Photo: Graeme Furlong
A number of NPLW players have been rewarded for their form in Victoria’s premier state competition with national team selection.
Melina Ayres (Alamein FC), Annabel Martin (Galaxy United), Liv Ellis (Bulleen Lions), Ashleigh Lefevre and MelindaJ Barbieri (both NTC) have been called up to the Young Matildas squad for the AFF Women’s Championships in Myanmar.
Senior NTC breakouts Sofia Sakalis, Isabella Sewards and Kyra Cooney-Cross have been named for the Under 17’s Junior Matildas, along with the highly regarded Jacynta Galabadaarachchi, who’s currently playing with the Kingston City U15 boys.
It is a maiden call-up for each of Lefevre, Barbieri and Ellis, while Martin and Ayres already have various national team experience.
Ayres has proven her goalscoring exploits of yesteryear has been no isolated feat. This season the Alamein forward has gone ahead and improved on the scoring – more impressive given there haven’t been the easybeats of the WPL to inflate one’s goalscoring figures – to show just why she started to make her first steps in the W-League last season.
She has netted 18 times this year at a rate of over a goal a game. Impressively, her knack for goals also comes at times when it seems her defenders have nullified her effect on the game – Ayres can pounce at any moment to turn a game on its head. Has linked well with her front third and continues to be one of the first names on Sinisa Cohadzic’s teamsheet.
Lefevre has stepped her game up in 2016 in the NTC and has been one of her side’s most consistent performers. The speedster has shown her versatility on the wing with an ability to combine an attacking masterclass with a defensive side to her game as well. She has added two goals to her tally this year, along with many more goal-scoring contributions.
With the likes of Annabel Martin and the Taranto twins graduating from the NTC, fellow Melbourne Victory member Barbieri has stepped up as the senior head in the program, providing leadership on the pitch through her performances. Whether it’s playing in a deeper or more advanced role, she’s excelled in many facets of her game, most impressively notching double figures in goals already.
Having benefited from a season honing her craft in the W-League with regular selection and a Victory Young Player of the Year award, the youngster’s displays have shown maturity and continual improvement.
Martin has been picked almost every week as a standout at Galaxy, which is made all the more impressive given fullback is a position that is often treated with less prestige than other more central positions on the park. However, Martin has excelled on the right side, another beneficiary of a full season in the W-League, playing every minute despite a tough campaign for Victory.
Importantly, despite her usual defensive fortitude, Martin has also added a more clinical attacking side to her game, scoring once and showing a penchant for getting forward and putting in a dangerous delivery.
Another fullback in the side, Ellis has been back for another stint at Bulleen and has excelled in her role. Like Ayres, her appearances in City’s squad were sporadic but this NPLW season suggests more minutes await. Ellis has shown her ability with both feet, along with an innate ability to dribble forward with confidence, highlighted by a curling right-footed goal against Calder United.
Rarely beaten in a one-on-one situation, Ellis has continued to go from strength to strength in 2016.
The Junior Matildas selected had already been identified by TCF as some of this season’s key performers in the NTC program.
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Sakalis had been making waves for a number of years; the Vermont South junior captained an Australian representative team to win gold at the Disney International Cup as a 12-year-old. She had also been invited by Joe Montemurro as a train-on for Melbourne City in 2016.
“Part of the program here at Melbourne City was to start programs of development and invite young potential players that could hopefully play W-League with us, and Sofia was identified as one of those,” Montemurro told Neos Kosmos at the time.
She has broken out in the NPLW this season with a number of eye-catching performances, which has seen her net four league goals and make the Team of the Week once.
Sewards has provided encouraging performances especially in a role of defensive midfielder, showing a penchant for making crucial interceptions, winning 50/50 balls and distributing confidently. She has been part of representative national schoolgirls sides and was part of a state championship.
Conney-Cross meanwhile scored her first senior NPLW goal in Round 14 this season. The former Ballarat player has represented the Victoria Country side at the National Youth Championships. Galabadaarachchi had this year been granted dispensation to compete with Kingston’s Under-15 team in the NPL. She has previously starred in the Victorian U13’s side and trialled with UK clubs Manchester United, Manchester City and Everton.
The Young Matildas will take on Myanmar, Malaysia and Timor Leste in Group B of the AFF Women’s Championships, with fixtures extending from the 26th of July to 4th of August.
All images: Greme Furlong