Image: Wellington Phoenix FC Instagram/Design by Will Cuckson

Working through the ranks, Brianna Edwards is proud of the journey that has allowed her to make the most of her opportunities in the A-League Women competition.

She started playing football at the age of eight, among a number of other sports. Edwards told with The Inner Sanctum about the unlikely start to her footballing career.

“My mum wanted me and my sister to play a team sport. She wasn’t too fussed about netball and wanted something that we could just run around and get rid of all that energy,” Edwards said.

Her local club, Pagewood SC, is where Edwards and her sister started, playing in a mixed competition. Edwards was immediately obsessed with the game.

“When I was younger, I played a couple of sports, but football was just always the main one. I’m really glad that I got the opportunity to stick with it,” she said.

She came up through a successful youth system with Pagewood. Edwards qualified for multiple teams competing at Regional and State tournaments.

Her coach insisted that they trial for an NPL club, with Edwards sharing the unfortunate outcome of the trial.

“Our team went and trialled for this NPL club, but unfortunately only my sister and I got in. So the rest of my team went to another NPL club and my sister and I decided to break off from the team.”

The team they trialled for was the University of New South Wales Football Club (UNSW FC), at the time Edwards was 12-years-old and played in under-13 NPL 2 competition. They lost every single game, but Edwards relished her opportunity as a full-time goalkeeper, describing it as ‘character building’.

“It really prepared me for what was to come the next year,” she said.

During her time with UNSW FC in under 13’s, she was the second-choice goalkeeper and didn’t get much game time but was grateful for the development.

That year, she made the decision to transfer to the Western Sydney Koalas. In her last year there, she played in the under 17’s NSW State team. Edwards then became the starting goalkeeper at the Cooper Institute.

After a few years visiting a few training camps and exploring options in college football, COVID side-lined any chance of her progression.

It was then she received her first phone call for a professional opportunity.

“Wellington Phoenix rang me one day and said we want to sign you,” she said.

Edwards shares how grateful she is for what she’s achieved so far.

“It’s been incredible. Football has given me so much. It’s given me a means to travel. I’ve been overseas many times with football. I’ve trained in Valencia, I’ve been to the Under 20s World Cup, I’m living in New Zealand, I’ve lived in the US,” she said.

“It’s given me so many lifelong friends that I would never have met without football. I’m so grateful for every little part of the journey, the good and the bad. It’s got me to where I am now.”

Edwards shared also how grateful how it’s got her further in her career.

Overcoming injuries in the under 17’s Australian cycle, where Edwards was meant to be going away for her first Australian age group tournament, a broken finger ruled her out the week before.

“I couldn’t go and that was devastating. I thought this was my shot and now I can’t go,” she said

Since joining the Wellington Phoenix, Edwards describes it as “an amazing club.”

“Whenever I try and explain it to people, I always say it’s like having another family. When I came into the Phoenix, I’ve never been apart of New Zealand Football. I hadn’t been a part of a proper A-League setup full time,” she said.

“Coming in, it became another family and I’m really grateful for everyone in the setup and for everything that they’ve done for me. They’ve given me so much opportunity.

“Given the opportunity with the Phoenix last year, I was in a place where I actually didn’t know if I wanted to play football anymore so I always joke with the coaching staff and say ‘you rescued me’.

“I’m forever grateful for the club and for all the opportunities they’ve given me.”

Wellington played last season largely away from home and not in front of family and friends. Edwards shares the toughness of not playing in front of your own fans.

“A lot of the girls, it was their first time living away from family and not living in New Zealand. For myself it was a lot easier, I was quite close to home, with Wollongong only being a couple of hours from Sydney,” she said

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Edwards says the team grew closer, becoming family and being away from home has helped them gain a lot of perspectives and gratitude.

With the unfortunate injury to Lily Alfeld, Edwards was able to increase her game time. She shares how much of an amazing opportunity it’s been to play this year and how things have fallen into place.

“I think that I’ve gained so much experience. The A-League is different. It’s a different level to other games that I’ve played, NPL and everything. I think I’ve definitely grown and developed over the last nine or so rounds,” she said.

“Lily getting injured was a huge loss to the team, but being able to step in and fill her shoes and try to make a difference within the team, whether that’s on the pitch, in leadership or being able to back the girls.

“It’s been really important and a huge growth for me.”

Having had a huge 12-18 months, including being called up to represent New Zealand in the under-20 women’s team and the World Cup, Edwards shared how insane the experiences was, with the side welcoming her with open arms.

“Going to Costa Rica was so incredible, pre-tournament camp was insane we trained. We trained in incredible heat but just being able to be there was crazy.

“If you had told me about a year before that I would be at a World Cup next year, I would not have believed it, to be honest.

“I think being able to be a part of that and get a taste of what a World Cup is like was crazy and I’m forever grateful for the opportunity.”

Currently playing in her second season for the Wellington Phoenix as a keeper, Edwards shares how she has enjoyed playing in the A-League Women and how it’s helped her game personally, describing the level of play.

“We have international stars and forwards that have won World Cups, we have Matildas and we have players that have been in the A-League for years.

“I think it’s really helped me bring my game to another level and giving me that confidence,” she said.

Watching the games as a spectator at the age of 15 between Sydney and Perth at Jubilee, Edwards believed she belonged in the Liberty A-League Women’s competition.

“I remember saying, this is what I want to do. I want to play in the A-League and from that moment on, that was my goal.

“To be playing alongside players that I watched when I was younger, it’s insane.”

Edwards knows that she wants to keep playing and keep being consistent, with a World Cup one of her biggest goals as she aims to have as much game time under her belt as possible.

“To play international football and go overseas and play in as many different places as possible. I love travelling and I love football, so why not do both of them together?”

With football playing a major part in Edwards’ life for many years, it’s taught her to be determined and how to overcome obstacles, but also how to work hard for both other people and yourself.

The Phoenix, in particular, has shown Edwards that football and family can exist together. For inspiration, she looks to Alfeld as one of her role models, believing she is a great leader and person.

“She cares for everyone, everyone comes before her and she’s such a team player and great goalkeeper.

“I’ve looked up to her for the last couple of years, being her friend and being alongside her while playing and having her there while I’m making my step into daily cause has been great.”

Edwards names Kaylia Sheridan, who currently plays for Canada, as her second role model, and explains her reasoning and why she is inspired by her.

“I watched her play many times, [even] in the NWSL, before she cracked that number one spot in the Canadian National team. She kind of has a bit of an underdog story.”

Lastly, Edwards shared her words of wisdom that she would give to any young footballers coming through the ranks who want to improve their game.

“Stick with it and just be yourself, everything will fall into place. Working hard and being true to who you are is the most important thing that you can do. If you do that, no one can ask anything else of you and you can’t ask anything else of yourself.”

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