Veteran Carney looking to the future after COVID-thwarted tilt for NPL Golden Boot

Michelle Carney


In the lead for the NPLW NSW golden boot, 39-year-old Michelle Carney was denied the chance to capitalise on her red-hot form when the campaign was brought to a premature end. In part VIII of KEEPUP with the NPL, Carney tells Matthew Comito how disappointment quickly turned to motivation for the 2022 season.

IT seemed nothing would stop evergreen Illawarra Stingrays striker Michelle Carney as she led the charge for the NPLW NSW Golden Boot at the midway point of a tightly-fought season.

But the 39-year-old was to be thwarted eventually – not by defensive lines and adept goalkeepers, but by the worsening COVID climate which called for the premature suspension of a season just clicking into gear.

With Carney leading a swathe of current A-League strikers in the race for the golden boot, and six teams within six points of one another in the top half of the table, everything was up for grabs in a tightly-fought campaign – until it wasn’t.

“I thought coming toward the second half of the season, toward the end of the first round we started to hit form,” Carney said. “We were looking good. We had a few good wins on the trot and we were pretty positive on our performances that we’d make finals. 

“It was a shame the season had to end, because I thought we were coming into the second round (of fixtures) on good form. We started off well, then we had a few injuries. We lost a few games, but then we started to get onto a good run. We started playing well, and it was just unfortunate the season had to end halfway through.

“There was only one or two points, and then you could be up to second. It was really close. I thought we were pretty confident in the way we were playing that we could make finals and have a good crack at it.”

PART I: Border closures re-route teenage ref on unlikely path to NT Grand Final
PART II: “I didn’t know you could jump that high!” – Maria Rojas leaps toward NPL glory

Football NSW cancelled all of its competitions on August 12, with a Public Health Order in place and lack of a roadmap out of lockdown providing more questions than answers about the foreseeable future of the state overall, let alone its football seasons.

With 12 rounds completed and 10 to play, Carney’s Stingrays sat in sixth spot on the table. But just two wins separated the Stingrays from Sydney Olympic FC at the top of the standings.

Carney had nine goals from 12 games to her name at the time of the season’s cancellation. She sat atop the Golden Boot charts ahead of current Melbourne City player Kaitlyn Torpey, Newcastle Jets forward Lauren Allan, veteran striker Leena Khamis and Melbourne Victory’s Maja Markovski, who all had seven goals apiece on the board.

Carney says she hardly noticed her place on the standings with focus purely on team-oriented outcomes.

“I’ve been playing for the Stingrays for many years. I was generally just doing my job,” she said. “I’m lucky enough to have good players around me that set me up, and I’m just there to finish off. But the body was feeling good, I was feeling fit, it was just disappointing that it had to end.

“I can’t remember, I’ve won it a couple of times. I never really look at that, I just focus on getting the three points, that’s the main focus. I don’t really care who scores.”

At 39 years of age, Carney took the season’s suspension with perspective and understanding, accepting what was a bitter pill to swallow for a competitor at heart, but a necessary one to swallow for a human being with empathy and compassion for the hardships being endured by the people of NSW.

“It definitely was tough, but it was something you’ve just got to deal with. It was unfortunate, it was frustrating but it was out of our hands. You just had to move on and accept it.

PART III: ‘The trophy was at the other ground!’ NPL Tasmania’s dramatic final day 
PART IV: Patience the virtue for Hecher and invincible Lions FC

“We’re looking at a fresh season, and hopefully having a full season next year. It’s looking promising, there’s a lot of young players coming through and a good mixture of experience and non. We’re looking forward to having a good season, and hopefully a full one.

“I think it’s going to bring that extra passion and drive. You miss the game, so everyone will be excited to play again. 

“I think it’s going to bring that extra spark in the coming season. There’ll just be a good thing out of this. 

And as for another tilt at the NPLW NSW Golden Boot: “Let’s hope so,” Carney said. “We’ll see. It’s always nice to score but the main thing is the win.”

Featured image credit: Football NSW.

PART V: Perth captain opts against ACL surgery on path to clinching NPL crown
PART VI: Michael Bridges finds deeper meaning as NPL title chance disappears in puff of smoke
PART VII: When the lights went out on a truncated NPL campaign
PART IX: Suspended NPL seasons send ripples through Victorian football community