Foundation player brings experience into midfield.
Photo Credit: Naomi Woodley
Whilst Canberra prepares for a home semi-final against Sydney FC in a fortnight, for one player the build-up will seem very familiar. One individual that was a part of the weekend action was Canberra United’s defensive midfielder and rare foundation player, Grace Gill who has been involved in every season for the club. Coming on in the 64th minute Gill made her third appearance of the season for United and she sat down to have a chat about what it’s like to be a foundation player.
There’s no question that the Westfield W-League and Women’s game has expanded since Canberra United’s inception eight years ago when the national competition for top tier, semi-professional, female footballers kicked off. There was a groundswell when Canberra was finally recognised for the abundance of female talent that would become the core of a preceding legacy. Grace Gill was part of this genesis.
“I'm extremely humbled to be a foundation player for Canberra United. There are only a few of us remaining and even fewer who have appeared each year with the same team,” Gill mentioned.
Grace Gill is an example of the player the women’s game needs to hold onto, to capture the knowledge and DNA that makes the game valuable, she sits seventh just under Michelle Heyman, Caitlin Munoz, Ellie Brush, Ash Sykes, Nicole Begg, Lydia Williams in the ‘All-Time Appearances’ for United clocking up more than 57 apps. “The W-League has expanded in ways I couldn't have imagined. I'm proud that I've been a part of the development for soccer in Canberra and across Australia.”
Her footballing career to date has been impressive from her time at Belsouth Junior Club to the ACTAS program for several years, two campaigns with the Young Matildas then bagging a first experience overseas in 2011 spending three months playing for a ‘newly developed’ amateur team called the Los Alamitos Vikings, in California. “The level wasn't anything beyond that of the W-League in Australia but it was my first real exposure to the competition that existed in the States stemming from the Collegiate system and what was then the Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) league.”
However one of Gill’s biggest feats was in 2013 when she had a taste of European football in the Czech Republic first division for 1.FC Slovacko when the opportunity came through former Czech defender and Canberra United Coach, Jitka Klimkova, who also took the squad to their first monumental premiership in 2012.
Gill mentioned the three months spent at the European club were “extremely challenging and rewarding at the same time,” both equally elements that have added to her game today. “Very few of the girls spoke English so I learnt the Czech basics, allowing me to communicate on field and for day to day tasks. The environment in the Czech Republic was passionate, physical and professional. The top end of the competition table was competitive - two teams regularly sat above 1.FC, comprised of the Czech National Team players.”
Jet-setting back to Canberra and having been in a position where Gill was the young one in the squad, she now understands how daunting and confronting the situation can be. “I clearly recall the older United girls who took the time to look after me and help improve my game,” she mentioned.
With the influx of fresh talent in the United squad, the depth is not only a safety barrier for when a handful of the players are away on Matilda’s duty or out to injury, but also a key opportunity to give exposure to the next generation paving the way through. For this, among distributing well timed long balls and delivering accurate passes, Gill is a ‘go-to’ fostering figure to the Canberra United babies, placing importance upon giving back to the game. “For me, paying that forward to our rookies each year has come without hesitation. It’s these girls that will continue to develop and carry the Canberra United reigns into the future.”
And while the Canberra United squad is steamrolling through the competition, Gill gives a glimpse to what she thinks is the key to the on-field triumphs mentioning it’s the off-field “trust that is built” and confesses that her own strengths include, “these long legs can be deceptive and cover a lot of ground and the positioning I have on the field to avoid unnecessary pressure.”
“I’ve also come to recognise how important the coaching staff set up is – the cohesion and different roles performed by a head coach, assistant coach, manager and entire support staff, can be really valuable to the success of a playing group,” Gill said.
As Gill writes her own story, it’s no surprise by her down-to-earth, leadership nature that her football idols aren’t necessarily the big names that are seen on a daily basis, rather favouring the real core values. “I’m inspired by the girls my age who have developed into world class players and are playing at that level. I have a great respect for the girls who defy the odds to find success. Above all, I have such admiration for those who work hard with humility,” she mentioned.
Very fortunately, the long-serving Foundation Player offered a three pieces of advice for the 12-14 year old girls coming through to take on board for their future careers:
1. Training and practice is called that for a reason. So, practice. Practice what you are not good at.
2. Embrace the opportunities that present themselves or the chance to step into a leadership or ambassadorial roles.
3. Practice perspective. And trust: Trust your intuition. Trust your mother.
Grace smiled, “it's an exciting prospect to picture what this League will look like in another 8 years in 2024.”
Canberra United will go up against Sydney FC Women in the semi-final at McKellar Park on the 24th of January.