In November 2018, Shay Evans was announced as a Sydney FC player for the upcoming 2018/19 W-League season. Few knew who she was, or her story, other than being a graduate of the John Moriarty Football program.
The John Moriarty Football program was started by the first indigenous footballer to be selected to play for Australia – John Kundereri Moriarty in 1960. Moriarty never managed to play due to Australia’s expulsion from the international governing football body FIFA the same year, but his selection remained a powerful moment in Australian football history – a member of the Stolen Generation being called up to play for his country.
In 2012, Moriarty, now experienced as a businessman, artist, and government advisor, started the John Moriarty Football program to give indigenous kids from remote parts of Australia football training and skills and a chance to become professional. One of the early recipients of a JMF scholarship was Shadeene “Shay” Evans.
Shay Evans was from the same remote part of the Northern Territory as Moriarty: Borroloola. A staggering 1056 kilometres away from the state capital Darwin. Borroloola is a very small town, the 2016 census determined the population to be 871. Of that population, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders made up 76.1% of the population.
Evans, alongside other members of her local community and the JMF program, were taken to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
In 2015, Evans moved all the way to Sydney, 3086km away from home of Borroloola to attend Westfields Sports High School. Westfield Sports High boasts a ridiculously strong record with producing professional footballers in Australia, boasting the likes of ex-Socceroos David Carney, Jason Culina, Matildas star Ellie Carpenter, former Sydney FC men’s captain Alex Brosque, and current player Anthony Caceres to name just a few.
Evans was part of the NSW Institute of Sport, which helped her eventually get noticed and scouted by Sydney FC for the 2018/19 W-League season. A striker primarily, though has also played on the wings at a youth international level.
January 2019 saw Evans make her professional football debut, coming on as a substitute for fellow Westfields Sports High alum Princess Ibini in the 82nd minute of a Sydney Derby. I was lucky enough to have attended that game and seen that moment for myself – the cheer around the ground as Evans made her debut was massive and got me just as excited as the 3 goals which came before.
Evans would have to wait until the following season for more gametime, but not too long: the first round of the 2019/20 W-League season. Sydney were cruising to a 2 nil victory over rivals Melbourne in a fairly comfortable and strong performance to open the new season. Subbed on in the 86th minute of the game for Remy Siemsen, Evans showed immediate intention and several bursts of pace – nearly scoring with her first touch.
She wouldn’t have to wait much longer though to hit the back of the net, with a pinpoint cross from Angelique Hristodoulou connecting with her head in the 90th minute for her first senior goal. A truly incredible moment, a young indigenous footballer playing professionally and scoring in the national competition is huge and already iconic in the tapestry of the W-League and Australian women’s football.
It will remain an all-time football highlight for me and a moment that I’m always happy to know I was there for. The sky is the limit for Shay Evans, she’s shown she has immense talent. With Sydney losing at least one third of their starting attacking trio heading into the 2020/21 W-League season, I think Shay is in a great position to claim a spot in the starting XI. Her eye for goal and confidence will get her really far in football.
Outside of football, Evans is studying social work at University of New South Wales and amidst lockdown and quarantine has kept training and progressing her football with some of her Sydney FC teammates.
Feature image credit: Jaime Castaneda (@jamcas50)