How The Block, beach cricket and Kyah’s fan club got the Mariners ready for kick-off

Back to the future for Kyah Simon as Mariners women return to the A-League

The inside story of how you build a team and a culture from scratch for the Liberty A-League – by one of its key players.

It’s hard to measure how well a brand new football squad has come together, at least until the real results come in. 

But someone asked me the other day if we had any personal pictures of a pretty special couple of days we’d just had as a team at Toowoon Bay on the Central Coast, and I realised that we didn’t have many – simply because a bunch of women in their teens and 20s barely had our phones out for most of 48 hours together.

I reckon that tells you a lot about what the Mariners’ new Liberty A-League team is building this season. It certainly feels like something special. 

ROUND ONE THIS WEEKEND: Get your tickets here

It also feels like only yesterday that I was sitting at Industree Group Stadium in February watching the Matildas play Czechia in their opening match of the 2023 Cup of Nations. My phone went off with a message from Em Husband, my coach at Sydney University: “How great is this stadium?”

I didn’t think much more of it until I was at Sydney Uni training a few weeks later, and the news went round that Em had been appointed head coach of the Mariners’ women’s team – playing games at that very stadium. No wonder she was excited.

For the next few weeks Em was a busy woman as she juggled the end of the NPL season with laying the foundations for a brand new team, but it was reassuring to see she hasn’t changed one bit.

It’s a pretty unique challenge, for Em and for the more experienced players (which, I hate to admit, includes myself). For her, you have a blank page in terms of the players you’d like but you also have to create team culture and all the connections that usually exist within a well-established team. It’s something we talked a lot about at Sydney Uni, even before the Mariners squad began to assemble.

One of the first things Em did was to arrange a weekend away for the squad, right before pre-season started, up at Magenta Shores. We played cricket, a bit of soccer tennis, we ate together and most importantly we hung out. 

A lot of us knew each other but you need that time to agree the team’s goals, your values, the things you will have each other’s backs on. And that means that when you start playing games, even pre-season friendlies, you’re literally all on the same side and the same page.

We’ve played a lot of practice games, more than just about any other team I reckon – we’ve taken on three Liberty A-League sides and some male teams too. We went on a Tamworth trip a couple of weeks ago to play Newcastle, and that was so important for us – winning 3-2 helped, but a long bus ride of music, laughter and excitement was how more of those connections got made. 

Even before we left, we had a fans’ day at Erina Fair with the jumper presentation as a signal that the season was close by. And then you go away for the night; you spend time with your roommate, eat together, play a game together and realise that you actually enjoy each others’ company. As I’m in my final semester at uni, I had taken a pile of books to read – they hardly got touched.

YOUR 2023-24 BIBLE: Fixtures, signings, kits, fantasy & more

TRANSFER CENTRE: Your club’s ins/outs

ROUND ONE THIS WEEKEND: Get your tickets here

It feels as a team that we’ve been embraced by the club and the community. The Central Coast has always been proud of its men’s team and their title win last season had a massive effect.

But we’ve had that many interactions and moments of kindness and support from locals and from the people at our club. Our CEO Shaun has been at training a lot, staff members come to our lunches, sponsors put on lunches. These things matter.

In fact we met Kyal and Kara Demmrich from The Block at a function (our captain, Taren King, is quite the fan), and before you know it they had arranged for us to stay a couple of nights at their beach house the other day. We trained together, swam together, had a barbecue, went to see the men’s team play. The team spirit gets stronger each time. 

All of this means that as players we feel an obligation to the community, and want to help out in terms of club initiatives. I’m starting to understand why people say the Central Coast is a unique community. 

I’d better mention the signing of Kyah Simon or her fan club might boo me off the field during round one. Trust me I’ve seen them in full force at every event we’ve been to and I can’t blame them.

As a full-back, I’ve had the displeasure of lining up against her a few times so personally I’m beyond excited that she’s on my team now instead. She has contributed so much to the team from day one, picking up all the small, yet important details in our video analysis and working so diligently in the gym.

And now the first game is almost here. What all this work on our culture means for our results, only time will tell. But what we have put together in a matter of weeks feels like a pretty special place to be in. And that, surely, gives us the best chance of a fantastic first season of women’s football back at this great club.