Football Fern and Wellington Phoenix Women’s defender Mackenzie Barry reflects on latest Ferns series, and looks to the season ahead in the Women’s A-League
After her first stint as a professional footballer in last season’s women’s A-League with the Wellington Phoenix, 21-year-old defender Mackenzie Barry impressed the Ford Football Ferns coach Jitka Klimková enough to earn another national team call up for the Ferns’ home series against South Korea.
Playing in front of a large home crowd was a new experience.
“It was just so cool. Every pass, every tackle, every header we won was cheered on by the crowd, and that really encouraged the team and it helped them lift as well.”
“The games were hard,” she says. “It was really cool to play at home, to play in front of my parents and my sister. Also in front of some of my high school friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in years came to watch the game“.
For the Ferns, it was their first home game in more than four years.
“Because we’ve been away so much and because of COVID, we have had hardly anyone watching our games, so to play in front of an actual ‘physical’ crowd supporting us was really awesome.”
The Ferns squad was missing some key, experienced players due to injuries, with the likes of Ria Percival, Ali Riley, Hannah Wilkinson and Annalie Longo all out of the squad.
Despite missing those players, Barry could only see positives.
“Obviously, it’s not great for those players to be injured, but that opened the door for some of the new players to get some minutes and some experience under their belts before the World Cup.
“For example, Gabbi Rennie got to start the last game, and I got about 30 minutes off the bench, which is the most I’ve played at once for the Ferns.
“Even though those players that were missing are great players and we missed them, from a development point of view, it can only be a good thing.”
Barry has been in pre-season training with her Wellington Phoenix teammates for the past six weeks, preparing for this weekend’s opener against last season’s runners-up Melbourne City, at Sky Stadium in Wellington.
For the first time, the Wellington Phoenix women’s team will play home games during their second season in the competition.
Despite finishing last in their inaugural campaign, the expectations from the supporters for the team are high, and Barry and the teams’ expectations and ambitions are lofty as well.
“You can feel the energy in training; it’s different. We have better players that have come in, people are more experienced having played in difficult circumstances last season and being able to play at home compared to being stuck in Australia will really benefit us.
“The expectations that are on us don’t really bother me in a bad way; it’s a good pressure to have on us. We will definitely be doing better than we did last season.”
“The difference between this season and last season is noticeable already.”
“We are at home now, we have our own freedom outside of football trainings and games, whereas last year, we were together all the time in the same camp 24/7 and it was mentally draining.”
“But now when we show up to trainings, we are mentally and physically prepared, and you can see it in the rest of the players - we are all enjoying it.”
The teams’ top goal scorer from last season, Grace Jale has left the Phoenix and joined Canberra, but Football Fern Paige Satchel has signed, after playing for Sydney FC last season “which is a huge asset for us.”
“Betsy Hassett has also come in and joined our midfield, which is massive for us, especially with all of her experience and over 100caps for the Ferns. She’ll be huge for us.”
Though she is only 21 and has had just the one season of full-time football, Barry’s personal goals for the season are high, and her leadership traits are emerging.
“I want to build on how I did last year. I want to be a stronger defender for the team, and a player that can be relied upon. I also want to take on more of a leadership role in bringing some of my experience from the Football Ferns. I just want to help the team do the best they can and enjoy it.”
With the opening game this weekend against Melbourne City, Barry believes that the team can get a positive result.
“I feel like we can get a result; we have some players in the team who they haven’t seen play yet, and not just for Melbourne, but for other teams too — they have to travel here to play against us, which can work in our favour.”
With excitement building for players and fans alike, Mackenzie Barry and her Wellington Phoenix team are ones to watch this season.
The opening game is on Sunday at 3pm, at Sky Stadium, live on Sky Sports.
Story credit: Jonathan Ros