Tonkin takes immense gain from World Cup experience

Adelaide United central defender, Ella Tonkin, knows well the feeling of playing in front of 25,000 screaming opposition fans in a World Cup.
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Adelaide United central defender, Ella Tonkin, knows well the feeling of playing in front of 25,000 screaming opposition fans in a World Cup.

Representing Australia at the FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2022™ in August, Tonkin cut her teeth in front of the home nation in the first game of the group stages.

It doesn’t get much more hostile than that.

The 19-year-old, however, still impressed despite the intimidating atmosphere, such is the rising confidence in her ability and role as a central defender.

It has Tonkin poised for another breakout summer with the Reds, and her career in football is one that she will never take for granted.

“I felt like I was on cloud nine the entire time I was there at the tournament, seriously every moment of it,” Tonkin reflected.

“Of course it was nerve-wracking, especially playing in front of the home Costa Rican fans, but also incredibly exciting and I’m very lucky to have experienced that already in my career.

“The noise was unreal; I can’t even explain it.

“It’s definitely helped me grow in confidence for this season because it made me realise if I can perform in front of that many people on the world stage then what’s stopping me in the A-League?”

The Young Matildas won 1-3 in that opening game against Costa Rica, and while they didn’t progress from the group after falling first to Brazil and then eventual Champions, Spain, it was an experience Tonkin will never forget.

While there was as a more intimate, yet strong crowd in humble Adelaide’s ServiceFM Stadium at Gepps Cross on Sunday, Tonkin and her team-mates enjoyed the experience at a ground that they all still felt belonged to the Club.

Tonkin, as any defender would, also admits the added pressure is always there, but she’s equally ready to do anything for her team.

“There’s definitely quite a bit of pressure as the last defender, in the sense that the one mistake and can lead to a goal,” she said.

“But I think it’s very rewarding knowing that you can support all your teammates in front of you and put your body on the line for them.

“I’ve really come to love the centre-back position and I’ve grown to love it even more over this past year, I’d say.”

It was her current Head Coach, Adrian Stenta, and former United Women’s Head of Football, Ivan Karlović, who recommended Tonkin switch from a midfielder to a defender and current Assistant Coach, Michele Lastella, has only reinforced the plan.

She certainly credits the trio, and particularly Lastella for his work in shaping her as a defensive rock in what is arguably the most difficult position on the pitch to master.

“I used to be a six but Michele has definitely nurtured me through the years in my training as a defender,” Tonkin said.

“We’ve watched so many clips together and he has taught me so many different tips in defending so he’s definitely played a big role.

“He’s helped me become a better centre-back and I’m very grateful to him.

“The support all of the coaches have given the team ahead of this season is immense and they have created such a professional environment that I think I can speak on behalf of all of the girls that we all feel the belief.”

Tonkin started her footballing journey locally at Adelaide Croatia Raiders Soccer Club, when her older brother ‘luckily’ decided to play for the club.

It stemmed her interest and she eventually moved through the Football South Australia NTC pathway and played alongside several of her current team-mates, including last Sunday’s match-winner Emilia Murray.

The versatile defender made her debut for United in 2019/20 and added five starts in nine appearances to her tally last year.

With a full game and clean sheet under her belt already this new season, the next few months are poised to be some of the biggest yet for the rising youngster.

Tonkin’s progression to United’s first team is also a ‘pinch me’ moment considering she lines up with one of her idols, Dylan Holmes, every weekend, who was an inspiration to Tonkin and made her feel welcome when she first joined United’s set-up.

Along with experienced Maruschka Waldus to her left, Tonkin feels settled in the backline and senses her team can make a real tilt at the title this season.

“We’ve been building on not just making the finals but going all the way for a while now so that’s our goal for sure,” she said.

“I want to get as many match minutes as possible and as many clean sheets as possible and hopefully that will help bring us the success we’ve been working so hard for.”