Perth Red Star’s Larissa Walsh recently played her 230th game for the club, including matches under their previous guise as the Northern Redbacks. She has been part of one of Western Australia’s foremost women’s sporting teams for 10 years now. In the latest of our WA On Wednesday interview features with NPL WA Women players, Larissa spoke to Impetus’ Ben Gilby about her career so far (18/5/22).
Above: Larissa Walsh captured on a typical marauding run for Northern Redbacks in this year’s Night Series Grand Final against Balcatta Etna. Photo supplied to Impetus by: Perth RedStar.
Larissa Walsh has been in outstanding form this season, scoring 10 goals for Perth RedStar in their first six matches as her team have built a big lead at the top of the table. She is arguably the outstanding player in the WA NPL Women’s competition right now.
Walsh was brought up in the town of Albany – Western Australia’s southern-most city – located around 260 miles south-east of Perth. Coming from a football-centred family, she started playing at the age of four.
“I grew up always being down at the soccer grounds every day watching my dad play or coach while also playing myself. I played in both the boy’s and women’s leagues while also playing for my school and Albany at country week.”
Walsh highlights the importance of her father in her career from those early days watching him play. “He was a huge idol for me as a kid. I could never get the ball off him when we went for a kick in the park!” she smiles. “While watching his games, I remember him doing all these tricks and still keeping the ball.
“I then moved to Perth after finishing school. One of my coaches down in Albany played for Northern Redbacks previously and was back playing there, so she dragged me along to a training session. This was back at the start of 2012. Since then, I have always played for the Northern Redbacks – now Perth RedStar.”
Walsh is a player who catches the eye instantly on the wing with her pace and ability to take on and beat players. Qualities that she feels are well suited to playing for the club. “The most important aspect of my game is my speed, and because of this I think I am more suited for an attacking style of play where the team can do quick counter-attacks or sudden burst of plays.”
Walsh has now been part of the club for 10 years. Known as Northern Redbacks, the team have been Western Australia’s most successful female-only club. They had won 15 league championships and nine state league cups along with becoming Inter-State Challenge Cup winners in 2013 after beating Adelaide City.
Big-name players such as Lisa De Vanna and Kim Carroll have all been part of the club, who have long had a successful youth policy.
Having been part of this team for so long, Walsh has experienced some of the biggest highs in Western Australian women’s football.
“There are so many moments I am so proud of. Personally, there would be three key moments I am grateful for. The first one would be where I scored a hat-trick against Beckenham Angels. We needed to win this game as it was a top-of-the-table clash, and to be able to contribute to this was great.
“The second would be joint-winning the golden boot last year. In previous seasons I would rarely score more than four goals. However, last year I managed to get 15 goals in league games. I had put a lot of work into the off-season and during the season, while the whole team also lifted last year and to see all our hard work contribute to this makes it an outstanding achievement.
“Finally, I think the third achievement would have to be winning this year’s night series final against Balcatta Etna. That was a unique game for so many reasons, and I am so grateful to be a part of it. It was a game with a fairy tale ending.
“It was the last game as the Northern Redbacks, before we merged to become Perth RedStar. We hadn’t won a night series final in a few years, and we were able to do it in front of a fantastic support base.
“When we went down 2-0 to Balcatta, I remember thinking this cannot be how the Redbacks era would end. And sure enough, it wasn’t.
“We went into halftime 2-1 down. I remember sitting in the circle on the field and looking around. We all looked so angry, but not mad at each other. It was more we all knew we could win this game, and we knew what we had to do, and I think this was the secret, we never got angry at each other, but instead, we all knew to step up and be there for each other.
“Going into the second half on the field, you could see the improvement. We wanted to win. When we got that second goal, it was such a relief. Going into extra time, we were all running on adrenaline, and we used this to our advantage, we were able to keep our cool and control the game, and from this, we managed to score two more goals.
“The best part for me is that the four goals came from senior players – Shawn Bilham, Quyen Done, myself, and Carla Bennett – which I think is unique. To be a part of this club for so long and contribute to this is such a fantastic honour.
“The club is like being a part of a great football family. Game days you see the juniors come down to support the first team, parents come up to you saying they enjoyed the game, and we have an amazing support base who are often at all our games.
It’s great being a part of a team who all want to set a high standard for women’s football in Western Australia is great. Each week we want to improve from the previous week not only as a team but also as individuals, it makes you really enjoy the game when everyone is on the same page.”
Walsh mentions above that the Night Series Final win over Balcatta Etna was the Northern Redbacks final game under that name. Ahead of the new NPL Women’s season, the club merged with men’s side ECU Joondalup to form Perth RedStar. A significant facilities upgrade and a long-term plan to make the club one of the most prominent in the Australian game have been stated, but what has the process been like for someone who has been part of the Redbacks club for so long?
“I have always seen the merger as a positive move,” Walsh admitted. “With the NPL growing stronger and clubs looking to recruit the best players was only logical for this to happen. As much as we also prided on being a female-only club, it would have been difficult to maintain a professional standard financially. So if the club wanted to demand a higher standard from the players, they needed to provide the right environment.
“With the merger, this has already begun to happen. Of course, these things take time, and the merger hasn’t been a smooth ride, but it is slowly coming together. We cannot expect it to be excellent from the get-go. As the season progresses, people outside the club will start to see its benefits while the players have already begun to see it.”
With the 2022 WA NPL Women’s season in full flow now, Walsh is determined that the first campaign under the RedStar banner will be a success.
“Our training standards have increased, and everyone is pushing each other to maintain a certain level, translating into the games. I have a few personal goals myself, but this year I think the overall aim for the club is to win the league. But, of course, if you ask any team, this is their overall goal.
“So, another one of our aims would be to develop the junior players coming through the club. This has already started with some U21s training with the first team and exposing them to RedStar NPL standard. We also have a good balance of senior and junior players in the first team, which I think is an essential factor in allowing the junior players’ development. Contributing to this as a player has also benefited my development.”
This season looks to offer a unique set of circumstances in the WA NPL as there have been a raft of roster changes at clubs across the competition which, perhaps could benefit a RedStars side with so many familiar names in.
“Some players have gone over east (to New South Wales and Victoria) and some players have not returned to the league for this season,” Walsh stated.
“Every year the competition will gradually get stronger as the standard is raised, but this year I think it will be known as a rebuilding year for many clubs. Watching a lot of the games already you see many junior players getting their first NPL minutes, many of them playing a full 90 minutes.
“I think because of this, teams will have up and down games as they try to develop players and may struggle if they do not have enough experienced players to guide the junior players. However, we all have to start somewhere and as these players gain the experience, teams will start to find their groove and by the end of the season, I think some teams may cause some upsets.”