Ella Tonkin: SA’s Next Gen Star

In the latest of our Midweek Dub series of interviews with top A-League Women players, Adelaide United‘s Young Matildas star Ella Tonkin spoke to Ben Gilby about her footballing journey and her experience at the FIFA U20 World Cup this year (7/12/22).

Above: Ella Tonkin playing for the Young Matildas against Spain in the FIFA U20 World Cup this August. Photo: Ann Odong Supplied by: Ella Tonkin.

Ella Tonkin is one of the brightest stars in the next generation of South Australian (SA) football. After representing the Young Matildas at the U20 World Cup during the European summer, the defender is looking ahead to a breakthrough year in the A-League Women with Adelaide United.

However, if it was not for a spur-of-the-moment decision made by Ella as a young girl, she may never have played the round ball game, as she reveals.

“Initially, I had no intention of playing club soccer, but when my older brother went out to trial at a local Adelaide Club, Raiders, I decided last minute I wanted to join too. From there I played in an all-boys team for a few years before getting into the SA state and NTC program. I got involved with Adelaide United from there, initially as a train on player and then eventually as a signed player. And over this past year, I’ve played at Northern Tigers in the Sydney NPL and was lucky enough to go to the U20 World Cup with the Young Matildas.”

Above: Ella Tonkin (left) battles for possession against Spain in the FIFA U20 World Cup in August. Photo: Tim Nwachukwu – FIFA. Supplied by: Ella Tonkin.

As Tonkin mentions, in July and August this year, she had the ride of her life after being named in the national squad for the age group FIFA World Championships. It was a moment that will live with her forever.

“We didn’t officially find out the whole squad till quite close to the competition, I think it was on a training camp in Mexico when we officially found out. It was extremely exciting.

“Going into the competition I knew it was going to be a challenging group given we were playing against the host nation (Costa Rica) and two teams who were champions on their respective continents (Spain and Brazil). But I truly believed we were a hardworking and quality team and had what it took to really compete with them. I think we had really good chemistry and a great team vibe, so I had total belief heading into the games.”

The experience of those tough encounters in Central America has enhanced Tonkin’s growth generally as well as more specific developments in her technical knowledge and ability as a defender, with each presenting so many different types of challenges, as she outlined.

“The Costa Rica game provided the opportunity for us to play in front of 25,000 people, numbers which some of us can only dream of. It was an unreal atmosphere and a true test of composure as it was extremely difficult to communicate and hear the support of your teammates. Overall, it was my favourite game as we were able to get the win and play in front of such huge numbers.

Above: Ella Tonkin in possession for the Young Matildas against host nation Costa Rica in the FIFA U20 World Cup this August. Photo: Ann Odong. Supplied by: Ella Tonkin.

“Our games against Brazil and Spain were amazing learning experiences. They were very high-quality teams, and I was very proud of how we remained composed and competed with them. As a defender, I think I was challenged in a way I haven’t experienced before having played in Australia my whole life, so it was an amazing opportunity for me to compete, learn and grow.”

Looking back on the competition, the Adelaide United defender reflected on the most challenging experience she faced, saying: “It was remaining composed and coolheaded throughout the Costa Rica game. With a crowd that loud, it was very hard to communicate with my teammates and as a centre back I rely on my voice a lot to instruct those ahead of me and uplift the team.

“I also utilise communication from my teammates to aid my decision-making. So essentially it was almost like playing the whole game in your head. I genuinely loved every part of the experience. But I think nothing can match walking out onto the pitch with your teammates and playing your guts out for one another.”

Tonkin came through the SA NTC system which provides young players with the experience of weekly state NPLW matches against teams full of experienced, physical opponents. It was a period that the defender believes proved to be a major part of her development as a player.

“It was a challenge growing up playing against much more experienced and physical opponents, but I think it helped me become a better player. I was forced to adjust to a faster pace and higher physicality which I think has only benefited me moving forwards.”

Above: Ella Tonkin in action for the Northern Tigers in the NSW NPLW this season. Photo: Dan Ullman/Aptitude Photography. Supplied by: Ella Tonkin.

The NPLW season just gone saw Tonkin move across to New South Wales and play for eventual Grand Finalists Northern Tigers. She revealed how the inter-state move came about and how it has enhanced her game.

“The Northern Tigers reserve coach reached out to me via social media asking if I’d be interested in playing for the first team. I’d never actually looked into moving to Sydney I was pretty set on playing in the WNPL in SA, but it planted a seed in my head, and I ended up pursuing it.

“It was probably one of the best decisions I have made in my footballing career so far, as I think it enabled me to be in and around the Young Matildas scene.”

Ella Tonkin on moving to New South Wales to play her NPLW football this year.

“The level of the NPLW in NSW is higher than in SA given the large number of A-League Women players in the competition, so I’m very glad I was able to move and be challenged by quality competition week in and week out, I think it helped me grow as a defender.

With Tonkin now back in her home state at Adelaide United for the A-League campaign, the defender reflected on what she believes were the keys to experiencing back-to-back best-ever seasons, and what she expects from her team this time.

Above: Ella Tonkin in action for Adelaide United against Perth Glory in the A-League Women last season. Photo: Noe Llamas/SPP.

“I think having a good team ethic is a huge part of life at Adelaide United and truly is the reason we have success. I think it’s an ongoing theme we maintain each year and establish very early on. Having this team ethic motivates each of us to want to work harder for one another which I think then ultimately yields results.

“I think making Finals (last season) was just the first step in our overall goal of making and winning the Grand Final. We’ve set records over these past two seasons and the aim is to continue to improve on our previous, so hopefully, we’ll be able to achieve another record-breaking season.”

In terms of her own personal aims for this season, it’s all about game time for the young defender.

“I would love to gain more consistent game time as a centre back throughout the 2022/23 season. I think one of the main ways to improve is by consistently being challenged and pushed outside your comfort zone and I think playing games consistently is the best way to achieve that.”

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