"I think they can go back-to-back" - Gill believes Victory will retain A-League Women crown
Front Page Football caught up with former A-League Women champion Grace Gill to discuss her expectations for the new season and her growing involvement within the media.
Gill (right) on commentary for Fox Sports. (PFA)
Gill has had a busy few weeks.
From Stan Sport to Channel 10, the sought-after pundit has proven her versatility, discussing Manchester United’s form in the Champions League and commenting on Matildas matches.
A day before the 2021/22 A-League Women season kicks-off, she was just happy to see more women’s football being played.
“What I am looking forward [to] the most is football being back,” she said.
“These have been uncertain times; I am glad we are one sleep away from the start.
“I am just hoping that we can get through the season without any kind of schedule change or interruption.”
The former Canberra United player will be in the commentary booth week in week out.
“My involvement is a bit different this year; I will be doing a lot of coverage for the competition,” she added.
“I have done Canberra games for several years now. Extending the coverage to other teams and getting involved as much as I can is something I am excited about.”
Amongst the teams covered, newcomers Wellington Phoenix will kick off their season against the Western Sydney Wanderers on Friday.
“It is incredibly important to bring a team like Wellington [into] the competition [and] give players from New Zealand an opportunity to compete at a higher level,” Gill said.
“It is also tough for them because of the late inclusion, at a time when off-season movements were already done.
Kate Taylor, Grace Jale, and Annabel Martin are ready for the Wellington Phoenix. (Getty Image)
“Some of the people they got on board, though, are really good.
"Annabel Martin and Hannah Jones from [the] NPL here in Australia, as well as New Zealand international goalkeeper Lily Alfeld, who was phenomenal last year for Perth.”
This year’s expansion will be followed by more next season, with Western United and the Central Coast Mariners entering women’s teams into the competition in 2022/23.
“It is important to get the timing right and to have the right expansion,” Gill explained.
“Something that has been spoken about a lot is the need for a full home and away season.
“We are in the 14th season now. We are bringing in new teams yet we don’t have that full home and away model.
“I am also very mindful of the depth and the quality of the talent, making sure that the competition remains of good quality.
“Eventually, I want to see more women’s football and more opportunity for women to play.”
One team to watch in the A-League Women will undoubtedly be Jeff Hopkins’ Melbourne Victory, the reigning champions.
“Victory has lost some key players, but they maintained a good core from last year and did well in recruitment,” she said.
“I think they can go back-to-back.
“They are a very strong side.”
Kyra Cooney-Cross (right) will have a bigger role at Victory this season. (AAP)
One team will be especially keen to deny Victory the repeat.
“Sydney FC, similarly, have lost a couple of key players (Clare Wheeler, Ellie Brush), but they have good consistency throughout their team,” she said.
”They brought some interesting players in [such as] Maria Rojas but also Jessika Nash and Paige Satchell from Canberra.
“They are the kind of team that [can] lead the charge, and I can see a Sydney FC - Melbourne Victory face-off again this season.”
Gill donned the green jersey of Canberra United almost her whole career.
She keeps a keen interest in her former team.
“I think there is a fair bit of turnover, but there is a small core group that remains. Michelle Heyman, Grace Maher, Laura Hughes, and Lauren Keir are a really strong core!” Gill said.
“They have recruited reasonably well. We don’t know much about the 2 NWSL players (Ally Haran, Chelsee Washington). But the simple fact that they were playing for Orlando Pride is a [testament] of their talent.
“Bringing back Keeley Richards in goals, a year after her breakthrough season, is a really important move too.
“The spine remains unchanged, and that’s important.”
Ash Sykes and Michelle Heyman will be reunited in green this season. (Rohan Thomson)
Former golden boot and Julie Dolan medal winner Ashleigh Sykes is back at Viking Park this season as well.
She might need time to re-adapt to the A-League Women after a couple of seasons of NPLW in Canberra, where she scored 29 goals in 22 games.
“It is going to take a bit of time, and it’s not any discredit to Ashleigh, who is a great player,” Gill said.
“There’s a difference in speed and physicality from the NPLW to the A-League [Women].
“I don’t know if she would be a starter. I am speculating, but I can imagine Ash Sykes coming off the bench and being an impact player.
“I am excited to see her playing [alongside] Michelle [Heyman] again. They have had so many successful combinations over the years playing together with Canberra United.”
Heyman, the 2021 Julie Dolan medal winner, will wear the armband in the capital this season.
“Vicki [Linton] (Canberra's head coach) spoke about how Michelle leads by actions, shows up with the right attitude every training [and] leads by example,” Gill continued.
“Besides her, she has Grace Maher, Laura Hughes; it is a strong leadership group.
“Having a leadership group is ultimately as important as the person with the armband on.”
Ahead of the A-League Women starting, Australian fans could also hear Gill’s voice and commentary during the Matildas’ recent meeting with the USA in Newcastle.
The Tillies have won only one of their last five friendlies and offered another somewhat disappointing performance.
“Getting the draw against the US in Newcastle was great from the audience point of view [and] seeing the support was awesome,” Gill said.
Kyah Simon scored the equaliser against the USWNT. (Tom Pombart)
“We expect them to perform for a complete 90 minutes, and they're not there yet, and probably a little way off that.
“There are questions about solidarity but also formation: again, there was a new defence on Tuesday night (Yallop and Nevin).
“Playing the rotation and trying to figure out what works left some people scratching their head.
“Karly Roestbakken or Claire Wheeler maybe deserved more of a shot.
“These girls need to play as much international football as possible between now and the World Cup.”
There were some eye-opening lessons over the two-game series against the USWNT.
But there were also some positives to draw from it as well.
“Of course, the attacking-minded defenders, Steph Catley and Ellie Carpenter, who love going up and down the pitch [were a positive],” Gill added.
“Seeing the young players [too], like Kyra Cooney-Cross and Mary Fowler breaking in the national team is great.”
Next, the Matildas head to the Asian Cup, which will kick off on January 20th, and winning the trophy is a genuine objective.
“They should comfortably get out of the group, and I say that with no disrespect to the other teams and players,” Gill said.
“I hold the Matildas to such high regard, they are quality players, and they should comfortably qualify [out of] their group and challenge for a spot in the final.
“The question is, will Tony Gustavsson put [out] his absolute best 11, or does he still tinker around and play girls that don’t have enough international experience?
“Being the hosting nation for the next World Cup, we are already qualified, so there is less pressure to get results.”
The Matildas lifting the 2010 Women's Asian Cup. (Getty Images)
According to Gill, the trophy could come back down under for the first time since 2010.
“Winning the Asian Cup is a realistic objective, as long as the balance is struck between going for the trophy and giving newer girls some opportunity on [the] international scene,” she said.
Whether international football or domestic football, the former A-League Women champion is everywhere behind the microphone this season.
“I am enjoying it. It is an opportunity that I am relishing, and I worked hard for,” she added.
“I have always enjoyed being around the game. To remain involved in a way that is still really satisfying and getting to see a lot of the girls still is a nice feeling.
“I am glad I can provide a level of analysis in the commentary that people can listen to, and maybe something they had not thought of, and provide a different point of view.
“I am enjoying it. It is going to be a busy summer, but I am just going to throw myself into it and enjoy the experience.”
Can the experience continue until 2023?
“That is the plan,” Gill said with a smile.
“I would want to be involved in the World Cup.
“A lot of momentum is building now [and] hopefully it continues, and this involvement remains the same in 18 months.”
Get familiar with Grace Gill’s voice and in-game analysis.
They will accompany fans throughout the upcoming A-League Women's season.
The competition kicks off this Friday in New Zealand.
The Phoenix will host the Wanderers at 5.05pm AEST, before Gill's former side Canberra United hosts Melbourne City at 7.45pm at Viking stadium.
Women's football in Australia is well and truly back.