So long, legend

Matilda's star Sally Shiphard gives us a deeply personal insight into departing coach Tom Sermanni as he prepares to move to the US to take on the biggest job in women's football.

To do justice to a description of Tom Sermanni in just one word? Quite simple, really… Tommy is unique.

Some coaches make impossible demands. Tommy, never. He never asks us to do the unimaginable but he has a way of setting tasks that seem in reach, no matter what lay ahead. Almost always with a stretch target but, always believing it-s possible.

For the last eight years, Tommy has been in charge of the Westfield Matildas and that means I have essentially spent more time with him than with my own father. Tommy has had many opportunities to leave an impact, and for me, he did.

What enhances his “uniqueness” is his ability to stay relevant to and within the game. He has the (almost) unique capacity to reinvent himself to cope with changes in the squad in particular and the game in general.

Across his two stints as Matildas coach, there are players now in their 40s who played under Tommy and in the team now, as young as 16. From start to finish, this is a 30-year age spread, almost three generations. Huge differences in ages and diversity in interests but as a collective we have all improved under Tommy-s long reign.

Tommy has been coach of the Matildas for half of their 26-year history but his legacy from his latest stint is - again in one word - belief.

He shook us out of the notion that to get in the side and to just go to major tournaments was the pinnacle of success, by teaching us that if you believe you can take on the best and win, and when you have a whole squad with that mindset, you can.

When I awoke to the news of Tom-s resignation my immediate reaction was sadness, but I understand the motivation behind his decision, he wants a new challenge.

No half measures for Tommy, he is taking on the biggest job in the woman-s game, coaching the most successful team in the world. He has to improve the consistency of a team that already dominates and starts as favourite at most every tournament.

Like he has challenged us to aim for the stars, so too does he. “Do as I do…” Tommy just doesn-t turn up, he turns up to win! This approach is not to be lost on us.

A pivotal time for us as a squad under Tommy-s tenure was the 2006 Asian Cup in Adelaide. We qualified for the final and approached the game believing we could win. And when we didn-t we were very frustrated, even if it was in a penalty shoot out.

Nor can we forget our success at the Asian Cup, which certainly looks good on his CV. The team has evolved and without our success on the pitch, Tommy would not be so attractive to the best team in the world. So maybe this new job is a little bit of reward for what Tommy did for us.

The way I saw it, anyone who took a deep breath could speak to Tommy about anything. He was approachable and always honest and direct with his assessment, while always putting player welfare above all else.

Personally, I cringe at the thought of being a national coach. It would have to be one of the most difficult jobs in the world. From first-round selections you know that only a minute percentage of the talent pool will be happy at day-s end.

But I still believe in myself to take on the best and be my best. So thank you Tommy for helping instill this in me.

While he leaves a huge void, he has played a big part in getting the women-s game to boom here in Australia and with a bright future it is now up to us to ensure that continues.

The void Tommy leaves presents opportunities for others and it won-t be the same but, as Tommy has taught us, it can get better.

Alison, his beautiful wife - do we lose her too? As always with success, there is a strong support network behind the public identity. Alison has a gorgeous kind soul; encounters with her a few and far between but always a pleasure.

The following was a text message conversation between Tommy and myself the morning we were informed of his decision, which only further typifies his humility.

Me: “Well done. Legend :)” Tommy: “Funny old game sometimes Sal. Will try to start a Sydney Swans supporters club in case Col (my father) wants to visit.”

Humour and crossword puzzles are Tommy-s forte, and I trust he will continue these pursuits. Let-s just hope the Americans understand that unusual humour and his ordinary clichés ;)

Sal x

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