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It's a hot, late morning at Browns Plains State High School. The home side are hosting the visitors, St Catherine's in their final home game of the season. Eight squad members are unavailable - two due to long term injuries and Captain Tahlee Foote due to earlier in the season, relocating to Townsville with her partner. Worst still, the team have both first choice and reserve keepers Steph Firth and Cloe Bennett unavailable, the latter through a niggling injury to her ribs. 

 Up step Maddie Luong, Indy Smith and Amber Zaghini, making their senior debuts for  the Southern Districts United Open Women's Team.

It's not the first time Open Women's Coach Anthony Phung has had to give debuts to youngsters to ensure there's a team that is available to play. It is, however, the first time in history that Phung is able to draw on players from a Junior team to be able to do so. 

Indy Smith, this day, starts in goals. She's able to pull out an extremely solid performance, including a phenomenal double save that sees her tipping the ball out for a corner. It's something that her father, Senior Men's Team custodian and club goalkeeping Coach Matt Smith replicates later that day. 

The elder Smith is both nervous, and excited for his daughter making her debut. But he is also partially disappointed as he is unable to see her play the full game - having to leave at half time for his own game - missing the crucial double save.


Despite coming off with a minor injury late on in the game, for precautionary reasons, the younger Smith comes through the end of her first game relatively sound and without much of a scratch. 

"That was fun" she tells us. 

The Push to Develop more Junior females

Open Women's Coach, and Head of Football Anthony Phung is in no doubt that despite having a stable Open Women's program at SDU, creating an all girls Junior Team is vital for the club. Just like the game in the state, he believes there's an opportunity to ride the wave of the previous Women's World Cup.

"For a long time young girls have felt invisible because they haven't had easy access to their idols. But through the Matilda's Golden generation of stars, young players can now see a clearer path for them to play football." Phung said. 

"What this means at a grassroots level, is that our club needs to work hard to make young girls feel as if we can support them in that endeavour. At the younger age groups we have a number of female players who enjoy the game, but as they get older the lack of opportunity to play in all girls teams can mean many of them drop off altogether." 

President Richard Moore agrees.

"It is of utmost importance to provide equal opportunities for girls in football and empower them to excel in the sport."

Moore says that key to this is providing the expertise and facilities for these players to flourish. 

"At our club, we have the resources and expertise to create a nurturing environment that fosters the growth and development of these young athletes. We can provide dedicated coaching staff who will focus on enhancing their skills, knowledge, and understanding of the game. Furthermore, we will ensure access to top-notch training facilities and equipment that will enable them to compete at the highest level." Mr Moore says. 

SDU, Mr Moore says, is more than just about football. Football is only a vehicle for these players to learn other lessons in life. 

""Beyond football, we recognise the significance of fostering camaraderie, teamwork, and self-confidence among the girls. We will organise team-building activities, leadership workshops, and mentorship programs to support their personal growth both on and off the field."

"Our club will also work towards creating opportunities for them to participate in competitive leagues and tournaments, allowing them to showcase their talent and passion for the sport."

The Club recognises that small wins have already occurred. For instance, the 2023 Summer Competition saw two all Girls Teams enter - one in the Under 6 to 8 Comp, and one in the Under 9 to 12 Comp. Both teams did extremely well, with the older team "Girls United" having the second most wins in their Comp. 

For both the elder Smith and his partner Danni Klerks, the opportunity their daughter had been given was a source of nothing but pride. But there were some initial hesitations. 

"As her keeper coach my initial reaction was no she’s not ready." Smith recalled.

"We told Indy of this, her reaction was that of not wanting to let them down and not being confident in doing that at all."  

But through continual development - including her own hard work - Indy would be ready by the later part of the season to fill in when called upon. 

"When that time came near the end of the season where the women’s team had multiple players unavailable including both goalkeepers. The question was asked! Only this time I 100% believed Indy was ready." recalled Smith. 

Mr Smith is under no doubt that playing with her fellow females helped her develop the confidence to be able to improve and evolve. 

"Her junior team was really starting to find themselves and playing some good football. Especially Indy, she was putting in the effort at training and genuinely wanting to better her goalkeeping. From a keeper that wasn’t very vocal to start the season to a keeper that commanded instructions to her defence. I put a lot of this down to the fact that much of the defensive unit are female, girls that she’s built great friendships with. With her confidence growing, her training paying off in game, she was finishing the season really strong."

"For all 3 (Indy, Maddie & Amber) to play in the women’s team at the same time was something pretty special to them. I couldn’t be more proud of how Indy performed making multiple saves including one very great save late on." Smith says. 

The Joys of Growing as a Unit

Developing an all girls team is not just about attracting more female players, it's about setting an environment where they can learn together and develop at their own pace comfortably. 

On the opportunity to debut with two of her friends and teammates, Mr Smith had this to say.

"This here is why it’s vitally important that we get the girls playing together. As they get older they can progress as a unit. A team built on friendship and really understanding, helping and working for each other".

Indy herself also sees it as only a positive. 

"The reason why I like soccer is that it’s fun exciting sport that brings people together and that you get to be part of an awesome amazing team and that you can learn new skills and score amazing goals and that it’s a great way to stay active and get out of the house and make new friends."

Excitement crosses her face when asked her thoughts on an all girls team. 

"Is there actually going to be a girls team next year? …. I hope so! Us girls are getting older and we don’t want to keep playing against boys. It would be nice to play against all girls teams."

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