Sunderland AFC Ladies head coach Melanie Reay has praised the impact of three Foundation Scholars on the Lady Black Cats team this season.
Emily Hutchinson, Maria Farrugia and Hannah Skull broke through into the first-team as the Ladies looked to bounce back following relegation from the FA Women’s Super League.
Reay’s young squad exceeded expectations in the FA Women’s National League Northern Premier Division, finishing runners up to eventual champions Blackburn Rovers Ladies.
The girls have done extremely well. They have good attitudes and are focused on improving which is really important.
“After stepping up into senior football I was confident Emily was ready to play for England and she was called up to the U18 training camp.
“Maria waited a long time to play for the Ladies so has been very patient. She is a very talented player who brings a different dimension to our midfield.
“Hannah hasn’t had much game time this season but has improved a lot throughout the season. They are all young, they have time on their hands and with hard work can only get better.”
Emily scored 10 goals in 20 appearances in a season which also saw her selected for the Lionesses’ U18 training camp at St Georges in January.
The 18-year-old forward is a product of Foundation of Light’s Female Player Pathway, being spotted playing in a primary school tournament before being invited to trial for the Sunderland Girls’ Regional Talent Club, where she played for six years.
Joining the Foundation’s Football Scholarship programme in 2017, Emily achieved her dream of playing for the Ladies first-team when making her debut as a substitute against Fylde Ladies in August.
Emily, added: “It’s been a good season for the team and myself personally as I have played regularly and scored some goals.
“Being relegated was very disappointing for the club but it has given young players like myself, Maria and Hannah a chance to be involved with the first team which may not have happened.
“The Scholarship programme has helped me make the step up to the Women’s National League as you get to train every day with first-class coaches, play against some of the country’s best teams and you can continue your education too. I would definitely recommend it.
“Although I haven’t decided what I’d like to do when I leave the Scholarship this summer, I’ll be staying with SAFC Ladies and hopefully help them get promoted.”
Regarded one of her country’s brightest prospects, Malta international Maria moved to Wearside in 2016 with her mother to join the Scholarship programme.
The midfielder signed for SAFC Ladies after turning 18 in February and quickly settled into the side, netting three times in her eight appearances.
“It was a very positive season.” Maria said. “I would like to thank my team mates, coaches and tutors at the SAFC Ladies and the Foundation for making me feel so welcome.
“The Scholarship has helped me develop both on and off the pitch – we get to train at the Beacon which has amazing pitches, gym and classrooms.
“I’m hoping to go to university alongside playing for SAFC Ladies next season.”
Launched in 2017, the Football Scholarship programme gives youngsters aged 16-18 years old the chance to represent Sunderland AFC against Premier League and EFL development sides while studying towards nationally recognised qualifications.
Building on their successful first year, the Ladies Scholars made history by competing in the CEFA Women’s North Division, the EFL’s first competitive football league for females, as well as playing in the NFYL U19 Women’s Premier Division and reaching the NFYL U19 Ladies Cup semi-finals.
In May, the Scholars represented South Tyneside College in the ECFA Women’s Premier Cup Final at Walsall’s Banks’ Stadium, narrowly losing out 1-0 to Barking Abbey Football Academy.
In addition to Emily, Maria and Hannah, players from the programme have been invited to train with SAFC Ladies while Victoria Curtis and Dominyka Podziute have featured regularly for Newcastle United Women.
The Football Scholarship programme is holding open training sessions during May Half Term. For more information, or to register your interest, visit our Football Scholarship page.
Written By CHRIS FRYATT
17 May 2019