Chelsie Dawber & Emilia Murray: the future is from Adelaide

In this week’s Midweek Dub feature, Kieran Yap spoke exclusively to Adelaide United attackers Emilia Murray and Chelsie Dawber (1/3/23).

Above: Emilia Murray celebrates her Round One goal. Image via Keep Up.

Adelaide United fans are no strangers to having quality strikers at the club. Michelle Heyman, Mary Fowler, and last season’s Julie Dolan medallist Fiona Worts are some of the names to have led the line for the Reds.

Two more names have now been added to that illustrious list. Chelsie Dawber and Emilia Murray are two of Australia’s most promising forwards. Both are South Australians playing for the club they grew up as fans of.

Dawber enjoyed a career-best season in 2021/22. Her 10 goals were the result of consistent, and often spectacular play. She has a powerful and precise right foot that is capable of defence-splitting passes or thunderous strikes. Her form earned her a contract in the NWSL with Sam Kerr’s former side, Chicago Red Stars.

Murray is one of the brightest prospects in Australian Football. The 18-year-old is lightning quick and as courageous as she is creative. She has become a fixture in Young Matildas squads and has broken through to be a regular in Adelaide United’s first team this year.

In Round one, the pair of local stars combined to score a dramatic winner over Sydney FC.

“I knew we needed to get a goal,” recalls Dawber of the moment.

“It’s something that I do quite often that goes a bit unnoticed, my long balls and switches of play. I looked up and saw that she was there. I always knew that Millsy’s (Murray) always making that run in behind. Even if she doesn’t get the ball, she’s always going to be there.

“I looked up and hit it, she was in the right position, it was a deserved first goal in the A-League Women.”

It is hard to do the goal justice in words. Dawber’s pass was from almost halfway. The ball sailed to the perfect position between Murray’s run to the edge of the box and the onrushing Jada Whyman. It was late in the game with no room for error, and a spectacular winner from the leaping Murray.

“I was on the bench, then I got subbed on and I think I was on for about 10 minutes or so,” says Murray of her breakout moment. 

“I knew that I just had to make as much impact as I could.  Chelsie and I have a great connection on the pitch. I saw her, she had space and I just put my hand up and she put a beautiful ball into me and I just went for it.

“I don’t always do headers, it was definitely a first, then I saw it go into the net and I was in shock. In my peripheral vision, I could see her coming but I went for it. I knew I had the players around me, but I leapt up and got whatever I could onto it.

“I was genuinely in so much shock as you could probably see in some of the photos.”

Murray has been in the Adelaide squad for a number of years, both as a train on and senior player. But this is the first campaign she is featuring regularly on game day. It has required a slight change in position, although its paid dividends in Round one.

“Back in NTC and NPL, I used to switch out between wing and number nine, so it was familiar with me. I do love the wing because I can run all day and I can go up and down the line. It’s a different mindset playing in nine but I do love it.

“In NPL I find myself in so many different spaces and get played every through ball, but obviously it’s a lot harder in the A-League Women. I love the challenge and it’s so good being up against amazing centre-backs.”

While Murray is enjoying the beginning of her career, Dawber is operating at the peak of her still-young career. She is now one of the more experienced attackers in the Adelaide squad. To the halfway point of the season, she had an involvement or assist in every single Reds goal except one.

At age 23, she is already a barometer for the team. A player fans can look to for impact in the big moments and opposition supporters are beginning to fear.

“I’ve always been the younger one in teams that I’ve played in,” says Dawber. “I don’t think it changes too much for me in the way that I play, but as a leader I try and help the likes of Milsy (Emilia Murray) and the younger players that come on, and try and pass on the knowledge that I’ve learned.

“I love Milsy, she’s a great girl. She’s always willing to work hard and learn from other people. She’s what I want in a teammate, someone who is going to make that run or is going to make that pass for you to score, or the next person to score.

“I think she’s going to be a great player, just with a bit more experience and knowledge, she’s been awesome to play with so far.”

Starring in the Green and Gold

Dawber and Murray both represented Australia in the past year. Their experiences were vastly different, but both impressed in the Green and Gold.

Dawber was selected to be part of Australia’s first Under 23’s Women’s side to compete in the AFF Championships in Manilla in 2022.

Travel chaos meant that her tournament did not go to plan early.

“My trip started off a bit later than everyone else,” she recalls. “It took about three days to get from America to the Philippines. My flight was delayed from Chicago to LA, then I missed my flight from LA to the Philippines.

Dawber missed the first few training sessions, where tactics were bedded down. However, with Australia trailing to the host nation, she was given a chance to find an equaliser. The match ended in a 1-0 defeat, and things would only get harder before they got better.

“I was struck with food poisoning. Mackenzie Hawkesby and I, we both ended up going to hospital in the Philippines. I spent about four or five days in the hospital, then came out and played the last game of the tournament. I scored two goals in the first 20 minutes and was playing quite well, then I had no energy left because I hadn’t eaten in five days.

“As terrible as that experience was I was grateful that I was able to play in some games and stick my foot in the door for the national team squads. It was very cool to play with lots of girls I’ve never played with before. It was also good to get to know those girls and the coaching staff of the Matildas as well.”

Although they did not progress beyond the group stages, Australia’s Under 23’s played some stunning football. One of Dawber’s strikes was a contender for goal of the tournament.

“I knew we had to score lots of goals that game just to get through the tournament, so I thought I’d back myself and see what happens,” she said of the moment.

The well-worked move ended with Sarah Hunter’s lofted pass finding Dawber behind the Malaysian defence. She controlled it with one touch but was tucked against the byline. With the defenders (and teammates) expecting a cross, Dawber snuck the ball in at the near post with a ridiculous finish. In a 6-0 win, it was just one sign of the bright future of Australia’s national teams.

Murray is also a part of that future. The prodigious attacker has wanted to be a professional footballer as long as she can recall.  

“Since I was born I’ve always been involved in soccer. I have three older siblings, they always played. I was born in the country, and they were always involved in soccer. I was always going to games and watching.

“I probably started when I was about three or four years old. I mostly played with boys and the older girls, because we didn’t have enough for a young team.

“I did that for a couple of years, then we moved to Adelaide, and I got into the state program. I’ve been in that for a very long time, and that’s helped me a lot with my development.

“I always knew I wanted to get as far as I could in soccer, its always been my number one passion.”

In November of 2022, Murray was called up to the Young Matildas squad to host the Pacific Women’s Four Nations Tournament in Canberra.

She joined current A-League Women’s stars Sasha Grove, Shay Hollman, and Claudia Cicco in the side that won the cup. Murray was named captain of the national team. It was a moment that took her completely by surprise.

“It was during the end of the year and I had my year 12 exams. I had to do one of my maths exams over at camp. I was just about to go into the room to do my camp supervised exam, and Leah (Blayney) came up and said ‘you’re going to be captain for this tournament’, and she gave me a hug and I was in shock.

“That whole time sitting in the exam I was like ‘oh my god, I’m captain.’

“So much happened that week. It was like a big dream. It was my birthday (during) and we ended up going to Parliament House and having two other countries sing happy birthday to me in their own language and in the way they do it back at home.”

Murray was once again selected to represent Australia for the Under-20 Asian Cup qualifiers. She will form part of a frightening Young Matildas attack alongside other A-League Women stars as Sasha Grove, and Daniela Galic.

Beating challenges and pushing forward

Following the end of her loan back home at Adelaide United, Dawber will likely return to Chicago for the NWSL season. It has been a challenging environment for her, but one that she says was beneficial.

“It was definitely hard being away from home,” she said. But I think that allowed me to grow as a person on and off the pitch, things like living on my own, developing as a person, and having to do things that I’m probably fortunate that my parents do for me at home.

“I was fortunate enough to play with some national team players like Mal Pugh and Alyssa Naeher, and training with them each day.

“The highest quality over there is probably better, but overall, both the A-League and NWSL are good leagues to play in and have strengths of their own.”

Dawber is ready to prove herself in the United States, and make a push for World Cup selection, and keep herself on the radar of national team selectors.

Murray is still establishing herself in the A-League Women, but already looks comfortable at the top level and Reds fans will hope the homegrown heroes can continue linking up for years to come.

Neither player are strangers to setbacks, but are determined and talented.

“I think having the faith of sticking to it and working hard (is important),” says Murray.

“You will get dropped or benched but keep going because there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Now I’m starting I have to take that with humility and keep going, never stop.”

Artwork: Charlotte Stacey, founder of On Her Side.

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