From W-League to Ivy League

Footballers aren't often know for their brains - but Western Sydney Wanderers are soon to have their own representatives at Harvard University.

Some footballers we know are not renowned for their academic brilliance.

There were widespread giggles when fans heard David Beckham trot out the line, “My parents have been there for me ever since I was about 7” and Ruud Gullit-s, “We must have had 99 per cent of the match. It was the other three per cent that cost us” would have puzzled his father, who was an economics teacher.

Yet for the current generation of footballers the stereotype is being strongly challenged.

OK, while “Harvard University” and “W-League football” are not phrases one normally links in a sentence, for Wanderers Women-s Goalkeeper, Liz Durack, they sum up her future.

For Durack and three of her teammates, this week marked the end of high school forever.

Liz finished her HSC exams with Extension Latin and while the Sydney Girls High School Sports Captain achieved early acceptance at Harvard, the other three (Alicia Bass, Alex Huynh and Racheal Soutar) are no academic slouches - all with university courses on the horizon.

Durack, who will study a mandatory year of Liberal Arts before turning her attention to medical school says the juggle of responsibilities was not easy.

“You have to be consistent, both with schoolwork and in your football - there-s no slacking off because there is no time to play catch-up later."

Out of the classroom though, the steepest learning curve has been as part of the new Westfield W-League franchise - a team assembled in just seven weeks, by inaugural coach Steve Roche.

A challenge the former Central Coast Mariners W-League mentor took in his stride.

Roche is no stranger to women-s football having held roles as NSWIS Assistant Coach (2009-10), Coach of NSW State U17-s Metro girls (2009-10) and Head coach of NSW State U15-s Country girls team (2006-08).

He felt that experienced, high-profile players were essential to create a spine to build the team around, and they arrived in the form of Sarah Walsh, Servet Uzunlar, Catherine Cannuli and Teigan Allen.

Roche then sought the signatures of players he felt were ready for top flight football, or, in some cases a return to the W-League.

Liz Durack grabbed the chance quite literally with both hands.

“There are some of us who didn-t get a chance to play with, say a Sydney FC, or couldn-t travel to Newcastle and so on to play there. Western Sydney is a strong football area, so the opportunity to step up to the top level here and see if we have what it takes, is hugely exciting”.

As well as her fellow (aforementioned) high school graduates, Roche gave the likes of NSW Premier League goal scoring machine Jenna Kingsley, as well as attacking midfielder Trudy Camilleri, defenders Sam Spackman and Alesha Clifford and centre back/striker Jessica Seaman a new focus on the game.

Former Young Matilda Olivia Kennedy joins midfielders Linda O-Neill and Vanessa Hart plus goalkeeper Georgia Rowntree in the talented squad, hungry for game time.

And with the fight for positions alive and well, there is no time to drop the intensity.

Durack has competition for her role already, with goalkeeper Thora Helgadottir set to arrive on Sunday after completing her European Champions League commitments with Swedish club side FC Malmo.

While it may mean she warms the bench, Durack is excited about the arrival of Iceland-s No.1 shot-stopper.

“I-m thrilled to have the opportunity to train with someone of her calibre, and Steve has encouraged me to keep fighting for my spot. If I play and train well, then there may always be more opportunities”

Helgadottir won-t be the only overseas signing at Western Sydney however.

Roche says that adding that international flavour to create the “ X-factor” to his fledgling side was a big consideration, and this week will see the debut of Swedish International (and Lisa Devanna-s Linkopings teammate), Louise Fors.

Fors, who has been capped 21 times for her country, only arrived in the country a couple of days ago, and will have a baptism of fire as the Wanderers travel to the capital to take on defending champions Canberra United.

Her arrival is most timely, as the round 2 loss to cross-town rivals Sydney FC, also saw an agonising end of season injury for Jenna Kingsley.

Damage to both her ACL and meniscus means she joins the long list of female footballers in the hospital ward with knee injuries.

Yet, a 2-0 win in Round 3 (thanks to a Trudy Camilleri brace) over table topping Perth Glory means that the Wanderers now sit in fourth spot and are proving more than competitive in their debut season.

While there are still many weeks to go, the Wanderers have their sights set on finals football.

And Durack, who achieved her academic goals this year, says that setting footballing targets for the team was a prime consideration.

“One of the first things we did was to get together and write down goals for the team. Making the semi finals is our goal for this season, and whatever happens from there is a bonus.”