To win, to be happy, to aspire… the hopes and dreams of A-Leagues stars laid bare

Behind the Scenes at the A-Leagues Season Launch 2023-24

As the A-Leagues launch the new seasons for men and women, the players are dreaming of glory in all sorts of ways

On the eve of every season it’s not just hope that springs eternal, but dreams too. Every player in the A-Leagues is dreaming of their moment in the coming season, from the rookies to the veterans, and those dreams come in every shape and size.

Emma Ilijoski once thought her only dream was to play for the club she followed as a child, only to find the dreams just got bigger when she got there. Brandon O’Neill loves preparing to win a game but also aspires to enjoy every minute.

Marcus Younis dreams of emulating the careers of those around him who played among Europe’s elite. And Rebekah Stott just wants “to win” every game and every trophy.

For two hours players from across the A-Leagues came together to launch another new season, days before hostilities recommence on the field. Friendships were renewed, respect was evident and the odd moment of rivalry hung in the air to keep it real.

FOOTBALL IS BACK! A-Leagues officially launches for season 2023-24

View the complete A-League Men fixture here

View the complete A-League Women fixture here

This was the year when football fever swept the nation during the Women’s World Cup, and there was a spring in the step of players itching to get their seasons underway.

Football remains a great leveller, especially with children around, and the A-League Men’s Golden Boot, Jamie Maclaren, volunteered to face penalties from some local junior players. Moments later the same young players were seeking autographs from the likes of Ilijoski, who once was a junior fan herself as a Canberra United devotee before she became one of its players.

Now she pinches herself a little still at playing for United with her heroes like Michelle Heyman, but it doesn’t stop there.


“I think what’s keeping me going is that I always have dreams that are bigger,” she said. “Part of being part of being a footballer, part of being a professional, is you always want more.

“So I’m definitely proud of what I’ve achieved, but I’m also definitely looking for more. The hype of the World Cup has carried on, I feel, and definitely in Canberra, we are so excited, we’re buzzing. We have a bit of a new look team so it’s just exciting to get on the field.”

Libby Copus-brown and Brandon O’Neill of Newcastle Jets at the A-Leagues Season Launch.

At 20, Ilijoski has most of her career ahead of her; at almost 10 years her senior, Newcastle Jets captain Brandon O’Neill has a rather different perspective, especially after losing his father during the COVID pandemic.

“It’s a left field one, but it’s a feeling that nothing is ever as big and nothing is ever as small (as you think)… that’s the beauty about the time in which I’ve been given now to be back in the game.

“There’s been no great change (this pre-season), there’s been no uproar, there’s been no big life things happening. It’s just to be at a stage of every day getting to do something I love, getting ready to win a football game, but actually enjoy that process. That’s my dream this year, just to be me and actually enjoy that.”

At 20 Marcus Younis can also find delight in the process of being a footballer, because he has a front row seat to watch players with serious European pedigree on the same pitch as him daily at Western Sydney. The self-described “young player in the squad” is also, he tells himself, the luckiest.

LOVED THE WORLD CUP? Here’s how to enjoy the Liberty A-League Women incl. FREE tickets for U16’s


“The experienced players like Milos Ninkovic, Marcus Antonssen, Marcelo, you learn so much just from watching them,” he said. “They’re all so elegant when they play, they’re all class, so really as a young player to learn from them, to watch them, it really is a dream come true.

“Marcelo told me a few stories playing against teams like Manchester City when he was young, you hear from Ninkovic about playing against Messi so that just makes me want to play more and do more as a footballer. So I’m very, very lucky.”

Stott meanwhile has done much as a footballer but even more off the field. Her return to Melbourne City from Brighton, two years after successfully being treated for cancer, is one of the A-Leagues most inspiring stories. For Stott, though, perhaps with a little time to make up, sentiment can wait. For now, there is only one aim.

Rebekah Stott of Melbourne City speaks on stage during the A-Leagues Season Launch.

“To win the championship, to win everything” she said. “We’ve got such a young talented squad and I really hope that we can get some more success back at the club for the women’s team.

“I think there’s multiple reasons why I’ve come home but I’m super happy to be home. I’ve been at City for a lot of years and the club is amazing. The support they’ve given me has been unreal and it’s a professional club, we get everything.

“I want to enjoy it and have fun but really… just try and aim for that success.”

Liberty A-League Women season 2023-24, Round 1 fixtures:

  • Central Coast Mariners vs Newcastle Jets – Saturday October 14th, Industree Group Stadium at 5:00pm AEDT
  • Sydney FC vs Western Sydney Wanderers FC – Saturday October 14th, Allianz Stadium at 7:45pm AEDT
  • Perth Glory vs Western United – Saturday October 14th, Macedonia Park at 10:00pm AEDT
  • Wellington Phoenix vs Melbourne City – Sunday October 15th, Sky Stadium at 1:00pm AEDT
  • Adelaide United vs Canberra United – Sunday October 15th, Coopers Stadium at 3:00pm AEDT
  • Melbourne Victory vs Brisbane Roar – Sunday October 15th, The Home of the Matildas, 4:00pm AEDT

Isuzu UTE A-League Men season 2023-24, Round 1 fixtures:

  • Adelaide United vs Central Coast Mariners – Friday 20th October, Coopers Stadium at 7:45pm AEDT
  • Macarthur FC vs Brisbane Roar – Saturday 21st October, Campbelltown Stadium at 3:30pm AEDT
  • Melbourne City vs Western United – Saturday 21st October, AAMI Park at 5:30pm AEDT
  • Sydney FC vs Melbourne Victory – Saturday 21st October, Allianz Stadium at 7:45pm AEDT
  • Western Sydney Wanderers vs Wellington Phoenix – Sunday 22nd October, CommBank Stadium at 3:00pm AEDT
  • Perth Glory vs Newcastle Jets – Sunday 22nd October, HBF Park at 7:45pm AEDT