23/04/2024

Polly Doran has made quite the impact since her move to Crystal Palace. (Photo: Crystal Palace X/Design: Theo Dimou)

Tourists and football fanatics travelling from all over the world to visit London would undoubtedly have Stamford Bridge, The Emirates and Tottenham Stadium on their bucket list.

Further south, an underrated stadium by the name of Selhurst Park plays host to Crystal Palace in front of over 25,000 passionate fans.

Australia has built a strong relationship with the English club over the years which has witnessed a plethora of talent wear the blue and red, with Mile Jedinak being the most recent who also wore the captain’s armband.

Tony Popovic, Kevin Muscat, Craig Foster, Craig Moore and Carl Veart are some of the well-known Aussies who considered Palace their home at one point in their careers.

The latest to add their name to that list is Polly Doran, now experiencing her second season at the club in the Women’s Championship, England’s second tier.

Entrenched in a sporting background growing up in Melbourne, the 22-year-old was a late bloomer throughout her junior career before an opportunity in the Liberty A-League helped kickstart a journey full of promise.

Doran spoke with The Inner Sanctum to explain how her encounter coming through the ranks was different from most girls.

“Growing up with three brothers, they were all into the popular Australian sports like cricket, footy and hockey, so I tagged along and took part in whatever I could,” she said.

“Football was probably the last thing that my family would’ve ever been associated with, but I think that was my call to mix things up and make it interesting.

“I joined my local club at Essendon Royals at the age of around 5, which was just down the road from my house and I stayed there for over 10 years. At that point, I didn’t know what the possibilities for me were any further on, as I had played in the seniors for the last few years there.

“When I reached 16, that’s when I realised the National Premier League (NPL) even existed having come from a family background with little interest in the game, that’s when I made the move to Calder United.

“A couple of years later, I signed my first contract for Melbourne Victory where I experienced three great seasons which then opened the door to a move over in England with Crystal Palace.”

Playing professional football domestically is a commendable achievement in itself, but to perform at one of the biggest clubs in the country for Melbourne Victory is another step up.

Winning back-to-back championships, Doran was instrumental in the clubs’ success as she explained the impact that coach Jeff Hopkins had on her development.

“When I first signed for Victory, I probably was a few steps behind the girls my age because I didn’t go through the normal pathway in terms of development,” she said.

“I think Jeff Hopkins took a chance on me and maybe saw something that other coaches didn’t, and I’ll be forever grateful to him for my progress. Even now he still talks to me and so what he’s done for me, I can’t thank him enough.

“Jeff is one of the reasons why I’m here in England and he actually has a big affiliation with Palace when he played there, so he was a massive advocate for me to make the move and show them what I’m capable of.

“Whilst he was coaching me, I understood that football isn’t a part-time hobby for me but rather a profession that I could commit to full-time.”

Polly Doran celebrating with the Liberty A-League trophy. (Photo: Polly Doran Instagram)

It wasn’t long until Doran attracted interest from overseas suitors, who soon identified the potential that Jeff Hopkins spotted from the very beginning.

An unexpected call from Crystal Palace required little hesitation for the U23 international to jump at the opportunity.

“It all happened very quickly when I was living in Sydney at the time taking part in a training base during the off-season,” Doran said.

“I remember my agent was looking overseas at options for where I could potentially go and he sent me a text saying ‘Crystal Palace are interested, would you be keen on moving?’.

“Obviously I didn’t know much about England in general never having been there before, but I knew Crystal Palace was a big club to which I replied back to my agent agreeing to join without asking any questions.

“I ended up on the phone with a few people associated with the club and then in the space of around two weeks, we were getting the Visa sorted. It was a bit of a rushed period because as soon as my Visa got accepted, I was straight on a plane.

“In a way, it’s good that it happened quickly because it didn’t give me a chance to second guess myself.”

After finishing fifth in the previous Championship campaign, Crystal Palace is aiming for promotion this time around as they currently sit fourth on the table with one game in hand, winning five and succumbing to the sole defeat.

One goal and one assist in six starts for Doran this season have contributed to Palace’s potent attack, as they rank first in the league for goals scored.

The full-back shed light on the environment within the club that helps develop not only individuals, but also the collective.

“It’s been a great experience so far, especially this season with the new coaching staff and I can’t fault anyone at the club because they’ve all been really supportive,” she said.

“I think that’s definitely fed down to the squad with the healthy culture that’s been built and it reminds me of the Victory team I was a part of where everyone is so close.

“The respect between the players and the staff is the big key that helps us perform because we know whenever we step onto the pitch, we have the full backing of the people above and the teammates around us which brings that extra confidence.

“The facilities are amazing and we honestly get provided everything to the point where sometimes we forget how lucky we are.”

As Doran has become familiar with both Australian and English football, how does she compare the two cultures?

“Over here in England, football is people’s lives and they dedicate everything they have to the game which is obvious through the passion of the fans,” she explained.

“I’ve noticed that trickles down to the players and the staff as that passion translates down to us, and we use that to feed off.

“At Melbourne Victory, it was a similar experience because Jeff (Hopkins) comes from an English background.

“I can’t speak for other Australian clubs, but the tactics and the depth of knowledge are next-level, and there isn’t much separation in terms of the talent pool, so that helps create healthy competition.

“At the same time though, you could say it’s starting to kick off a little bit in Australia with the interest shown in women’s football and the passion brewing within the game which I hope continues to grow.”

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Gifted the license to bomb forward as a full-back at both Victory and Palace, it has forced Doran to encapsulate the mindset of an inverted wing-back and utilise her strengths involving pace, skill and stamina to be a key pillar.

The 22-year-old described her game style and what makes her an asset to any team.

“Similar to most Australians who play overseas, I think I’m hard-working and will keep running until the final whistle,” she said.

“I’ve played both on the wing and as a full-back, so when I do play in defence I’ve still got that attacking instinct in me to push forward.

“Defensively, I try to be competitive by winning my individual battles and growing up with older brothers helped add a tough side to my game.”

Already one of Australia’s most recognisable teams, the Matildas have risen to a new level of stardom since the monumental Women’s World Cup on home soil.

A maiden semi-final appearance not only highlighted the immense depth, but also served as a reminder to the vast majority of the players who missed out on selection that competition for places is at an all-time high.

Playing for the Tillies is a dream for any aspiring Australian girl and that’s been no exception for Doran, aiming to break through in a team that has overly impressed her.

“It’s been amazing to see how well the Matildas are performing from afar,” she said.

“I have friends in that team and to see them do so well is awesome. The impact they’re having on Australia is surreal, because I’ve been watching them for a while now and finally it’s about time that they receive the recognition they deserve.

“Personally, it’s inspiring and it’s something I definitely want to aim towards in terms of putting on the green and gold at the highest level.

“I was part of the U23 Australia camp in Italy a couple of months ago and that was the first time I was officially been involved in international camps, so that was a great experience.

“The camp I was with is basing their model off what the Matildas are doing, which has allowed me to be exposed to the closest thing of first-team international football.

“From a coaching perspective, I’ve been told to be the best version of myself that I can be at club level and then that will eventually lead me to wherever I want to get to.”

Thinking back to her junior days when the development phase was treading behind the other girls, to see Doran’s journey take shape into a promising career overseas is nothing short of a remarkable story.

Perhaps it underlines how talentedly gifted the 22-year-old was to begin with all those years ago at Essendon Royals.

With the right mindset and mature approach, Doran has both short and long-term goals that she hopes to tick off her list.

“Short-term, I just want to keep developing each day with the focus of asking myself what can I do better today which will all add up in the end,” she said.

“Looking ahead to the next few years, I hope to play in the Women’s Super League, ideally with Palace and continue on at the club.

“Playing for the Matildas would be the ultimate dream and it’s something I’ve always wanted, so If I can achieve that then that would be incredible.”

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