generous with their time.”
This season has been substantially different in the W-League, initially due to the coronavirus pandemic, which made life, particularly at the beginning of the campaign very difficult.
“Several players starting the season shortly after fourteen days of hotel quarantine wasn’t ideal for us,” says Majella. “Uncertainty around the schedule and who and when you might be playing in the upcoming weeks must also disrupt plans – but all teams had to deal with that. From a fan perspective I’ve been disappointed having two away trips cancelled because of border closures and fixture changes, but I was lucky enough to get down to see the Roar’s win against Sydney which was a really fun trip. Overall I think we have been really fortunate being able to get the games completed like we have, and especially being able to have fans in the stands. In the grand scheme of things I’m really grateful for all of the work people have done behind the scenes so we can have a safe and fun season for everyone.
Brisbane Roar were among the favourites for the W-League title this season and there was great surprise therefore when they opened the campaign with four successive draws. Majella wasn’t too concerned however.
“It was very frustrating, impatiently waiting for the goals to come that I knew the team were capable of. The first game against Melbourne City in particular was hard to take as we were totally dominant, but I had to put it down to rustiness of the new season and an amazing performance from their keeper Teagan Micah to deny us. However throughout all of the four draws I was always really happy with our defence. Two legends in Clare Polkinghorne and Kim Carroll were rocks at the back, and then our young fullbacks Wini Heatley and Jamilla Rankin were also looking really strong. So while some of the missed shots were getting frustrating, we had a really solid foundation and I felt that getting the confidence in front of goals was only a matter of time. That 6-0 win against Melbourne Victory to start our winning streak was one helluva stress release!”
As Majella hinted once Brisbane grabbed their first win, success just kept on coming: “I think the run was started due to a combination of things. Probably confidence in front of goal, getting minutes into the legs of players and, yeah, gelling as a team. It’s no coincidence that the winning streak coincided with Emily Gielnik starting to slot the goals away. I think Emily can be a real confidence player so finally getting a goal to salvage a draw against Newcastle must have given her a boost for the following games. Tameka Yallop was coming back from an extended break and starting her family, so while she had been working really hard in those early games as she always does, I think those extra game minutes to get her touch back was also a factor. While much had been made of the number of Matildas we have, there has also been a lot of change from last season and the team has taken time to settle and get used to playing with each other. Younger players like Rankin and Heatley stepping up into regular starting roles, Mariel Hecher playing her first W-League season after starring in the NPLW in Queensland, and New Zealand international Liv Chance also playing W-League for the first time. Having that time to gel in training and learning to execute in games just seemed to take a little longer than we had hoped, but they are looking very good now.”
Like so many of the other W-League sides, it is the young generation of Roar stars that have caught the eye of Majella this season: “Matildas aside, three players have really stood out for me. Our two full backs, Wini Heatley and Jamilla Rankin have been really great this season. They both bring so much in defence and attack on the wings – it’s been great to see them both step up to own those starting positions, they are certainly stars of the future. Liv Chance has also been an amazing addition to our midfield. She is such a crafty player and her passing has really been key to opening up our attack. She will be a crucial part of our run into finals.”
As with the vast majority of Australian women’s football fans, the emergence of the youngsters this season has been a major part of making the campaign so enjoyable.
“It has been great seeing local talent get more game time across the league in all teams. Adelaide are seeing the benefit of investing in their local talent this season. Sydney FC have had a relatively stable squad of players and have been able to draw on some of the best talent in the NPLW NSW. At Brisbane, we have benefitted from those Matildas who have come home from Europe choosing to play at home and also some of the best from the local Queensland competition stepping up. Certainly we’ve seen a bit of a drop in quality after losing some Matildas and imports, but I think teams that invest in supporting local pathways and making their club a supportive and high quality place to play will always set themselves up for success. The teams that will be heavyweights into the future will be those who can attract and keep their best local talent and also attract interstate players with club set-ups that are appealing for player development.”
With Brisbane having such a successful season leading up to the Finals, I wanted to ask Majella what she thinks the club need to do to ensure they make a Grand final this year.
“Consistency and continuing to play good team football. A big strength for us has been our depth and having strong players across the park and not relying on a small number of players to run the show. We have attacking threats from multiple avenues and maintaining our solid defence will put the Roar in a good position.”
Yet Brisbane’s finals hopes have taken a twist with the loss of two key players, Clare Polkinghorne and Emily Gielnik to Sweden at the end of the regular season. I wondered how Majella assessed the consequences of this.
“Their presence, experience and class cannot be easily replaced. Polkinghorne has been a rock in defence and has been outstanding yet again this season, and losing the (likely) Golden Boot winner in Emily Gielnik is a worry for our team that has struggled at times to put the ball in the back of the net. But it is also a great opportunity for some of our emerging players to step up in a semi-final.”
“Looking at the wider squad, we have cover in those positions, and a number of players like Izzy Dalton, Wini Heatley and Kaitlyn Torpey who can move position as needed. I would expect to see Torpey get some more game time in the finals and she is a great player to be able to bring in to a bigger role.”
We ended by looking ahead to the future of the W-League both in Brisbane and more widely in Australia: “The Roar have been fortunate this year having some really high quality Matildas players come back to play for us, but that may not be the case in future years. Queensland has always been a great talent pool for footballers so there will always be good talent to draw from locally. A challenge will be keeping that local talent in Brisbane when other clubs are competing for the best in Australia as well. As I mentioned before, one of the biggest factors will be ensuring the club provides a supportive environment for players so the Roar can keep and attract the best players in the league.”
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