Canberra has continued building its squad for the W-League season with the signature of local star Emma Ilijoski.
The defender made her debut in round five of last season. She quickly announced herself as one of the best young prospects in the competition.
“I think I went in with just a really open mindset,” reflected Ilijoski to the media on Tuesday.
“I was really excited to prove myself because I’d finally gotten the opportunity after working hard for it.
“So I think it was a challenge but each game I felt more and more comfortable and then towards the end of the season I felt like I was really cementing my place in the team and hopefully I can do that again.”
Ilijoski did more than just cement her spot in the side. Her consistency and composure on the ball impressed national team selectors. She was recently called up to the Talent ID camp as a potential Matilda.
As a fan of the club, Ilijoski said it was an easy decision to recommit to Vicki Linton’s team.
“It’s a privilege because I’ve been growing up in Canberra. My family’s here and all my friends so to be able to play in front of them is just a dream come true.
“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be playing right now than Canberra so I’m super excited.”
Canberra was one of the great entertaining sides of last season. A youthful team lead by the experience of Michelle Heyman and Kendall Fletcher surged to the semi-finals and Ilijoski is eager to go one step further.
“Last season was so special, being my debut, making the finals series, and most importantly building to something really exciting within the squad.
“We are determined to continue that success and go one better and continue doing the club and supporters proud.”
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On an individual level, Ilijoski has plenty to be excited about, after having a taste of the top-level she is hungry for more. Her personal goals are clear.
“I think just to continue working hard to get a position in the team,” she said.
“Nothing’s really guaranteed so I really want to continue doing that and getting my name out there.
“I’m most looking forward to playing in front of the fans again at Viking…The atmosphere is unmatched.”
Canberra’s manager is just as thrilled to have Ilijoski back at the club.
“Emma had a wonderful debut season last year and was one of our most consistent players,” said Linton
“It is great for us as a club to be able to provide these opportunities to local Canberra players and I look forward to seeing her continue to develop and grow as a player this season.”
The former Junior Matildas captain is one of the latest in a tradition of young defenders developed by Canberra United. Ellie Carpenter and Karly Roestbakken became Matildas while in their teens at the capital.
Three of their current young guns were in the frame for Olympics selection. 18-year old Ilijoski was joined in the Talent ID camp by Jessika Nash and goalkeeper Sally James, both 16.
According to Ilijoski, there is no big secret to the production line of talent that she is a part of.
“Obviously that technical ability is very important but (what) the club and the team instill is just be a hard worker and all the players you just mentioned are extremely hard workers.
“I think it’s just wanting to play for your club, playing for the badge and trying everything you can do…. I think it’s just wanting to work hard and doing it for the fans and the club.”
Those fans have plenty to look forward to. With Heyman and Ilijoski secured Canberra are readying for another assault on the title and with more signings to follow, it is time to get excited.