Northern Tigers captain Hannah McNulty. (Photo: @tiff.williams/Instagram; Graphic Design: Madeleine Irwin)

Football NSW furthered its development of the women’s game this year with the launch of the Sapphire Cup, a state-wide women’s knockout competition.

For the Northern Tigers captain Hannah McNulty, the competition is much needed and long overdue.

“It’s been really good having the Sapphire Cup. I think it’s been a long time coming to be honest and it’s definitely been needed in the women’s game,” McNulty said.

“Any opportunity that we have to play more games is always going to be a bonus. It’s always going to help women’s football so just having those extra games in and that extra level of competition is always great.

“It’s another opportunity for teams like us in the NPL to make a point and prove ourselves and obviously compete for more silverware, so it’s been great.”

One of the things that comes along with a new competition, is an increase in the number of games, particularly midweek fixtures, which are a rarity outside of rescheduled games in the state competitions. 

For the Tigers, there has not been a lot of juggling needed with the extra fixtures.

“I think at Northern Tigers we’re pretty lucky as we have a big squad which has helped keep the level between our first grade and reserve grade pretty similar,” McNulty said.

“We do have quite a big unit of players that we can use so I think that’s definitely worked to our advantage when we do come up and we have extra games that we can call upon players that have already been training with us and they fit into the team nicely.

“So I think for us we’ve handled it quite well and I think it’s obviously been good to give those younger players a bit of an opportunity to step up and show themselves outside of the league as well.

“So I think at Tigers we’ve handled it pretty well and we’re still going strong in the cup so it seems to be working well so far.”

The Northern Tigers NPL NSW Women’s squad after a victory over NWS Spirit. Photo Credit: Northern Tigers/Facebook

Football Australia is set to launch a Women’s Australia Cup in 2024, which would add to the fixture list for a side like Northern Tigers, but McNulty is excited about it.

“I’m definitely excited for the idea of that. I think to improve women’s football across Australia as a whole, we need to make sure that the level between the leagues is getting smaller,” she said.

“Like from League One to NPL to the A-League and I think competitions like the Australia Cup would definitely help that.

“I think it would definitely be something we need to work on in terms of having three competitions but having a bigger squad would definitely help that.”

One of the things that the Northern Tigers captain has noticed is that promotion around the Sapphire Cup has been lacking in some respects in the later stages of the tournament before the semi-finals, particularly around broadcasts.

“It would be awesome to see some of the NPL teams against the local club teams. I’d have loved to have watched that and see some promotional material around that because it’s something that’s just never happened before,” she said.

“I think this is something people want to see and it’s been something they’ve been wanting to see for a long time and if that was published and posted, people would definitely be intrigued to see it.

“All promotion is great, especially with women’s football right now so I would definitely like to see a bit more promo around the games and whether that’s filming or footage or just photos in general would be awesome.”

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In addition to being a very talented player, McNulty has also done coaching at the Northern Tigers but has chosen to take the year off to prioritise her playing career.

“I love coaching and I put a lot of effort and passion into it. I just wanted to make sure all my energy was put towards my playing career this year given that’s definitely something I want to pursue,” she said.

“I’ve always loved coaching. It started more as a hobby when you’re younger, just joining in, but then I really started to love it and it became more of a passion.

“With that, I started to get my qualification and my C licence and then my B licence. That definitely increased my love for it even more.

“I’ve loved coaching the youth at Northern Tigers, especially as a youth player coming through those ranks, it’s been really inspiring to help those players out the last few years.

“Even now, some of them are stepping up into the senior squad and playing alongside me, so it’s really cool to see them keep progressing and know that I was a part of their journey.”

Coaching again in the future is something McNulty could see happening.

“I don’t see why not. Currently, my goal is on playing, just given I think performance wise it’s probably the years where I really need to knuckle down and put all my energy into it. I definitely wouldn’t be opposed to going back to it later on.”

The focus of putting all of her energy into her playing career comes on the back of making the NPL NSW Women’s Grand Final last year with Northern Tigers, which the side lost to Macarthur Rams on penalties.

Retaining a good portion of the squad this season has helped the side keep its hunger to return to the grand final.

“We know what it’s like and we want to do one better and win it this year,” McNulty said.

“There’s definitely a sense of determination amongst the players as we want to get back there.

“The existing players are very hungry, and we’ve also added some really good new players into the squad as well which has just increased our depth, and given us more versatility across the park.

“I think honestly the thing at Tigers that always sticks out is just our effort and that relentlessness. It’s something that’s instilled within the club, within the coaches, and the players.

“We want to work hard and regardless of the personnel on the field, we always want to be the most hard-working team. I think that goes a long way in the competition and definitely will help us get to the grand final this year.”

Hannah McNulty celebrates with some of her Northern Tigers teammates. Photo Credit: NPL NSW

Beyond getting back to the grand final, the Northern Tigers captain has her sights set on making one of her big dreams a reality as she focuses on her playing career.

“Getting into the A-League’s always been a big dream of mine. It’s something that’s a personal goal of mine that I definitely want to push myself to get there,” she said.

“If I keep putting in consistent performances, I’ve got a good shot of getting there.”

For some players who are chasing down the same dream, having to find the balance between work and playing can be difficult, but McNulty does not see that as such for her.

“I’ve always loved soccer, and to me, it’s never really been hard to balance because it’s something I look forward to and something I genuinely enjoy,” she said.

“I think this year being captain for the first time, there’s definitely felt like a bit more responsibility and a little bit more time and energy needed put into it.

“But again, I genuinely love it and I enjoy it so for that reason it’s always pretty easy to balance because it’s what I look forward to throughout the work day as well, so it’s never really seen as a chore.”

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