Making your professional debut is a special moment for any footballer. For 15-year-old friends Lia Muldeary and Sofia Sakalis, it was a dream come true.
Muldeary and Sakalis became the fifth and eighth youngest players in the history of the W-League to make their senior debuts when they replaced Amy Jackson and Rebekah Stott in the final minutes of City's 5-2 win over Newcastle Jets at AAMI Park.
It was a landmark moment for the talented duo, whose friendship extends beyond their time at City. It wasn’t long ago that the pair were learning their footballing craft as part of the famed National Training Centre (NTC) program.
Now they find themselves at the home of the reigning W-League Champions as senior-contracted players, earning the unique opportunity to play alongside some of the world's best players like Steph Catley and Jess Fishlock.
“You’ve got two girls who, a couple of months ago, were training at Darebin in Northcote. Now they’re representing Melbourne City at AAMI Park," Head Coach Patrick Kisnorbo said.
"They have worked hard during the pre-season and deserved their chance to play. They got it on Sunday against Newcastle and I am delighted for them.”
“As a Club, it is important for us to nurture and develop the next generation of female talent and both players fit the profile of the type of player we are looking for at City.”
Widely considered to be one of the most exciting young midfielders in the country, Sakalis is no stranger to the environment of professional football, having experienced the day-to-day life at the City Football Academy as a train-on player for the past two seasons.
It was an experience which ultimately prepared her for the transition to senior football, and Sakalis feels she is in the exactly the right place to continue her development.
"It was an amazing experience for me, especially at such a young age playing alongside some of the best players in the world.
"It’s amazing to be able to learn from players like Jess Fishlock and Steph Catley week-in-week-out, but to now say I have played alongside them is even more special. I've learned so much from my debut and I'll continue to keep learning as the season progresses.”
"Training has been hard, it has been very challenging at times but that's why I've come to City; to become a better player.
For Muldeary, who has represented the Junior Matildas alongside Sakalis, her professional debut is undoubtedly the highlight of a whirlwind two months. The promising defender spent the entire pre-season training under the watchful eye of Kisnorbo, and through hard work was rewarded with her first senior deal.
“It felt really good to be running out on to AAMI Park. It was an amazing experience and I had so much fun,” Muldeary said.
“I've been at City for the whole pre-season and I've been working hard, so it felt really good to make my senior debut.
Sharing her milestone moment with a close friend isn’t something Muldeary will forget in a hurry, either.
"I played for the NTC with Sofia. We've known each other for three or four years now and I'm really happy that we could share that special moment and make our debut together.”