• Hills High School has produced an impressive number of Matildas and W-League players (Supplied)Source: Supplied
One of Australia's most successful women's football high schools, Hills Sports High teams up with Denmark's Fortuna Hjørring.
By
Ann Odong

Source:
Zela
23 May 2016 - 8:00 AM  UPDATED 23 May 2016 - 8:00 AM

When it comes to Australian women's football, the honour roll at Hills Sports High is a virtual who's who of the women's game.  

For more than two decades, the Western Sydney based secondary school has developed generations of Matildas and, more recently, W-League players. 

Now, in a bold new plan, Hills Sports High is forming a partnership with professional Danish club Fortuna Hjørring. 

Fortune favours the bold

The genesis of the partnership was a coaching and ideas exchange between Hills' head coach Stephen Nelligan and Fortuna's Brian Sørensen. 

In the winter of 2015, Nelligan travelled to the club as part of an education interchange.  Sørensen returned the favour at the end of 2015, conducting sessions at Hills' during Elitedivisionen's winter break. 

By the end of 2015, formal talks began with the relationship cemented just this month. 

"We thought it was a great opportunity, obviously with all the Australians that have been there before, and potentially with the ones in the future so thought it would be a great pathway," said Hills head coach Nelligan. 

"If there are players here that we think have the potential to go on, then they are going to have the opportunity to go to Fortuna and train and be assessed by their coaches, putting them in the shop window." 

The association between Australian players and Fortuna is a long one with a tradition of Matildas finding their way to the European nation.  From Carol Vinson and Julie Murray n 1991 to Sunni Hughes and Sharon Black and Alison Forman assisting Fortuna to the 2003 UEFA Women's Cup Final. 

The trend has continued through Heather Garriock and Lauren Colthorpe and the current generation of Matildas with Elise Kellond-Knight, Leena Khamis and Emily van Egmond all with spells Denmark.  Amy Harrison was set to follow the tradition before her knee injury in late 2015. 

"We would like to see players go on and become professional footballers," said Nelligan. 

"They have the chance to be part of a full time environment; living and breathing the professional life which is something that is important for the women's game."

As one of the first players to forge a relationship with Fortuna Hjørring, it only seems fitting that Alison Forman is at the forefront of this new association.  Forman joined the club in the early 2000s and has never left. 

"We are extremely excited about our new partnership with the Hills Sports High School in Australia," said Forman. 

"Fortuna Hjørring has a long history of fielding Australian players on their elite team in Denmark."

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For the Hills players, the partnership is another rung in place in the in the development ladder.  Crucially, there is set to be little transition from the Hills style to that of Fortuna. 

"Thankfully the system that Fortuna play is very similar to how we play," said Nelligan. 

"We both believe in possession based football, looking to keep the ball and with dynamic players up front." 

For Nelligan and his team, the Fortuna experience for a player would be an extension of the work that Hills is already accomplishing at Seven Hills.   

"There is a big focus at Fortuna on individual technical development, they have a couple of team sessions a week but they also have more individual sessions." 

"We have brought some of the technology they use at Fortuna out to Hills.  We hope this will mean that the transition will be an easy one."

As a player who has seen both the Australian pathway and Fortuna's system first hand, Forman agrees. 

"Fortuna Hjørring is devoted to the development of girls and women’s football as we know Hills Sports High School is too and we look forward to seeing where this international collaboration will take us and women’s football in general." 

Taking the next step

As the relatively new head coach of Hills Sports High, Stephen Nelligan has some big shoes to fill. 

For over 10 years current Matildas Coach Alen Stajcic oversaw a program that appeared to churn out Matildas and W-League players at will. 

Sally Shipard, Kyah Simon, Renee Rollason, Caitlin Cooper, Teigen Allen and Chloe Logarzo spent their formative years on the synthetic pitches. 

"There is a real emphasis on helping them to become the best they can be," said Nelligan about the foundations of the program. 

"We look to develop them as players and people and give them the right pathway and opportunities."  

Success breed success and with each player that makes their way into the Matildas, Hills has cultivated a reputation as the "go to" sports high school.  

"It is a different environment to what your club environment would be," Nelligan continued. 

"For your club environment it is primarily results based so the focus at training is more on team rather than the individual."

At the sports high schools the focus is on individual development, focusing on the weaknesses the players possess.  While the amount of games they play as a collective is limited, the players are training three times, working in conjunction with their club football training commitments. 

"It is a perfect environment to improve the individual and focus on the areas they need to improve on."

With a fully equipped gym, a full size synthetic pitch and swimming pool for recovery, the environment is one that would be the envy of many W-League teams. 

It is in this environment that the next generation of W-League players, and possibly future Matildas, are starting to emerge. 

As well as Fortuna Hjørring, whether by design or otherwise, Hills Sports High are also becoming the feeder for the Western Sydney Wanderers W-League team.   

 

"For me I think we have probably got the best midfielders in country for their age group."

Midfielders Tara Pender and Eliza Ammendolia are the current standouts with both making their debuts for the Wanderers last season, as well as being selected for the youth Matildas teams. 

Along with Pender and Ammendolia there are the yet to be signed Beth Gordon and Alyssa Rose who will also look to come into the W-League frame in the next 12 to 18 months. 

And for these players, the player development pathway has just opened up in a new and unexpected manner.  For Nelligan, this reason more than any other is why the Fortuna Hjørring partnership is a much anticipated one.   

"We just want to keep developing the women's game and giving girls the best opportunities to progress."

"We feel this partnership with Fortuna will take that to the next level."