Mount Hutton 17-year-old Annalee Grove is eyeing her W-League debut after securing a contract for the 2018-19 season with Brisbane Roar.
The teenage goalkeeper is an Emerging Jets product and has spent the past few seasons as a train-on member with her home town’s W-League side.
But, determined to cement her place in the Young Matildas squad as they attempt to qualify for the 2020 FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup, Grove sought out a W-League contract to take her game to the next level.
“Being a train-on player for the past three years and training with the older girls has been a really good experience, but I felt like I wanted a little bit more in the sense of experience and growing as a player,” Grove said.
“I had a meeting with [Jets coach] Craig Deans earlier in the year. They have two really good keepers and I asked him, ‘Since you’ve got two really good keepers already, is it OK for me to try with some other clubs?’. He said no worries and that he would maybe be looking at me in a few years' time.
“All in all, I would love to come and play back in Newcastle again, in a couple of years with hopefully some more experience.”
The Jets have United States import Britt Eckerstrom and Claire Coelho returning this season.
Grove will be one of three shot-stoppers in the Roar squad, including Matildas goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold. A third is yet to be named.
The opportunity arose for her to make the move interstate with Roar’s reserve goalkeeper Georgina Worth ruled out for the season with a knee injury.
“While I was away with the [Australian] 20s I was talking to a couple of the Brisbane girls and their reserve keeper from last year did her ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] and they said they didn’t have a second keeper, so I contacted coach Mel Andreatta and things happened from there,” Grove said.
“Hopefully I will get a couple of minutes on the pitch, but I'm mainly going for experience. It’s a different team and a different environment and just something new.”
Andreatta was full of praise for Grove, who is about to start year 12 at Hunter Sports High and will continue her studies by distant education while away.
“I think she’s got a lot to offer and a great deal of potential,” Andreatta said.
“I’ve been an admirer of hers since she participated in the girls NTC [National Training Centre] tournament when I was the Queensland NTC coach a few years back, so I’ve been following her career for quite a while and it was a good opportunity for us to bring her up.”
Grove was still 14 and just days shy of her 15th birthday when she made a name for herself by earning the player of the tournament accolade at the 2016 NTC under 17 championships as the shot-stopper for Northern NSW.
A week later, she backed up the effort by earning the same accolade in the NTC under 15 titles.
She was also picked for the Junior Matildas (under 17) that year. Grove was part of the Young Matildas (under 20) squad which played the Asean Football Federation championships in Indonesia in July.
“Annie has a character too that’s obvious she will contribute a lot on the field and off the field,” Andreatta said.
“She always struck me as quietly confident and mature for her age. Keepers stereotypically have this personality of being out there. Maybe I just haven’t seen it yet but she has this really nice calm, controlled, mature outlook and from the back that’s really important.”
Grove played for the Emerging Jets in Football NSW NPL women’s first grade this year and joined the Roar in Brisbane for pre-season on November 17.
They open their 2018-19 W-League campaign when they host Perth Glory on October 28 at Suncorp Stadium.
With Arnold expected to miss some W-League matches through Matildas duties, Grove is expected to get her chance to prove herself at senior level this season.
“It’s very explicit in our environment that everyone is there to learn and to deliver results and to have a commitment to being better and to do that you need competition and with three goalkeepers that certainly will be evident,” Andreatta said.
“Annie knows she’s as good a chance as any keeper in our squad to get some game time.
“For her, it’s a good opportunity to grow in a different environment.”