‘She’s too short’: Willacy defies doubters en route to W-League stardom

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Sarah Willacy dived out to her left, almost suspended in mid-air for a moment, as she punched away Yuki Nagasato’s penalty. In this moment it was obvious why Willacy was number one; the hurdles she faced to get there were not.

One hurdle had always faced Sarah Willacy on her path to becoming a professional footballer: her height. Willacy’s short stature was a black mark against her name when football at large is seeing a trend towards taller goalkeepers.

In fact, it was so common that Willacy almost got tired of hearing it because above anything else, she just wanted an opportunity to show what she can do rather than be judged off a superficial marker.

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“It took a few years to get past coaches saying ‘she’s too short’, because most coaches just see my height and line through my name but I think I’ve proven to most coaches in the W-League that height doesn’t matter

“But it definitely was a hurdle for me,” Willacy said.

Standing at 159 centimetres marks Willacy out as different but to use that as a measure alone would detract from her skills: she’s remarkably fast and has freakish reflexes especially in one-on-one situation which make her daunting challenge for opposition strikers.

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Then there was the other hurdle: Willacy was a back-up keeper.

Originally, former Matilda Melissa Barbieri was the first-choice goalkeeper when Willacy started at United and after Barbieri’s departure, Eliza Campbell arrived from Norwegian side Klepp to claim the number one mantle.

It can be dispiriting for some as they live a constant cycle of training and sitting on the bench waiting for their opportunity which may or may not come but then two major events happened.

In the most unfortunate circumstance, Eliza Campbell suffered a collision during a Matildas fixture which resulted in a concussion, ruling her out of the remaining 2017/18 W-League season, paving the way for Willacy to show her wares.

“Last year, I ended up playing nine games because Eliza was injured so it wasn’t too hard coming into this season and being the number one because I had played the last two years…I’ve built up to playing to a full season pretty much,” Willacy said.

“There’s a lot of responsibility but I don’t take it for granted, it’s just a great opportunity to show what I’ve got pretty much,” Willacy said.

The second major event was the arrival of Ivan Karlović at Adelaide as head coach, which seemingly bought out the best in Willacy and gave her a new confidence.

“This year I didn’t think about it (her height), I just thought about playing well, it wasn’t in the back of my mind because I knew my coaching staff…they didn’t care about my height,” Willacy said.

“He’s [Ivan Karlović] a great coach, he’s very positive and he’s encouraged me to keep improving and he’s been great in trusting me to be the number one,” Willacy said.

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The culmination of those two factors saw Willacy produce a breakout year, playing all 12 games for Adelaide and recording the second-most saves in the W-League which led to United claiming four clean sheets, which tied them with Melbourne Victory and Canberra United as the league best.

The impressive season has Willacy hoping to follow in the footsteps of former United goalkeepers Barbieri and Campbell and don the Matildas jersey.

“Definitely, I would like to make it to the national team or even just a camp to prove myself,” Willacy said.

That’s another hurdle for Willacy to beat and you get the sense she’ll do just that.

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Adam Daunt
Adam Daunt
A student at University of South Australia who hopes his writing disguises his lack of sporting prowess and a fan who masquerades his choice in mediocre teams as being hipster

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