It was about to be another winless week for Brisbane Roar. The team finished second last season but late heartbreak in the first four games had kept them to a single draw after four rounds.
As the game ticked over into injury time, their moment arrived. Natalie Tathem crossed the ball and Queensland’s in form striker was there to put Brisbane in the lead and on their way to an important win.
“After I scored, in the huddle I was literally screaming ‘we’re not losing this!’” says Brisbane’s American striker Shea Connors to Kick360.
“This was the moment to remember back to training, what we talked about in this stage, of being up in a close scenario.
“When you lose by close goals consecutively you just want to do anything to avoid that.”
That goal had made it 3-2 but the players knew it was far from a job complete. In three matches of the opening month they conceded goals in the dying minutes and Melbourne Victory were on their home turf.
Captain Ayesha Norrie settled nerves soon after with a strong finish from the edge of the box.
“Definitely when Eash scored, I thought ‘ok we’ve won.’”
“When I scored I was kind of like ‘yay, but how much time was left?’
“There wasn’t a rolling clock it was just like a normal clock that had the time on it.
“It said 4:30pm, I was like ‘what does that mean? When did we start?’”
Norrie’s goal allowed the team to finally celebrate but Connors strike would prove to be the winner. It was a deserved result after a series of impressive performances by the attacker.
That goal was the third in as many matches after scoring against Adelaide United and in the round three meeting with Victory.
“There was quite a bit of frustration,” Connors says of the winless start to the season.
“But I feel like we were pretty resilient coming into every game. It could have gone pretty south if we weren’t the team that we are.
“Obviously, not winning isn’t that fun and it was hard especially with it being heartbreaking losses but we have a really good group that really bounces off each other and every Monday we got back into it.”
“I just want to be consistent”
Connors form makes her one of the breakout players of this season A-League Women but it will come to no surprise to followers of Queensland football.
She has been a goal machine in the NPLW with the Lions and her statistics reflect the joy and ruthlessness that good attackers bring to the game.
36 goals in 32 games for Logan Lightning made for an impressive start to life in Australia but in 2021 Shea Connors went to another level.
With Lions FC she scored a phenomenal 39 times in 24 appearances. The 2021 season saw her rewarded with the league Golden Boot and recognition as the Player of The Year.
Her NPLW career has so far resulted in 75 goals including a run of five hatricks, plus another two in cup competition.
Connors is quick to credit the quality of her teammates for her feats, and emphasizes that they took the pressure off her.
“At Lions FC, I wasn’t overly stressed about scoring goals,” she says.
“I just wanted to win. We put out good team performances… I wasn’t thinking ‘I must score.’
Like many strikers, it’s the ones that did not go in that she remembers, even if nobody else noticed.
“I’d be like ‘so sorry I missed that’ and people would say ‘we didn’t even remember it Shea’”
Her dominant NPLW season meant that A-League interest was likely, especially as Brisbane Roar decided to invest in local talent for the current season.
The addition of Connors meant that she had a second chance in the national competition after a few games in 2020.
“The last time I was at Brisbane I was a late season signing. I came off the bench and I did score a goal when I was there, but It was hard to join the team at such a late time in the season.
“It’s different, but definitely a better experience having a contract for the whole year.”
Adapting to the A-League Women did not take long, and her style of game gives Brisbane unpredictability up front and a reliable outlet out wide.
Connors is explosive and a dangerous dribbler but she also can anticipate play. In her first game against Melbourne Victory she raced behind the defenders to score.
Against Canberra United, she ghosted in at the back post unnoticed to tap home.
If defences sit deep, she can use her pace to get behind them, she is comfortable in one-on-one situations and has experienced as a nine if a team defends deeper. This is a hard player to stop.
Her approach to the game has not changed from NPLW level she says.
“I just want to be consistent, after the first two games I did have chances that usually would have converted.
“I don’t know if I was just a bit nervous but when I got the first one I felt ‘I can do this.’”
“This is where I’ve wanted to be so I don’t want to do anything different.
“There were a few moments from last game where I should have gone for the goal and I looked for a pass in the box.
“Probably now, I feel like I’m getting confident slowly, so probably will back myself to go a little more direct, it just depends what the game is.”
From Iceland to Queensland
Her consistency can be traced back to the rigours of the U.S College system where she thrived in the high pressure environment at St Johns University.
“College football if you think about it is pretty much professional football, its completely full time.
“Your entire schedule revolves around when you have training, when you have games.
“It’s just that you also have to go to school with it. It’s a great set up to get you to do something full time for something to be your first priority.
“You have to be conscious of everything you’re doing. It definitely sets you up for understanding what the full time deal is like.”
College offered more than just the opportunity to commit to the sport. It was an environment that meant Connors had to perform.
“For two years I had a squad of 30 people,” she recalls
“If you really weren’t on your game there’s always someone battling to get into the starting lineup as well. Its very very competitive which is just great.”
From college, there was a move to Iceland with KR Women’s Football. Soon after, opportunity in Australia beckoned.
“When I was playing for St Johns, I went from a short winter, then I went to Iceland and when I came back it was winter again.
“I had been cold for way too long and I absolutely don’t like the cold even though I grew up in it.”
“I had some offers in Europe and I didn’t know if I can go play (there) and be frozen again so I was even considering not playing anymore. Then I had a friend of a friend who knew someone here in Australia.
“He basically just sent my stuff out and I had offers from a bunch of different teams immediately. Then I left a week later.”
Queensland is home for Connors now. She has represented the state and says that she loves her life in Australia.
“I love the weather but I love the beach, that I can easily get to the Gold Coast. On a day off, I’m probably at the beach.
“I like the lifestyle. I like that I can play and have a fun, it’s a big part of my life.
“If I was at home I don’t know if it would be the same and I like that I can coach and I can play.”
Helping player grow is a passion for Connors. She coaches at the academy at Triangle Football Development along with running free clinics and coaching small groups for Lions FC. She is also involved in the school program for the NPLW club.
“I love coaching,” she says.
“It’s something I will keep doing for sure.”
Although she definitely feels like a local, her allegiances were tested when the U.S National team came out to play The Matildas.
“To be honest I was very half- half,” she laughs.
“I was obviously rooting for America but I’m not going to be sad if Australia win
“I see myself living the rest of my life in Australia so for now maybe I should cheer for Australia. It’s a win-win either way.”
“We brought it down to the little things”
She’s not just at home in the country and on the field. The camaraderie in the Roar squad is something she enjoys. Many of the players are from Queensland’s NPLW and are familiar to each other.
“I was excited to be on the same team as Eash (Ayesha Norrie). We had been good friends but never played on the same team.
“I was excited to play with Larissa (Crummer) up top because I was always watching how she plays.
All of the girls are pretty much my friends, I’m happy to be on the same team as Georgie Worth instead of giving her banter at a corner kick.
“I was excited to be back with Mini (Katrina Gorry) as well because she’s such a talented player.”
The way the team celebrated in their first win showed that spirits are high even after a rough start. According to Connors it was a result achieved through staying switched on in critical moments.
“We brought it down to the little things. A big thing we worked on was just how to focus especially in those crucial moments.
“Even when we were down I wasn’t that concerned because we were still creating chances and (I thought) ‘hopefully we get one.’”
Brisbane will hope that the win kickstarts their season, but Shea Connors is not looking too far ahead. It is an unpredictable season and the striker is staying focused.
“I just want to keep playing at the highest level I can play at.
“I really want to take the time to focus on this season and seeing what opportunities may lie ahead because of it.”
Shea Connors is confident, in form and loving life as a Brisbane player.
That might not be good news for the goalkeepers of the A-League Women, but for fans of the game and the Roar faithful, it could make for an exciting season.