2023 has been a brilliant year for Sienna Dale. The Wakehurst junior has broken into the Manly United 1st Grade squad, made her national team debut with the Junior Matildas, and recently been named as a winner of this year’s Lucas Neill Award.
We spoke to Justin, Sienna’s father, about her footballing journey up to this point and what the future may hold. Sienna was understandably thrilled to be receiving an award.
“It’s just a testament of all the hard work that she’s put in and the guidance she’s gotten from the club. The good thing is she knew who the past winners were, Vali Bradley and Alice Thompson, who she used to play with.”
At the start of the year, Sienna wasn’t expecting to play 1st Grade football. However, with the support of the coaching staff and senior players, she settled in nicely.
“I think initially she just thought she’d play Reserve Grade and train with the 1st Grade squad. However, the support she got from Tom (Hopley), Lachie (Panetta) and Shaz (Egger) was amazing, and from the senior group as well.
“If we had any questions and we needed guidance from Tom and Shaz, we could call them or arrange a time (to meet).
“She wanted to highlight Pommie (Caitlin Jarvie), Ruby (Jackson) and Phoebe (Gilbane), who really took her under their wing. Sienna said she really felt it helped her soccer, because by training week in and week out with these players with W-League experience and some overseas experience, it gave her a lot of confidence.”
When speaking to Justin, it was clear that Sienna loves playing in the northern beaches and is glad she can set an example for the club’s youth league players.
“As a parent, I love the fact she’s shown a pathway for the younger ones coming through the grades, you can play for Manly and represent the area.
“The last thing that we wanted Sienna to do was sit in the car four days a week to head out to, you know, using Parklea as an example (where Football NSW Institute play and train), to play with a bunch of players that she had no history with. Then you turn 18, to then try to come back into the Manly system, that makes it really hard. Trying to balance that with your education, with your HSC coming up, it just didn’t make any sense for us.”
Sienna’s performances for Manly United attracted the attention of the Junior Matildas setup and in September she played a starring role as Australia qualified for next year’s Under-17 Women’s Asian Cup. Not content with a match-winning double when Australia beat Vietnam 2-1, Sienna then scored all four goals as Australia beat Bangladesh 4-0.
Apart from experiencing on-field success, Sienna also enjoyed the off-field aspect of national team duty.
“I think that came about from an injury she had last year where she thought ‘oh wow, one injury and it could all end’, so now she really enjoys where she travels. This year, for example, she’s gone to Mongolia, she’s gone to South Korea, now she’s in Vietnam. She gets to experience all the culture of those countries as well.”
Justin has also relished the opportunity to travel, and during the recent trip to Vietnam he, along with other Junior Matildas parents, took the initiative to show their support.
“We all went to a shop and we got these Australian jerseys made up. We’ve been told they’re 100% genuinely fake, they cost about $2 to make. I think the players have really appreciated it and it’s been nice meeting some other parents from around Australia as well.”
Sienna’s footballing prospects are certainly bright. With the way women’s football is growing, Justin is optimistic not just for her, but for all the young women playing football around the country.
“Sienna has got an idea that she’d like to go to the US college system, but a lot can change in two years because the profile of soccer globally has changed dramatically since the World Cup, with pathways to the US and straight to Europe, Asia, etc. There’s so much opportunity in football for young women in Australia at the moment, which is awesome.”