To enhance our coverage of the NPL WA Women’s competition this season, Impetus will be publishing regular interviews with players and coaches from across the league. To kick our WA On Wednesday series off, in the first of a two-part feature, Tahlia D’Opera, defender at Balcatta Etna speaks to Impetus’ Ben Gilby. Part One focuses on the close links between the D’Opera family and the Balcatta Etna club. Tahlia also discusses her footballing journey and the importance of female role models in male-dominated sports (20/4/22).
Above: Tahlia D’Opera – an integral part of Balcatta Etna. Photo: JASP Photography, supplied by Tahlia D’Opera.
The D’Opera family form a major part of the Balcatta Etna set-up.
As well as Tahlia and her twin sister Monique being part of the playing squad, mother Anthea has been a key part of the club’s organisational and administrative group for nine years commencing with voluntary administrative duties and managerial responsibilities when Tahlia and Monique arrived at the club in 2013. Since then, all three members of the family have played an essential role at the club.
“Mum has played a pivotal administrative role in female football at Balcatta Etna Football Club and is a well-respected ambassador in the Western Australian Female Football NPL Women (NPLW) and Junior Girls League”, Tahlia outlined. “She has willingly taken on Junior Girls and NPLW registration duties and co-ordinating and organising annual Gala Presentation Evenings to ensure the advocacy and recognition of female football at the club level.”
As for her own introduction to football, the Balcatta Etna defender revealed: “As a young girl, it used to be routine to attend my older brother Matthew’s training and games. He was a goalkeeper and often needed people to fire in shots or practice within the backyard and of course, this was myself and my twin sister Monique.
“Reflecting back to 2006, the Female Football Pathway was very novel with most young girls who wanted to play competitively joining the Junior Boys Leagues. After begging my parents to play, I commenced my junior playing years at Wembley Down’s Soccer Club, playing in the Junior Boys’ Leagues until 2013. At the time, of course, my family was concerned about myself and my sister being pushed around by the boys but like most passionate young girls at the time, we used to get knocked and stood straight back up. I reflect back on these junior years and I was very fortunate to be surrounded by such a supportive young group of boys and coaches.
“In 2013, I transferred to Balcatta Soccer Club under Lisa Tana where I played U15s Girls for one season, before quickly transitioning into the Senior Women’s Team (Bankwest Women’s State League at the time) at the age of 15.
“Whilst still playing for Balcatta FC, I was selected as an associate for the National Training Centre (NTC) with coach Jessine Bonzas in 2014 for two years, where I was able to participate in elite training and camps, and learn from so many high-quality players, who I still play either alongside at Balcatta or for other clubs in the NPLW.
“Since 2014, my time as a member of the Senior Women’s side has been filled with many highlights and memories that I’ll cherish for a lifetime. These include winning the Top Four Championship in its inaugural year in 2018, winning the Night Series in 2021, playing my 100th First Team game in 2021, and picking up a couple of awards along the way, including 2021 Club Player of the Year.
“I’ve learnt many lessons as a footballer, particularly at Balcatta Etna FC under Lisa Tana. She has taught me how to be loyal, how to win graciously and how to learn in defeat. I think back to my first Premier League game at the age of 15 when she reminded me to be brave, and even if I wasn’t, pretend to be, because no one can tell the difference.”Tahlia D’Opera, Balcatta Etna FC.
“Most importantly, through the people I’ve met and coaches I’ve had throughout my football journey, I have been taught to leave everything better than I found it, and this has driven my passion for coaching young players, mentoring others, and fostering relationships with my team-mates.
“Someone once told me, you won’t always remember what someone has said, but you will remember how they made you feel. I am very grateful for all the older and experienced players that lead me to where I am now and who have inspired me to help others as they did for me.”
With so many great football achievements and memories behind her already, I wondered how Tahlia would now describe herself as a player.
“Ooh! That’s a tough question! I like to think I’m dynamic, so I can either play a full 90 minutes or substitute in depending on what the match demands.
“I’m continually looking to combine with the midfield or threaten the opposing defence where possible, but I’m pretty disciplined with the coaches tactics, so will try to keep the ball in possession.
“I’m a lifelong learner so I’m always looking for ways to develop or improve my skills and confidence on the ball. I’ve recently focused more on my functional strength and fitness which has proven positive so far so I’m hoping for this to transition into my game. I also don’t mind a conversation with the referees as well!”
It is often said these days in relation to the importance of providing young girls with sporting role models that “you can’t be who you can’t see”. Tahlia admits that she had few female sporting idols growing up, but she is thrilled to see the situation changing for the current generation.
“With the women’s game still evolving, female footballers didn’t really have a place in the spotlight during the early years of my football journey.
“My first football jersey was a David Beckham number seven England 2003-2005 home jersey. Being such as household name at the time, it was inevitable to watch his incredible class, passing ability, and freekicks.
“However growing up and playing in a more defensive role, I’ve always loved watching Sergio Ramos at Real Madrid – his aggression, his leadership, his technique, and his success. I’d be lying if I said I did have one of his famous kits.
“Having said this, female athletes in male-dominated sports inspire me on each occasion. To note, athletes such as Ronda Rowsey (UFC Athlete) and Sam Kerr’s demonstrations of persistence is truly inspirational.
“With the overall growth of the female football over the past few years, the success of the Matildas, and hosting the 2023 World Cup, young female players are surrounded by many role models and leaders to look up to at the club, state, and national team level which is inspiring. Watching the Matildas play together, with their comradery and ‘Never Say Die’ attitude, it’s hard not get goosebumps.”
Don’t miss Part Two of our chat with Tahlia D’Opera next Wednesday when the Balcatta Etna defender reviews the club’s 2021 campaign and considers the new season of the NPL WA Women’s competition.
Impetus’ weekly round-ups of all the NPL WA Women’s matches are published on the site every Monday. This week’s can be read here: https://impetusfootball.org/2022/04/18/npl-wa-women-round-three-wrap/