In the latest of our WA on Wednesday series of interviews with NPL WA Women players, Fremantle City captain Mikayla Lyons spoke to Impetus’ Ben Gilby about her footballing journey, leadership experiences, and the challenges that the women’s football scene in Western Australia has to both confront and overcome (1/6/22).
Above: Mikayla Lyons (black kit) in possession for Fremantle City. Photo supplied by: Mikayla Lyons.
Whilst she is an integral part of the Western Australian footballing scene now, Mikayla Lyons made the switch to the sport at a relatively late age.
“I actually grew up playing tennis as my main sport until I was about 12/13,” the Fremantle skipper revealed. “Funnily enough, my journey in football started at the same club that I’m currently playing for, albeit under a different name – East Fremantle Tricolore, who are now Fremantle City.
“Although I enjoyed playing football informally at school and in local five-a-side competitions, it wasn’t until I played my first year at Tricolore in an organised format that I really fell in love with the game.”
Once she caught the football bug, there was no turning back for Lyons who quickly earned representative honours.
“At 13/14, I was lucky enough to get selected into the WA State team and travel over to Coffs Harbour to compete in the National Youth Championships each year following that,” Lyons said. “At 15, I entered the NTC pathway and stayed there for three years before moving into the NPL competition where I’ve been playing ever since.”
Over her period in the game, Lyons has seen many changes and the challenges that come with it as a leader.
“Most of my biggest challenges in football have probably stemmed from large off-field changes – coaching changes and player movement. As a leader, it’s always challenging trying to keep the core of the group together and feeling supported and represented, particularly when there’s a divide in opinions.
“It goes without saying that having a tight-knit squad always helps but ensuring there’s immediate and open communication between all players has been the key so far.”
It is the qualities of a leader that define the Fremantle captain who admits to being: “Extremely passionate and competitive both on and off the field.” In terms of her best qualities as a player, Lyons identified “my acceleration and speed which helps me get into good attacking positions. I’m a lover of short-sharp ball movement, defending from the front, and guilty of doing anything possible to avoid an aerial contest.”
Last season saw Fremantle City finish fourth which saw them qualify for the Top Four Cup. A 2-0 loss to Perth SC in the semi-finals may have been a disappointing way for the season to end, but Lyons sees nothing but positives looking back.
“Considering some of the disruptions we faced last season, I was very proud of what we were able to achieve as a squad. The biggest highlight for me was having so many of our young players make their NPL debuts in what was a very unconventional season.
“The confidence and character that they showed on and off the field provided that extra bit of motivation leading into each game, and I think we’ve been able to continue with that this season. It’s obviously never nice to bow out in a semi-final, particularly when you’re expecting to go further, but we’ll use that as extra fuel this time around.”
The Freo star believes that the secrets of their consistent place among the top sides in the NPL WA competition is down to the bond and fitness that the players have.
“We have a special squad at Fremantle City,” Lyons said. “Off the pitch, we’re all very close friends which helps with our performances on the pitch. I think we’ve created a unique environment at Fremantle where players are encouraged and supported by one another. We’re all extremely passionate and competitive, but also like to have a laugh and enjoy playing together.
“On the field, we like to play fast, attacking-style football. We’re a very fit squad and have quick players throughout all three lines, so we like to utilise that as much as possible. We’re a relentless side, and I think we’ve shown that in a few games already this season coming back from being 2-1 or 2-0 down.”
With most teams having played each other at least once and Fremantle well positioned in the top three, things are looking good for the team. But Lyons is not resting on her laurels.
“Personally, my goal this season is to contribute to the team’s success via more consistent on-field performances. As a team, we’re pushing for the title this year, and we know that’s only going to be realistic if we have every player putting in consistent work. We’ve had a few unexpected changes to our squad over the past few weeks, so we’ve had to adapt quite quickly but I’m confident we can push through and achieve what we’ve set out to do.
“As I mentioned previously, we’re a very tight-knit squad and we have great connections with and respect for our coaching staff, so we’re in the right environment. With that, I have no doubt we can make the club and our supporters proud this season.”
As the league starts to shape, Fremantle’s captain believes that there is a gap starting to form in the competition, with equal development of talent potentially becoming an issue.
“I do think there’s still quite a big divide between the top six and bottom two teams this year. In saying that, the gap is definitely closing which is a credit to the new clubs who have come in, experienced some turbulent times, and pushed through.
“I may ruffle some feathers here, but I do think the spread of talent has stayed stagnant at best over the last few years within the NPLW in WA. I don’t think there’s one specific reason or cause, but with more teams coming in, and more players moving away to pursue opportunities elsewhere, there’s only so much growth that can happen within.
“From my experience, NPLW players are extremely competitive. With that, it’s important for players to feel challenged within their training and playing environments to truly enjoy what they’re doing. For those who are aspiring to play at a higher level, there’s the added importance of making sure they’re developing and learning within their NPL club environments, and when the time is right – the best players need to be able to see a clear pathway into the A-League competition or youth national teams for the younger players.
“In my opinion, we’re still behind in all of the areas mentioned above in Western Australia, and as a result, some of our best players are moving overseas and over east to chase what we’re currently failing to offer them.
With Lyons identifying the importance of strong foundations for Western Australian based players to develop, I asked her if she still harboured hopes of an A-League Women contract at Perth Glory.
“In short, no. I’m happiest when I’m enjoying my football in a competitive, yet social environment, and that stems from training and playing with some of my best mates each week. For me, keeping football as a hobby is important.
“We have some extremely talented players currently playing in the WA NPLW competition who I think are more than worthy of an opportunity to prove themselves at an A-League club, like Perth Glory. In saying that, I’m not a talent scout or coach, so I won’t comment on the identification process, but it would be good to see some more local talent within the Perth Glory squad in the next few seasons.”
Away from football, Lyons is kept busy by PhD studies at Notre Dame University as well as working as a strength and conditioning coach for Fremantle Dockers in the AFLW.
“Yeah, I currently work as a strength & conditioning coach with the AFLW team and absolutely love it,” she enthused. “The staff and players are all incredible, and the environment they’ve created at the club is second to none. I’ve probably raised my expectations a bit at Fremantle City since working at the Dockers, from both an on-field and off-field perspective.”
With someone of the character of Mikayla Lyons wearing the armband, Fremantle City are always going to be driven towards success. It’s now down to her and her teammates to chase down Perth RedStar and deny the high-flying league leaders silverware later in the season.