Shea Connors and Brisbane: On The Improve

For this week’s interview in our Midweek Dub series, Brisbane Roar‘s Shea Connors speaks exclusively to Impetus’ Kieran Yap about how her winter move to play NPL football in New South Wales has added to her game, and why she’s so positive about the season ahead for Brisbane (29/11/22).

Above: Shea Connors rampaging forward for Brisbane Roar against Melbourne Victory last season. Photo: Brisbane Roar.

Shea Connors started the season literally at full pace.

Only thirty minutes into Brisbane Roar’s first game of 2022/23, the American forward won the ball just inside her own half, and with a drop of her should burst past the next defender.

A low, composed cross, followed by Mariel Hecher’s tap on, and The Roar had their first goal of what would be a 2-1 win over Newcastle Jets.

Connors is in her second full season in the A-League Women and has spent the last eight months challenging herself to improve.

After years spent dominating the Queensland NPLW, Connors signed for one of the biggest clubs in Australia’s most competitive state league, APIA Leichhardt in the NSW NPL.

“I was looking for a new challenge after my last season in the NPL in Queensland,” Connors told Impetus.

Above: Shea Connors in NPL action for APIA Leichhardt. Photo: NPL.

“We had a really great run with Lions (she scored 39 goals in 24 games) but I had heard that the Sydney league was really strong and full of A-League players. I just really wanted to set myself up for the best lead into the A-League Women as possible.

“APIA is a well-known club. When I talked to the General Manager and Spencer Prior the head coach, I knew I wanted to go there. They just have such a rich history and they put so much into their women’s program, all the way down to the girls.

“Every home game we have hundreds of the girls coming and screaming and singing the team songs. It was just a great environment to be in and prepare myself for this season.”

Connors has elite football experience in three countries and is adaptable to new surroundings. But a new league can still pose challenges, although it did not affect her form.

“It took a little bit of time to adjust to the turf. I hadn’t played on artificial in so long. it was great to be down there and play with such a great group of girls. It made it easy to do well when you have such good players around you.”

Her teammates at APIA Leichhardt were some of the country’s brightest stars. Nikki Flannery of Canberra United, Sarah Hunter, Princess Ibini and Deborah-Ann de la Harpe of Sydney FC, and Rhianna Pollicina of Melbourne City were just a few.

In that environment, the players were training at a high level and competing for silverware. It was an ideal setting for a striker keen on improvement.

“On paper we were stacked,” says Connors. “But because of international call-ups, we had people missing from almost every game. But a lot of young players stepped up.”

APIA did not make the Grand Final, but Connors ended the season with the Golden Boot. It was her second in as many seasons over two state leagues.

There was a slight positional change. Normally used as a wide attacker, usually on the left, Connors shifted into a more central role with devasting effect.

“We played with a bit of a two upfront. I did still play on the left side, but I did play a little more central which is fun for me and fun for a bit of a change, and for my football career to be in a different formation. For so long I’ve been in a 4-3-3. “That was interesting to adapt to. I actually grew up playing nine and it wasn’t until college when they stuck me out wide.”

She hopes to carry that stellar form into Brisbane Roar’s season. They were competitive in most games of 2021/22, but small moments cost the newly assembled side valuable points.

They are a side eager to improve and Connors was excited to return to Queensland and The Roar.

“I love Brisbane and it feels like home. We really have a good vibe, and everyone actually gets on so well. I feel like having a team culture where everyone is driven to the same goals is really important. I think you play better when you’re happier and everyone says I look so happy in Brisbane.”

“Back home from the US, everyone says I look so happy over here. I don’t know what I looked like back there, but also all my good friends are in Brisbane so it’s good to play in front of a home crowds.”

Brisbane finished 2021/22 in sixth place, but they dropped points from winnable positions. Although they eventually found form, things clicked on the field too late. An extended season presents a new opportunity, although Brisbane is not looking to take any chances.

“We had said after the season, if there were a few more games we probably could have pulled ourselves into the finals group because we weren’t that many points out.

“More games will be good for us. Growing the women’s game is so important and eventually matching the leagues around the world will make me want to stay here. “I love Australia and want to play here, but you always want to get the best out of it, so the fact that it’s longer so much better.

“It gives us a bit more security. It’s hard to keep playing if you’re moving all over and you don’t have any home point. The longer season brings that stability aspect.”

Connors has found that stability at Brisbane Roar. When she’s not terrorizing fullbacks, she is working at the club throughout the week in content creation and social media. She has also helped with corporate relations during matches for the A-League Men’s.

The most prolific striker in Queensland and New South Wales is settled, much like the rest of the team which has a familiar look.

Brisbane have retained much of their side from last time around. Squad continuity is crucial to success in the A-League Women, and there were enough promising signs for everybody to feel they can improve.

“We ended up beating (eventual semi-finalists) Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City, so we showed form almost too late so. I think the intent for this season is to hit the ground running and try to take control from the beginning and get results.

“There was a lot of work to be done, but there was potential for this year. Last year was really a rebuilding year. I myself got signed in September/October because they named Garrath McPherson as head coach late.

“This year we’ve prepped and everything. We’ve made it known in the squad that this is a well-thought-out squad, so we need to make the most of it.”

Above: Shea Connors in action for Brisbane Roar against Canberra United last weekend. Photo: West Australian.

To improve, Brisbane has focused on rectifying those errors of last season. they have trained for high-pressure scenarios and times of the game where they are in discomfort or tired. A new strength and conditioning coach has joined the club, and internally, confidence is high.

Matildas star Katrina Gorry should return to the pitch soon, Hollie Palmer is back in the starting lineup, and Larissa Crummer has two goals in as many games. The new signings have made an impact, and things are looking positive for the Roar fans.

“I think everyone is looking positive, we’re just focusing on ourselves at the moment. There’s optimism, the future is definitely bright here. On paper, the team’s good. We need to execute this year and correct the mistakes that happened at the beginning of last year so that we can have a post-season.

“It’s our time to show what we can do, no excuses, we’re ready.

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