The Newcastle Jets started the A-League Women season with potential, if not promise. The club announced a series of exciting signings before the season began and supporters dared to hope.
Winger, Sunny Franco returned for another season, and American midfielder Elizabeth Eddy arrived with enthusiasm. Importantly, the club signed Norwegian international Marie Dolvik to partner Tara Andrews up front.
In a final touch, Emily Van Egmond signed on a short-term deal. One of Australia’s greatest midfielders would grace ‘The Dub’ again, in the colours of her hometown team.
Unfortunately, injuries, COVID, a congested fixture and the unfair realities of life in the A-League Women prevented this team reaching their potential.
It was not a season without highlights, but it was one of the most difficult campaigns for any club.
Newcastle began the season well. While it was still at full strength, it faced the exciting but inexperienced Wellington Phoenix.
The 5-1 win in Round 2 was the best all-round performance from the Jets. Van Egmond controlled the game from midfield, Franco was at her tireless best, and the attack of Andrews, Dolvik and Sophie Harding was dynamic and versatile.
Andrews scored a brace, while Dolvik scored a sensational long-range goal to open her account in the league. For the first time in years, Newcastle looked to have options on the field, and on the bench.
The team was so deep that star midfield recruit Eddy started at right back. Things were looking up for the Jets. It is a shame that this first choice line up was not available throughout the season.
The other significant highlight was Cass Davis breaking an Australian football record.
The club legend set the record for most consecutive top flight games for either men or women. She played her 109th game in a row at home in a fantastic event. The stadium was renamed after her and a commemorative beer was served.
She is still going too, having started the three games since. It is a remarkable achievement, especially considering the shortened women’s season and the fact that players are not full time.
The ability to play almost infinitely and recover constantly is incredible. Cassidy Davis has played almost nine years of continuous football, and she’s not done yet.
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In an attempt to complete the season on time, the fixture was condensed. Almost half a season’s worth of games was condensed into one month of intense football.
This hit every team, but Newcastle fans can feel particularly aggrieved at the situation.
With games coming so quick every problem becomes magnified and compounded. A two week injury can mean missing three to four games. By the end of the season, Newcastle could only name two outfield players on the bench and a depleted starting 11.
Most significantly, goalkeeper Georgia Boric had to leave the competition. The A-League Women is still not a full time job, there are no concrete plans or timeframe for it to become one, and Boric became the unfortunate face of this problem.
As the season wore on, constant fixture changes and work commitments made the dual responsibilities impossible to juggle.
This was sad for Newcastle, and a reminder of the sacrifices so many women make to play the game at the elite level.
In terms of impact, Dolvik was the most important player in the side. The Norwegian striker was fast and had an explosive right foot.
She was able to change the momentum or outcome of a game by her skill and pace either on the wing or through the middle.
Unfortunately for the Jets, she struggled to recover from COVID and was unable to play 90 minutes toward the end of the season. Dolvik missed the final game against Brisbane Roar, and Newcastle is a different team without her on the pitch.
The other contender for MVP is Claire Coelho. The Jets goalkeeper is often spectacular and kept Newcastle in the contest many times. Her match against Sydney FC late in the season was one of her best. She almost scored a dramatic late equaliser until an eagle-eyed referee spotted a foul.
Coelho is one of the best keepers in the league and reaffirmed her reputation for much of the season.
In a season where Newcastle found itself defending often, Kirsty Fenton was a standout player.
It was the 18-year-old’s first season in the A-League Women, a local product of the Newcastle Academy. She has been a Jet since she was 13 and was impressive in almost every game this season.
Early in the season, she stepped into the place of club legend and former Matilda Gemma Simon. Not only did she deputise admirably for the injured defender, she also scored her first goal. It may have been slightly fortunate, but it was still a good reward from an encouraging performance.
Fenton is a Newcastle success story. She looked right at home on the big stage and faced up to some of the competition’s best strikers.
As much as any of the big names, Fenton is a player that coach Ash Wilson will want to re-sign.
It was a tough season for Jets fans, players and coaches. However, they had plenty to cheer, and the team performed admirably under difficult circumstances.
Despite the hardships on the playing group, they never stopped trying throughout the season. A 92nd minute equaliser to Ashlee Brodigan epitomised the spirit in the team.
Going forward, Newcastle can rely on some players to remain loyal. Tara Andrews, Gemma Simon and Lauren Allen will likely return. Claire Coelho had another strong season and Sophie Harding improved as an attacker.
Brodigan was impressive in her second stint at the club, and the above mentioned Fenton is a player for now who still has yet to reach her potential.
Newcastle need to reset and put effort into strong recruitment before next season. Ash Wilson’s team had an unsuccessful season, but not a wasted one.
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