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Supreme Award Crowns ‘Macca’’s "Amazing" 18 Months
by Jeremy Ruane
She only turned eighteen in June, but she has experienced more thrills in the past eighteen months than most young women her age can even dream about.

She’s Sarah McLaughlin, one of a special crop of young female Kiwi footballers who are taking the game by storm as we enter the second decade of the 21st Century.

Seasoned Waikato football followers regard the Hamilton native as one of the finest players ever to emerge from the northern North Island province, gender notwithstanding.

Make no mistake, this lass is the business. A strong leader on and off the park, she is blessed with outstanding technique and vision, and regularly unleashes one of the most powerful shots in the game - when ‘Macca’ lets fly from twenty-five yards and beyond, the ball stays hit!

Opponents know what to expect when this attacking powerhouse, her collar upturned a la Eric Cantona, assumes possession - trouble with a capital T! They fear her for the havoc she can wreak whenever she’s on the ball, yet greatly respect this most unassuming young lady, a class act whom they would love to have on their side.

Sarah’s skills haven’t gone unnoticed outside footballing circles, either. She was a finalist for Sport Waikato’s Sportswoman of the Year award in 2009, and was the Supreme Award winner at the provincial sporting body’s Secondary Schools awards, held early in December.

"It was a huge honour to win that award, and very humbling. The talent field this year was really intense, with the likes of the national championship-winning Hamilton Boys High School first eleven cricket team and Maadi Cup rowing captain Matthew Cameron among those in contention".

Just to be eligible to win the Supreme Award, ‘Macca’ had to win the Sportswoman of the Year award, which in itself was a significant achievement in the football star’s eyes.

"All the contenders - Natalie Dodd, Lucy Driver, Erin Hawe, Elyse Imber and Krista Whitewood - had represented New Zealand at at least age group level in their respective sports, so it was a pretty tough field to win through".

Sarah, of course, represented her country at all three age levels available to her during the period under review, and it was a very special moment for her as she walked out onto North Harbour Stadium alongside her Young Ferns team-mates immediately prior to playing in the very first match in FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Finals history in October, 2008.

"It’s a huge honour to play for your country and wear that fern. But that was a very nerve-wracking and emotional moment. I can’t really describe it - it was just amazing. It’s a feeling you don’t ever expect to enjoy, and I was lucky enough to experience it - probably my most memorable experience so far.

"Then to turn around and go straight from the U-17 World Cup Finals in New Zealand to the U-20 Finals in Chile, and go on to score against England
… that was probably the highlight of my career so far - an amazing feeling".

Better was to come, of course, in the form of her Football Ferns debut against China in January, the first of six appearances as a substitute prior to making her first start, against Japan in November.

"That was a dream come true", beams Sarah. "Most kids my age probably only dream about it, but … The whole eighteen-month period has been one big highlight reel, if I’m honest! They’re all just memories which will stay with me forever".

Including those she has experienced with Claudelands Rovers, a team whose rise from Northern Premier Women’s League also-rans to National Women’s Knockout Cup Final runners-up in just two years has been driven by a talented combination of teenagers, led from the front by their dynamic number eight.

"The rise of Claudelands stems from a combination of factors. The dedication and loyalty of the girls to stay in Hamilton is certainly a key element, as is their willingness to work for each other, their ability, and the hard work and training ethic that gets us through".

Rovers’ captain has enjoyed the highlights en route, not all of which will be apparent to onlookers. "The little stages along the way have been memorable - getting our first draws against top teams such as Lynn-Avon United and Three Kings United, for instance.

"And the actual feeling of becoming more competitive in the league - from losing 6-0 to getting draws and beating teams. Beating Western in the cup semi-final in Christchurch was an amazing feeling, bettered only by the Cup Final itself - for us, that was a huge achievement, despite the outcome".

Lynn-Avon routed Rovers 5-1 that day, one of very few disappointments ‘Macca’ has endured during a stunning eighteen months in her life on which she will always look back fondly.

Meantime, she’s looking ahead, and there’s plenty for the 2009 NZ Secondary Schoolgirls captain to look forward to as the women’s game in New Zealand enters a new decade.

"Personally, I’m undecided whether to go to AUT or stay at Waikato at the moment, in terms of tertiary studies. It depends on whether I get a Prime Minister’s scholarship or a Hillary scholarship, which is specific to Waikato University.

"Football-wise, the U-20 qualifiers in January are a priority, followed by the Cyprus Cup a month later and, hopefully, the U-20 Women‘s World Cup Finals in Germany in July. In the long run, my major goals are the 2011 Women’s World Cup Finals and the 2012 Olympic Games".

Given what she has already achieved in her "amazing" career to date, don’t be at all surprised to see the hugely talented Sarah McLaughlin playing a starring role in each of these events and those beyond, during a decade which harbours huge prospects aplenty for ‘Macca’ and New Zealand women’s football.

K - Z