The Western Sydney Wanderers can draw many parallels with the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Former Young Matilda and Western Sydney Wanderers W-League games record holder Linda O’Neill has been busier than most during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A frontline nurse at Milton Ulladulla Hospital, O’Neill has relied on the same determination and tenacity that saw her play 74 W-League games as well as represent her country.
The 29-year-old admits it has been a challenging time being a healthcare professional, with COVID-19 currently running rampant across the state.
“Last year I was working in a bigger hospital (Nepean), and it was hard. There were times when people were very unwell and we couldn’t let them see their family as we were awaiting tests/isolation,” explains O’Neill on a rare day off. “We were the messengers and it was very hard!
“I’ve moved hospitals this year and luckily haven’t had too many issues, but it’s scary – it’s very scary not knowing when it’s coming, if it’s coming.
“I know a lot of nurses who are among the thick of it, and I really feel for them, as they are working tirelessly.”
Before commencing her professional life, O’Neill grew up in Katoomba and played her junior football for Wentworth Falls United and Penrith Nepean United.
She admits she wasn’t even aware that at one time she had played the most games ever for the Wander Women. In fact she pulled on the red and black 41 times over four seasons. Reigning best and fairest winner Caitlin Cooper took over the mantle a few seasons ago and has now played 69 games for the Wanderers.
“To be the games record holder for the Wanderers at one point was an absolute honour,” admits O’Neill. “Once the Wanderers were a team within the W-League I wanted to stay loyal to the club, which I did until my retirement. And, yeah, it honestly is a privilege to have held the record at one point.
“I think playing for Western Sydney Wanderers was one of the highlights of my footballing career. Record or not, I will always be a Wanderer at heart! It was just an honour to have played that many games for them!”
O’Neill started her W-League career at the age of 16 at Sydney FC, where she won a championship in 2009-10, scoring in the grand final to help the Sky Blues to a 3-2 win over Brisbane Roar.
She then had a season at Newcastle Jets before moving home to Wanderland as a foundation player.
“I remember the announcement there was going to be a Western Sydney Wanderers team being introduced to the W-League, and I was so excited to have the opportunity to play for the club,” recalls O’Neill. “Growing up in Wentworth Falls and spending most of my time in Sydney’s West, it was a real sense of belonging.
“To be able to play for a team that represented the community I had grown up in and played within was something special to me.
“I remember my first game playing in Adelaide for the club, it was an honour to put the jersey on. I even have the photo of my first game for the red and black.”
O’Neill proved herself to be a key player in the club’s early years. She won the player of the year award in 2013-14 and was a consistent performer as the Wander Women found their feet in the W-League.
She retired at the tender age of 24 to focus on her career but admits she is still a football fan, namely of the Wanderers and Matildas.
O’Neill, like all other Australian football fans, was thrilled with how Australia performed at the recent Tokyo Olympics. She admits she is excited about the 2023 World Cup coming to Australia and New Zealand.
“After watching the Olympics and seeing how well the Matildas did, it makes it very exciting to see what they can bring to the World Cup on home soil,” she says. “It’s exciting to see the possibilities the Aussies are really capable of.”
The 2021-22 W-League season, in which the Wanderers will celebrate their tenth campaign, is set to begin in November.