Rapidly emerging as one of the W-League’s breakout players for undefeated Sydney FC, Cortnee Vine is relishing the increased opportunities that she and her fellow young Australians are experiencing in the absence of big-name Matildas and international stars.
With the power of the women’s footballing world shifting to Europe - taking with it a sizeable chunk of talent - and COVID-19-related border closures and economic conditions almost shuttering the league’s international arrivals lounge, who would fill the void in production was one of the biggest questions facing the W-League this campaign.
And while familiar faces such as Michelle Heyman, Lisa De Vanna and Emily Gielnik have all done their bit to demonstrate that rumours of the competition’s possible un-viability were greatly exaggerated, Vine has emerged as one of the competition’s new stars.
Starting every game up front alongside fellow Aussie young guns Remy Siemsen and Princess Ibini, the 22-year-old has been at the forefront of Sydney FC’s dominating start to the 2020-21 campaign; netting three goals and adding a further three assists as her club took six wins from their opening six games.
Having consistently loomed as one of Australian football’s brightest prospects during her development, the former Junior and Young Matildas’ run of extended minutes, added scope and heightened responsibility in Sky Blue has seen her game progress significantly this campaign.
“Having internationals and Matildas in the league is great, they’re quality players that make the standard very high,” Vine told The World Game. “But I think this year I was really looking forward to, not just myself, but for a lot of girls my age just to get seen.
“I’m 22, turning 23, and I need to be playing games and getting seen and having internationals that do take up those positions doesn’t help with that.
“This year I think the league is really high. It has quality players and you get to see all the Australian local talent. I think it’s very good. I think the league’s looking really good.
“Usually I work as a nine, so going out on the wing has taught me that I’m quite quick! So I can take on my player one versus one. As a centre striker, you never get that time on the ball, you have two centrebacks on you and a six as well, so you never have time to take on a player one vs one.
“I’m learning the more games that I play that the majority of the time I’m in a one versus one situation where I can express myself more. Our assistant coach Tom [Tom Whiteside] always tells us to express ourselves and I’m trying to take that on board a bit. I’m learning a bit more about myself each and every game.”
Having previously had stops with Brisbane Roar, Newcastle Jets and Western Sydney Wanderers throughout her W-League journey, as well as stops with various NPLW sides up and down the country, Vine told The World Game that she felt like Sydney FC also represented the best fit she had ever experienced.
“Sydney FC is probably the best club that I’ve been at, personal feel wise,” she said. “When I was at Brisbane Roar I was a young player getting a little game time in, which was great. Brisbane have a wonderful setup.
“Then I went to Newcastle, I wanted to get away from home and explore life and I got to do that through soccer, which was even better. I loved Newcastle as a place, it’s probably my next favourite [after Sydney].
“Western Sydney was a bit of a hit and miss for me. I wanted game time last year to push for that Matildas’ spot and get noticed a bit more and it was a bit unfortunate that they did sign internationals in my position so I didn’t play much there.
“Coming to Sydney I’ve started every game so far and hopefully I got to start the rest of them. I’m getting so much more consistent game time and that’s the best way you can improve. I’m definitely feeling like I’m fitting in well.”
A beneficiary of the phenomena herself, Vine also told The World Game that she feels as though the shifting demographics of the W-League had seen those that remained lift in an attempt to rise to the occasion and repay the opportunities; the sudden pathway and attendant hope it brings subconsciously driving players to find an extra gear.
Not the worst confluence of circumstances to confront a new Matildas’ coach in Tony Gustavsson that has openly talked of the slate for national team selection being clean.
“There are a lot of girls my age that have missed out on starting positions for the last couple of years around the league,” Vine explained. “They’re at a maturity level where they want to start, they know what they want from their soccer and they’re ready to show people what they have.
“Not getting that exposure in the W-League kind of stops them from going anywhere but I think a lot of the girls have stepped up and they’re working really hard.
“Our whole team has stepped up and I’m hoping a lot of our team gets recognised.”