This week we spoke to Under 11 Girls SAP coach Irini Kacopieros. Having served the club as both a player and a coach, Irini is the embodiment of Northern Tigers FC, committed to developing players and building a positive environment both on and off the field!
How did you first get involved in football?
Growing up with my big Greek-Cypriot family, all the boys used to play football at every family gathering and I loved to join in. I wanted to get involved in primary school at lunchtimes, however the boys didn’t allow the girls to play, allowing only myself and a few others who were more athletic to join in. I remember complaining to my school and we managed to get Fridays to be girls only on the football field, and boys were allowed to play at our invitation. It was definitely a step in the right direction!
How did you first get involved with Northern Tigers?
I was born in Sydney, but my family moved to South Australia when I was 14 years old. When we moved back 10 years later, my youngest sister and I had been playing Premier League in SA for 4 years, and naturally we wanted to continue playing. I looked up a few PL clubs in NSW that were close to me, and when we trialled for Northern Tigers, my sister and I were treated like players rather than just another number. I played in the Women’s First and Reserve grade teams for 5 years, during which we earned promotion to WPL1.
After playing for one year, I began coaching in a male-dominated arena at Northern Tigers, becoming the only female coach at the time and then formed and coach the club’s first Girls U11 Development squad in 2011. We ran this program for 5 years, with the change in age groups at rep level shifting us to U12 in 2014. The girls played in the NSFA boys competition each year, where they regularly made opposition parents and coaches fall in love with their possession style football, teamwork and skill.
With the introduction of Girls SAP in 2016, I obtained my AFC C Licence, and have since been coaching our Northern Tigers Girls SAP players. I am proud to look at our female youth teams, from U14 up to U17, which contain a large number of players who went through our development program and are continuing to excel on the football field.
Which clubs have you previously been involved with?
I played for 10 years at rep level:
- Para Hills Knights – S.A. (4 years)
- Northern Tigers – NSW (5 years)
- UNSW (1 year)
I now play in my local Division 1 competition just for fun and fitness (need to fit into my wedding dress in September!)
What do you like most about Northern Tigers as a club?
The family culture at this club is awesome. Even now that I no longer play, I am still amazed at how many players and parents I see around that are still involved with the club 8 years on. This level of loyalty comes from people being happy with the club culture and environment, and I feel Northern Tigers is a fantastic club to coach and play for. As most people know, I work out near Parramatta and I live in the north-west, however I have made the commitment both as a player and as a coach to stay at Northern Tigers regardless of the travel.
How would you describe your coaching philosophy?
I love my teams to play possession-based football and to develop players who work hard both individually and for their team. I also try to create an environment where underlying lessons about friendship, teamwork and good sportsmanship are nurtured and practiced regularly (must be the teacher in me!)
What position did you/do you play?
Although I have played every position at some point, I am a left back (#5) although my preferred foot is my right. I identified early on that no one wanted to play on the left, so I put my hand up, worked on my left foot and haven’t looked back!
What is your best football memory?’
Watching the Socceroos qualify for the 2006 Men’s World Cup: I remember my entire family sitting around the couch (including my other sister who has absolutely zero interest in football), all holding our breath when John Aloisi stepped up to take that penalty. That was a fantastic night for football in Australia.
Do you have a favourite club/player? Who/why?
I am a massive Adelaide United fan, becoming a member from the first season of the A-League when we lived in S.A and continuing to follow our team even after we moved back to Sydney. My mum and I travel to all the NSW games when they play, and we schedule our plans around their games so we can cheer on the boys every weekend.
I am a major fan of Elise Kellond-Knight, who is also a traditional left back and plays for the Matildas. She is a fantastic player for our national team, and I admire that she has played regularly in Germany’s Bundesliga, making a career out of her football. She is definitely a great role model for all my future little Matildas.
What do you enjoy the most about being involved in football?
I love the team environment. Being part of a team is something every kid should experience, as it teaches them valuable life lessons.
How has football changed for women/girls during your time in the game?
With the introduction of the Girls Diamond League in recent years, as well as the rise of the Matildas internationally and in the W-League, I feel that females have so many more opportunities and examples to look up to, and I am proud to have been a part of the journey.
The last few years football for females has come along in leaps and bounds, and I look forward to what the future might hold.