by Ben Gilby (19/4/23)
Above: ParaMatildas head coach Kelly Stirton advises her squad during training. Photo supplied to Impetus by: Football Australia.
Almost a year ago, the ParaMatildas reached the first-ever Women’s IFCPF World Cup Final and produced a heroic display in going down to the United States. Now, with her side ranked as the best team on the planet, Australia head coach Kelly Stirton has a home Asian Cup to prepare for.
In a reflective interview with Impetus‘ Ben Gilby, Stirton reflected on last year’s debut World Cup tournament in Salou, Spain. The ParaMatildas head coach swelled with pride.
“I think my main memory over the last 12 months is the development of our players. From where we started prior to the World Cup (eight weeks of training) to the end of the World Cup and coming second, what more could a coach ask for. Yes, we were upset we lost the final, but the players were so happy two minutes later because they got to play football for their country. These are the moments a coach lives for.”
Whilst the ParaMatildas have not played a game since last year’s World Cup, they have still been busy. “After the World Cup, we held a couple of training camps and we have had one in 2023 with a few more to happen along with the IFCPF Asia-Oceania Championship in November this year.
“Players were given a strength and conditioning program to work on and some were training with clubs to keep the touches on the ball. Staff were preparing for upcoming camps and doing online meetings to keep the connection going with the players and staff,” revealed Stirton.
Last month saw the announcement that Australia will be hosting the inaugural Para Asia Cup. Reflecting on the impact that this tournament will have on her team, Stirton said: “It is very exciting for the girls to be able to play on home soil, especially with such a major tournament. We get to play in front of friends and family that may have never been able to see them play before.”
In terms of the ParaMatildas’ potential rivals for silverware at the tournament, their head coach identified one nation in particular. “Japan is a big threat for us. They are a quality team and showcase some fantastic football. They tested us during the World Cup and now one year on, they will be stronger and better.”
The impact and visibility of the Australian team at the World Cup has led to an increased potential player pool for the team ahead of the Asian Cup, a situation that Stirton welcomes, but believes can grow further in the future.
“Since the World Cup we have had 10 new players come into the fold. There are certainly a lot of players who are on the radar and ready for the next step. It is a great problem to have as a coach. I am sure as time goes on and the word spreads, we will have many more. We would love to have a development team, that is the dream and goal.
“Our training begins now, even though we aren’t together as a squad, we will touch base with the players over the next couple of months to ensure that they are ready to go in the upcoming camps. Our next camp will be coming up in May.”
That increase of the potential player pool is something that hugely excites Stirton as the impact of the ParaMatildas filters across the country, but there is still room for improvement.
“New South Wales is leading the way in female programs; however, the other states are starting to build more in the women’s space. We are looking to connect with all the other states to start building the program and hopefully build programs in each state.”