Ashleigh Sykes had four goals for the season at the end of 2016. And then doubled that in one match.
Reigning Julie Dolan medallist Ashleigh Sykes had four Westfield W-League goals for the season at the end of 2016; having scored one each against Melbourne Victory and Brisbane Roar (the first time), and a brace against the Roar in Gosford.
Fast forward to the end of January, and Sykes has just claimed the 2016-17 Westfield W-League Golden Boot, after an absolute whirlwind patch that saw her score eight goals across three of Canberra United’s five January fixtures.
It was a run that caught the eye of not only her opponents in the league, but football fans the country over, particularly when the Dubbo dasher scored four in 50 minutes in United’s league-shaking 7-2 demolition of Perth Glory at McKellar Park.
Sykes was actually sick that game, as mentioned by Head Coach Rae Dower post-match, but played in a manner that belied her condition.
“She’s phenomenal, she was great last week and she was pretty crook today,” Dower said at the time.
“So all the daggers I felt in my back when I made that sub, it was really to protect Ash.”
“At four goals, I think she had done that job. She led from the front… it’s been a real privilege to see Ash grow as a person and a player across this full season.”
Since injuries to co-captains Ellie Brush and Michelle Heyman robbed the team of their two leaders in the first half of the season, Sykes has carried the weight of captaincy in the matches since, proving to be a spearhead both of the attack but also of the team as a ‘senior’ player.
“The first week or so was a bit nerve-racking,” she said.
“I don’t think I ever really saw myself wearing the captains armband.
“Of course Nicole (Begg) wore it for a few years before me, so I guess I kind of watched her and picked up a few tips.”
“But as well as that, Ellie and Michelle are still around the group, so for the most part it’s just been putting on the armband.”
Sykes sat on 10 goals heading into last weekend’s 5-1 win over Melbourne Victory, level with Perth’s Sam Kerr and only one ahead of Saturday’s strike foe Natasha Dowie, but the rest of the team had their eyes on the Golden Boot for Ash as much as she did.
“When we got that penalty kick (at 0-0) on the weekend, I was kind of looking around to see who would take it,” Sykes said.
“And everyone just looked at me like, ‘you!'”
“So it was great to have all the girls supporting me in that as well.”
Having won the Julie Dolan Medal last season, one would be hard pressed to improve, however Sykes has arguably elevated her game to another level in an other-worldy season.
“I was hoping so [continue that form], aiming to play well again for Canberra,” she said.
“The goals have been going in, which is awesome. That’s been one area of my game in the past that I wanted to improve on and it’s happening.”
When quizzed at Monday’s press conference about whether or not there was a physical ‘Golden Boot’ to be presented with, Sykes shrugged and looked around for clarification.
Dower and Club GM Heather Reid both nodded enthusiastically, to which Sykes had only one query.
“Can I wear it?”
Following Sykes brace, United’s win and the claiming of the Premiers Plate, Canberra United will face Melbourne City in the Westfield W-League Finals series this weekend.
Kicking off at GIO Stadium at 8pm, the match is sure to be a blockbuster, and fans can purchase tickets here.
Make sure you are bright, vocal and out in force to support Canberra United, but don’t forget to stay safe and hydrated in the hot weather.
We can’t wait to #CUinGreen!