It started with two months in a tent. 11 years later, A-Leagues star will join an exclusive club

Sydney FC goalkeeper Jada Whyman will join an exclusive club this weekend when she lines up for the Sky Blues’ crucial clash with Adelaide United, becoming just the fourth shot-stopper to play 100 games in the Liberty A-League. Ahead of her milestone match, she sat down with reporter James Dodd.

Footballers often speak about the sacrifices their families made in order to help them realise their dream of playing football for a living. Well Jada Whyman and her family certainly understand sacrifice better than most.

After an opportunity arose to join the then national team goalkeeping coach Paul Jones’ academy in Canberra, the Whyman family uprooted their lives, moving from Wagga Wagga to live with an aunt in the ACT in order to give their 13-year-old daughter the best shot at making it. However things didn’t work out.

“My aunt had young kids as well, so it was a lot of people under one roof. We moved out after a month or so,” Whyman wrote for the Athlete’s Voice back in 2018.

“That pretty much left us homeless. We ended up driving out to Queanbeyan, outside of Canberra, and found a camping ground. We set up a tent and ended up living there for two months.”

Sharing a mattress with her three younger siblings and paying 20 cents for a warm shower was certainly not an experience most other footballers can say they endured during the infancy of their footballing journey.

Fast forward 10 years or so and a now 24-year-old Whyman is on the verge of becoming just the fourth goalkeeper in Liberty A-League history to have played 100 games in the competition whilst also having just been named in the latest Matildas squad.

A quite incredible journey no doubt shaped by her early experiences in life.

“Yeah look it kind of crept up on me,” laughed Whyman as she sat down at Sydney FC’s Sky Park ahead of an evening training session. “I didn’t realise that I was even coming up to my 100th game.

“But to see the achievements of my fellow teammates like Prinny (Princess Ibini) and Nat (Tobin) having played their hundreds I mean, it’s just pretty cool to be up there with them.”

Whilst there may be plenty of players across the A-Leagues who have made more than 100 appearances, there aren’t many goalkeepers who have done so.

In fact, Whyman will become just the fourth goalkeeper in Liberty A-League history to reach the milestone as she joins Melissa Barbieri, Lydia Williams and Casey Dumont.

A proud indigenous Australian, Whyman admits it’s a special honour to be ranked so highly on that list alongside Matildas great and Noongar woman Williams, a goalkeeper whom she has always looked up to.

“When I was younger, I guess like my first (role model) was obviously Lydia Williams, and probably (former USA goalkeeper) Hope Solo as well. They were both goalkeepers that were playing top football in their national teams.

“So yeah, they were two role models for me or inspirations I might say. But Lyds is also someone who I played with now so it’s kind of a bit surreal, but at the same time, like I think I just enjoy learning off her.

“But I kind of tried to get out of that idea of being a fan girl of hers, because that’s not who I am anymore, but obviously it’s a bit of a dream for young Jada.”

But while her milestone is certainly something she’s proud of, she believes there should be plenty more keepers on that list.

“I enjoy a competitive kind of environment between the first and second goalkeeper,” said Whyman. “I think for me, just having that competition has really pushed me to up my game and to be able to start a lot more games.

“It’s a privilege to be in the position I am but obviously I think the investment in young goalkeepers probably needs to be more so we can have more goalkeepers.

“Instead of always looking overseas, which is fantastic for our league, but at the same time we have to look to the future for our goalkeepers as well for the national team.”

An integral part of the double-winning season 2022-23 – a campaign in which she also equalled the Sydney FC club record for clean sheets (10) – the 24-year-old is now on course to break that record before the end of the season as Sydney FC chase another historic double.

So what’s the secret?

“I think it’s a lot of teamwork that we have in terms of it’s not just defending from in the back third but also higher up the pitch,” said the shot stopper. “Our mindset is to always win the ball back as quick as possible.

“For this year it’s been very good and we’ve we’ve worked on it a lot. I think it wasn’t always the best from the start of the season. So it’s definitely something that we’ve tried to improve.

“The ideal situation for goalkeepers is always to have a clean sheet so you’re always aiming for that but it’s a mental game as well. You can’t be focused on having a clean sheet every game because if you do concede you’ve got the rest of the game to play.

“So for me, that’s what I want to aim for, but it’s not the be all and end all. The overall thing is to win that game and move on to the next.”

For a goalkeeper widely recognised as being one of if not the best in the Liberty A-League, talk of an overseas move is never far away, especially when her contract expires at the end of the current campaign.

“I had opportunities when I was younger,” revealed the Sky Blues goalkeeper. “But at the time, I just hadn’t really had consistent game time with my injury.

“I just felt a bit uncomfortable with the idea of going overseas with an injury and not having my support network with me.

“I guess, having gotten on top of that injury now like obviously to be amongst the Matildas as well, you have to be competitive and up your game and continue to grow.

“Hopefully maybe going overseas is an option but if that doesn’t come up – because it’s not the easiest thing as a goalkeeper as well to go overseas.

“So, you know, if that opportunity does come up that’d be awesome. But also like if it doesn’t, I would love to stay here at Sydney and continue playing here in the A-League.”

As mentioned, Whyman’s excellent form has seen her called up as one of three goalkeepers in the latest CommBank Matildas squad, as head coach Tony Gustavsson takes his side to Texas for a friendly match against Mexico.

“Yeah I’m very excited,” laughed Whyman as she discussed her joy at getting to travel to the USA for the first time.

“It’s always cool and a privilege to be called up to the Matilda’s and yeah, I enjoy the challenge of being able to be in camp. Having my teammate Cortnee Vine back in the squad with me, is pretty cool. So I’m looking forward to just being back with her and that squad.

“Going into Matildas, I have to really switch quickly into a different way of playing. For example, keepers play a bit higher in the national team. So having to kind of have a little bit more confidence of doing that… without also putting yourself in awkward situations where you get chipped or something!”

Always looking for ways to improve and therefore impress, Whyman admits she uses Matildas duty to work on aspects of her game on both the technical and the mental side.

“I want to work on my cross taking because I think that’s something that I can improve on. Or playing out as well. My communication, goalkeeping is a leadership role so I guess being able to voice my opinion as well on the field is something I’m trying to get comfortable with because I’m not a very loud person when I’m in there.

“I just like to do my job and get out but I would like to just improve that and have more confidence with what I say and how I say it.”

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While she may have been regularly called up for the Matildas since 2018, Whyman is yet to receive her first cap for her country.

However, her excellent domestic form is clearly being recognised and appreciated by head coach Tony Gustavsson, who himself has been taking in plenty of Liberty A-League games over the last month or so as he begins the process of naming his squad for the Paris Olympics later this year.

“It’s two goalkeepers so its slim chances. But at the same time, it would be a dream come true for me to be in that Olympic squad.

“I also have to be realistic with our others playing and where they’re playing and the level they’re playing at and you know, what is best for the team at the moment.

“So my goal is to push myself and hopefully continue to get better and if that’s good enough to get in the squad, great.

She continued: “I want to hopefully live up to the expectation of doing a good job when I go in but if that doesn’t happen, I just continue to build on what I’ve got and how I’m kind of going in my journey of football.

“So yeah, it would be amazing, obviously, but I know kind of being realistic is a bit of an important thing for me as well.”

There’s plenty of football to be played before the Olympics squad is announced though as Whyman and Sydney FC chase a ‘double double’ – aiming to repeat last season’s Premiership/Championship trophy haul.

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The Sky Blues keeper is also hoping to be part of history on May 24 when, for the first time ever, an A-League All Stars Women’s side will take to the field against Arsenal Women at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium.

“Yeah, it’s fantastic for the league,” said the 24-year-old. “I think it’s something that obviously the men’s have and have had the opportunity to play against teams like Barcelona.

“So I think it’s just fantastic to now be doing the same thing with the women’s and obviously we have a few Australian players that play for Arsenal. So I think it’ll be amazing for them to come home and you know, show what they now do overseas as well.

“It’s just so cool to have a game that’s got so much interest around it just purely based on the fact that the Matildas did so well at the World Cup and the fans realise that there is more to football than just the Matildas – there’s the A-Leagues.”