Champion CommBank Junior Matildas and AFF U18 trophy welcomed home
After a championship-winning undefeated run at the AFF U18 Women's Championship, the CommBank Junior Matildas arrived home to Sydney, trophy in hand, to the cheers of family, friends and media.
Captain of the CommBank Junior Matildas and Best Player of the tournament, Shay Hollman, described the tournament as unforgettable.
"The experience was insane. I'll never forget that moment of hearing the final whistle blow and having all the girls run together. It was absolutely incredible and I'm so proud of everyone, we did it for the country and couldn't be happier," she said.
After three years of international absence, the CommBank Junior Matildas collected an undefeated run of five games before lifting the trophy, with only one goal scored against them from an audacious free-kick by Myanmar in the third match.
"It's been a long time coming," Hollman said of how excited she and the team were to don the green and gold for the first time.
"We'd had heaps of training camps, so we were prepared, but to go away as a proper team and actually compete and put the Australian kit on, was really surreal."
The winning mentality of the squad was evident throughout the tournament, with Head Coach Rae Dower consistently speaking about her confidence in the CommBank Junior Matildas' ability to bring home the trophy.
This confidence was something that had also been deeply instilled in the players and was on display when Hollman was asked if the team had always believed they would be crowned champions.
"Of course we believed we could win," Hollman happily exclaimed."And I think that [winning mentality] mainly came from the staff, who have always backed and supported us.
"Throughout the training camps, we knew how we wanted to play and how we were going to beat the other teams. We always knew we could bring the trophy home and we proved that."
Dower echoed Hollman's sentiments.
"For a lot of these players, it's born in them, they believe that they can win and we instill that belief," she explained.
"This tournament is something they've never experienced before, so firsts are always unknown, but we were able to take out a lot of that nervousness and trepidation and just build confidence and belief within the group, so they didn't know anything different.
"As a group, they've only played five games together, and they got five wins, so at this stage, they are still undefeated."
Seeing the team thrive after missing out on so much international playing time due to COVID-19 was exceptionally fulfilling for Dower.
"When I first saw this group starting to come through and we were planning for that next qualifying period for the Asian Cup, we actually felt we were a real chance to make the World Cup," she explained.
"Obviously, we know the pandemic killed off all the qualifiers, so this was just a wonderful opportunity to actually see this group of players together.
"I think the one thing that stands out about them is that there are some phenomenal athletes in there, but we've actually got some really great footballers as well. Their skill and their technical ability are already really, really high, they're gaining tactical knowledge all the time and it's my hope that I can leave a bit of a blueprint with them."
Dower said the victory couldn't have come at a more opportune time, with Legacy23 a strong driver for success.
"Legacy is a wonderful thing and the timing couldn't be any better with the World Cup on our shores next year. We definitely want to continue building our participation rate and now the next generation of young players have got some extra role models that they can call on," Dower said.
"We just really want to see if we can continue to find more opportunities for these girls not only now, but also moving forward. Once they leave this age group, we want to continue to build platforms and opportunities for them to show their wonderful potential.
"I have no doubt that there'll be a number of these players that will go on to play senior international football one day and I'm just really, really excited to see where the future of women's football in Australia can lead."