This one word will win Sydney the W-League crown

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Sydney FC midfielder Clare Wheeler says a culture of selflessness has been key to the team’s success this season as they look to clinch the double this Sunday with a win over Melbourne Victory in the grand final at Kogarah.

Sydney won the W-League premiership with an average squad age of 22, making them the youngest squad ever to achieve this feat.

Speaking to The Football Sack ahead of the grand final, Wheeler praised the ability of manager, Ante Juric, to inspire his young squad with a culture built on selflessness.

“It comes down to one word Ante reiterates in and out [of] training – being selfless,” says Wheeler.

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“Being there for one another on and off the field. In the 90th minute when we need to grind out a result, we make sure we lift for each other.

“Having that collective mentality is something that is instilled in this playing group. It’s a great culture, everyone is there to work very hard for themselves but also the other players.

“It’s also about instilling belief. Ante is one of those coaches where if he can see the thought behind the move then he will praise you even if the execution is poor.

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“I think for a young group of players instilling those core attitudes and inspiring them to believe in themselves is enough to show that, come game day, they can produce what they can.

“This culture has really helped us achieve what we have done.”

 

Juggling work and football

Wheeler, 23, is a hard worker. She balances her football career with a full-time job for the Macquarie Group as a Financial Assistance Associate. She says her parents always emphasised hard work, and the need to “have something outside of football.”

She acknowledges that it’s a tough schedule, and often means giving up holidays in order to play football, but says, “I love the opportunities I get from both.”

 

A breakout season

And her hard work is showing on the pitch. Wheeler has enjoyed a breakout year, in which she has been a standout performer.

Before joining Sydney, Wheeler played 67 games for Newcastle Jets – usually as a defensive midfielder – without scoring a goal.

This year, she has played in a more advanced role and has scored four goals in 11 games.

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After Sydney’s win over Adelaide United in February, Juric labelled her “the best player in the W-League,” stating he would be “shocked” if she wasn’t in the next Matildas squad.

“It’s great to hear that praise from Ante and be recognised in that way,” she says.

“My dream has always been to play for Australia, and I’m looking to get in the next cohort under Tony (Gustavsson).”

Coronavirus restrictions currently mean the latest Matildas squad is restricted to European-based players.

“I will keep doing my thing and if I get the opportunity, I get the opportunity – but until then I am focused on Sydney.”

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Looking ahead to Sunday’s grand final

Sydney has the opportunity to win the double if they beat Victory on Sunday. This will be Wheeler’s first W-League grand final.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t have any nerves,” she says.

Wheeler believes that while the squad is confident going into the game after beating Victory last week – in a game that determined the premiership – they will not rest on their laurels.

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“Finals are about rocking up on the day and making sure you get the job done,” says Wheeler.

“We aren’t taking the game for granted – even though we beat them two weeks ago. We know they are a quality team.”

Since pre-season Sydney’s goal has always been to win the double, and Wheeler says the squad didn’t celebrate too much after they won the premiership last week.

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But that will change if they win on Sunday.

“We will have to celebrate,” Wheeler says.

“The job has always been to win both. Hopefully when the job’s done, we can go out and really celebrate what we have achieved.”

Feature image credit: Keith McInnes

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Adam Sheldon
Full time football addict. Passionate about any sport with balls. Covering Sydney FC A-League and W-League teams for the upcoming season.
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