Kelly Stirton on Leading The ParaMatildas

ParaMatildas head coach Kelly Stirton answered Impetus’ Ben Gilby‘s questions ahead of the team’s opening World Cup match today (11/5/22).

Above: ParaMatildas head coach Kelly Stirton. Photo: Ann Odong – Football Australia.

We want to now show that the barrier is broken for women in this sport. Women who have CP, ABI, and have had strokes – nothing can stop them now, they are at a World Cup. The ParaMatildas are breaking down barriers.

Kelly Stirton, head coach, the ParaMatildas.

ParaMatildas head coach Kelly Stirton has been a part of the coaching scene in Australian women’s football for some time. It is something she has a huge enthusiasm for.

“My coaching journey started with Capital Football (based in Canberra) with the Powerchair team,” Stirton told us, “and from there to our CP (Cerebral Palsy) team and then I was involved with programmes such as All Abilities at Canberra United underneath the A-League – one of the first of in the country and now I am coaching the ParaMatildas. I absolutely love coaching. I see the happiness that coaching brings to people and bringing them new skills.”

However, the ParaMatildas’ head coach’s connection with football goes back further as a player. It was a career that saw her suffer and have to comeback from several major injuries.

“That’s the toughest challenge I’ve had in football. I had five knee reconstructions and four ankle reconstructions as well assome other surgery. Those reconstructions took me out of the sport and I don’t like playing anymore!”

With the ParaMatildas kicking off their first World Cup adventure today, Stirton outlined the fact that their backstory goes back three years.

Above: ParaMatildas head coach Kelly Stirton makes a point to her players in training. Photo: Ann Odong – Football Australia.

“The ParaMatildas story began in 2019 after the CP national tournament. We had three girls play in my ACT team and two in the New South Wales team. From there, we had an Oceania camp where we had four Japanese players come in and train with 20 Australian girls. From there, we decided to build an Australian team. From there COVID hit, but fundraising began and here we are playing in Spain at the World Cup.”

With the process in place, the ParaMatildas head coach emphasised just how groundbreaking the whole environment is.

“Everyone is so new, it is a learning experience for all of us,” Stirton admitted, “for all of the competing nations. No-one has played in a tournament like this before. We just need to make sure we are mentally, physically, and emotionally ready to take the field. We need to ensure we can overcome any injuries or anything else before we step onto the field for that first time.”

The ParaMatildas head coach highlighted what she knows about her team’s opposition and where she sees their threats.

“America probably look to be the strongest team. They are very solid, have great two-touch play. The Netherlands are the quiet achievers. They have a very young squad, similar to us. They have quick players and some with lethal shots. Japan are similar too, but have only brought six players to the tournament. The others have at least eight. Spain are the home country and have the advantage of the support behind them. They are young too. We need to be careful against them as quick, agile players are tough to defend against. However, I’m not too worried.”

Above: ParaMatildas head coach Kelly Stirton leads training. Photo: Ann Odong – Football Australia.

Whilst being aware of the opposition threat, Stirton is full of praise for her squad. She believes that every single one of the 10 players who are part of the ParaMatildas first World Cup squad have a lot to offer.

“Our whole team all have skills that we can utilise. Charlize Tran is the youngest player (aged 15). Lainee Harrison is super quick up-front. Georgia Beikhoff, one of our co-captains is nice and solid in that midfield and defensive line. Eloise Northam sits in the back-line – she is very agile and bubbly. She can also hit a cracker of a shot. Tahlia Blanshard is back from jaw surgery. We’ve been working to get her back on the pitch, she is there now and so solid, scoring goals in training which is awesome to see.

“Katelyn Smith in goal is great, really bubbly, and great with her feet. Nicole Christodoulou suffered two strokes when she was younger and has the passion, encouragement, and drive of the girls. Then there is Matilda Mason who is very quick and still learning football after coming to the game in 2019 from hockey. Being on the world stage will be different for her, but we have all the confidence in her. Holly Saunders is in goal too, still working on her touch, but she’s great too with her hands. There’s Rae Anderson too, a Paralympian, has played multiple sports and knows how to pick up the girls.”

In terms of what the ParaMatildas head coach wants to see from her team across the tournament, Stirton is aware of the deeper legacy that her team can lay down. “We’ve only been together for eight weeks as a team and are coming into this tournament. As I’ve said to the girls, yes, we’d love to win it, but I want us to learn and develop from this experience.

“We want to now show that the barrier is broken for women in this sport. Women who have CP, ABI, and have had strokes. Nothing can stop them now, they are at a World Cup. The ParaMatildas are breaking down barriers.”

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