Despite only qualifying for the W-League finals once, Wanderers fans can be hopeful with Cannuli at the helm.
In early June Club Legend Catherine Cannuli was announced as Wanderers Head Coach, to the excitement of the red and black faithful.
Results for the Wander Women have been mixed. While the Mens team were overachieving in the A-League and Asian Champions League, the W-League side failed to finish higher than 6th – a result that came in their inaugural campaign.
After finishing 8th and 9th in the 17/18 and 18/19 seasons respectively, their fortunes changed under Head Coach Dean Heffernan, and Assistants Michael Beauchamp and Catherine Cannuli.
The trio brought something previous managers could not. An innate understanding of what it means to wear the Red and Black jersey. Strong recruitment played its part as well.
US International Lynn Williams and Kristen Hamilton headlined a Wanderers’ line-up that featured Americans Abby Smith and Sam Staab, Irish international Denise O’Sullivan as well as a host of Young Matildas and Matildas stars. Amy Harrison, Courtney Nevin, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Alex Huynh, Ella Mastrantonio, and Vesna Milivojevic to name a few.
It proved successful, with the side able to qualify for the W-League finals series for the first time, arguably could have progressed further if not for the early exit of the club’s international stars.
Fast forward to the COVID-19 ravaged 2020-21 season, the Wanderers brought together a different approach, with a largely domestic W-League squad of young NPLW stars, who managed to finish 6th.
The Cannuli Effect
Cannuli, who took the top job in June, has been part of the Wanderers backroom staff since 2017. She was no bystander as Assistant, regularly seen roaming around the technical area yelling orders about every aspect of the team’s performance.
Catherine Cannuli provides words of encouragement to young-star Sarah Hunter.
Wanderers CEO John Tsatsimas highlighted her interactions with players, and her devotion to the club as some of the most notable points in Cannuli’s skillset.
“Cath has been nothing short of outstanding in her work in our women’s program, the way she interacts and encourages the playing group and staff, both on-and-off the pitch is exemplary, she brings people together and cares deeply about her work and this club,” Tsatsimas said.
This was most evident in the 2020-21 season. With a youthful and inexperienced W-League squad, Cannuli could be seen spending a lot of individual time with many of the players, providing extensive final instructions, and general words of encouragement.
Cannuli’s experience working with youth cannot be understated. For the past six years, she has worked on developing young football talent in Western Sydney, both with the Wanderers and Southern Districts Soccer Football Association, serving as Women’s Technical Director.
Her work was rewarded in 2020, winning the Female Coach of the Year at the Female Football Awards.
The New W-League
While no major structural changes have occurred, the W-League has changed a lot since the Wanderers’ finals run in the 2019-20 season.
The mass exodus of senior Matildas stars to Europe has changed the W-League landscape. Melbourne City’s long dominance at the top of the table has largely ended, with their side finishing 7th in the last campaign.
Future stars emerged. Highly-rated junior Kyra Cooney-Cross solidified her credentials as a Matilda, leading to a call up with the Matildas Olympic squad, as did Adelaide United star Charli Grant and Melbourne City shot-stopper Teagan Micah, both culminating in European transfers. Tara Andrews for Newcastle Jets and Melina Ayres also shone in the spotlight
A similar story was written at the Wanderers. Young talent wrote the headlines, with notable performances from Rosie Galea, Teigan Collister, Margaux Chauvet, Sarah Hunter and Bryleeh Henry.
On the table, the side finished 6th, disappointing on paper considering the previous finals appearance. Yet the experience given to future stars of the W-League could prove to the building blocks for future campaign success.
Success that could be realised by a Head Coach with experience sculpting young talent, a Head Coach who interacts close with each player, motivating and encouraging. A Head Coach like Catherine Cannuli.
Cannuli has been busy putting together her squad for the 2021-22 W-League season.
Her most recent signing being the re-signing of Teigan Collister, providing a core blend of experience, and youthful exuberance.
It will be the 21-year-old’s fourth W-League season, who featured nine times for the side last campaign with four assists. She had previously spent two seasons at the Newcastle Jets.
Collister was upbeat about Western Sydney’s chances for the upcoming campaign.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing the results we can achieve for the club this season – the whole squad is ready to work really hard and put in 100% for each other,” Collister said.
“To prove ourselves as strong competitors and secure a place in the Finals – that’s our shared goal.”
Teigan Allen, also re-joins the Wanderers, boasting an enviable CV of international and European experience. The Defender has featured 40-times for the Matildas, and has won the W-League Premiership and Championship twice each.
“I’m at a stage in my career where I understand the importance of atmosphere and energy within a team and a club,” said Teigan Allen.
“I know I will be able to get the most out of myself and play my best football if and/when I am surrounded by a healthy football environment and I do believe the club and Catherine will and have provided that.
“Catherine has always been a leader and a role to model to me since I first started my professional football career. I have so much respect for her on and off the field.”
Cannuli highlighted the importance that Allen, a Western Sydney product will have on the mentality of the squad, as well as motivating and mentoring the young stars.
“Teigen played an instrumental role in helping create the foundations of what the Wanderers W-League team looked like and stood for in its early years,” said Cannuli.
“It is fantastic to welcome back a player of such calibre to our club and a person who comes from the Western Sydney region that understands our mentality and ethos.
“Teigen is a true professional and someone that our next generation of Wander Women can look up to.”
Olivia Price is another W-League star re-signing for the club, set to be her eighth campaign in the W-League, and third for the red and black.
Price, who has also featured for Sydney FC and Canberra United, has expressed her admiration for Cannuli as both an Assistant and player.
“I think she will be a great head coach for the upcoming season and I know she will push and get the best out of me.” Price said.
“I’m always learning every season to better myself for the season ahead. My main personal goal I want to achieve is to make the Matildas squad, to win the W-League, and maintain a consistent season at the club.”
Sarah Willacy is another who re-signs with the club for another season, the shot stopper in her eighth W-League season, and second with the Wanderers.
“As a team, we want to keep building on what we achieved last year to ultimately reach the goal of playing Finals Football. For me personally, my goal this season is to keep building on my performances from last season, work hard and play consistently well” Willacy said.
Danika Matos, Bryleeh Henry, Rosie Galea and Libby Copus-Brown, stars from the previous campaign have also re-signed, and all have their eyes firmly set on the finals.
“We were so unlucky to just miss the Finals stage last season which was disappointing, but we will build off that and pick up where we left off and keep improving to hopefully bring home the trophy” said Bryleeh Henry.
Cannuli has also brought in two new fresh faces, Sheridan Gallagher from the NPLW and US College System, and Bianca Galic from Canberra United. Both fit the Cannuli ethos of future stars with venerable experience.
Gallagher has featured in the Young Matildas, as well as a shining star in the NPLW.
“From watching the Wanderers play, I know that they are a hard-working, cohesive and professional team” Gallagher said.
“I am expecting the level of training and playing to be a step-up from the National Premier League Women’s.
“My goals are to first be part of the starting team and then to hopefully make Finals with the club.”
Cannuli marks the signing of Gallagher as part of the philosophy to blend and give opportunity to future talent and upcoming stars.
“It is very important that we continue to give young footballers the opportunity to be part of our W-League set-up and as we have seen over the last few seasons, their development has seen them earn starting positions at the club” Cannuli said.
Galic, who made her debut last season for Canberra United, believes in the mentality of the Wanderers and the project Cannuli is building.
“In terms of the club, the Wanderers have been known to always fight for every match, every goal and every point and that’s something that resonates with me – it’s a direct reflection of the spirit and culture of the club,” Galic said.
“These last few years the Wanderers have been re-building a squad that’s in contention for Finals football and I’m excited to help the club and Cath (head coach Catherine Cannuli) get there this season.”
Spirit, Fight, and the Title
While many squad spots are still to be filled, there will no doubt be a lot of competition from the breakout stars of the previous campaign.
One thing is clear in the various comments from the confirmed squad, a sense of belief, the fight, and the goal being the Title. Undeterred by the Wanderers’ lack of finals experience, this is a team that has already bought in to the project and methodology being built by Catherine Cannuli, a blend of youth looking to make their mark, and experience to steady the ship.
The reverence for Catherine Cannuli is evident. A Wanderers star, who many of the youth looked up to and idolised. A player that Teigan Allen looked up to, during their 2012-13 campaign where both players made their mark.
Cannuli knows how to motivate and develop youth. She has coaching experience in the W-League with her three year apprenticeship as Assistant. She understands and knows what the Red and Black jersey means, and understands inherently the Western Sydney region.
Most importantly however, she knows how to win. Cannuli won the WNSL with NSW Sapphires in 2003-04, winning the Golden Boot in the same season. She won the 2009 W-League Premiership and Championship with Sydney FC, and the 2016 State League Women’s Championship with Southern Districts Raiders as Player Coach.
Winning the W-League Championship will not doubt be a tough ask for the Red and Black. The Wanderers are quietly assembling the building blocks to shock the doubters.
If there’s one person who can do it, who can instil the belief, fight, spirit and confidence in this side, it’s Catherine Cannuli.
Images: Michael Turner