Wed, Feb 21, 2024 10:00 AM

The world at Jemimah's feet


Peter Jones

An impressive showing at the Gary Sowden National Secondary School girls’ football tournament in Blenheim late last season has earned Jemimah O’Donnell a silver fern.

The 15-year-old, year 12 Marlborough Girls’ College student, has been named in the New Zealand under-16 secondary schools girls’ team which heads to Melbourne in April.

Selection was unexpected for the Renwick club defender. Although she was named MVP for her side after the national tournament, in which MGC finished second, Jemimah says her elevation was a total surprise.

“I got this original email [from the national selectors] saying I was one of the players who was being looked at, but then it was like, ‘OK, cool’, and I kinda forgot about it.

“Then, around the middle of January they sent another email saying I had been selected … I did not expect that at all. Then we had to keep it quiet until they released it on Facebook … although I did tell a few of my friends,” she said with a chuckle.

“But I was happy when it [officially] came out because I could talk to [NZ under-16 rep] Katie Pugh and my other football friends about it.”

Although the modest teen was somewhat taken aback by her NZ call-up, she had been on the Mainland Football radar for some time. In 2022, when she was at Rangi Ruru for year 10, she was named MVP playing for Marlborough at a rep tournament. That same year, she played club football in Christchurch for Coastal Spirit, winning the club’s overall junior midfielder of the year award and last year she attended the NZ under-16 trial - so her talent was not going unnoticed by the Mainland and NZ selectors.

Since being told of her selection, Jemimah has “amped up” her training. “I have got about three months to get myself ready. My game plan is to get as physically fit as I can, so that even if I am not the most skilled player, I can have a really high fitness base. I am doing plenty of running and cardio work at the moment.”

Also a leading junior tennis player, Jemimah has divided her time between that pursuit and football, but admits it is ‘the beautiful game’ which has been her “main sport since I was about four”.

“I just have a passion for football … I quite like the team aspect of the game. My brother plays, my Dad played, I have got cousins who play as well - it is a real family affair. I really enjoy the physical side of the game as well.”

One of the biggest influences on her young career and confidence has been her twin brother Elijah. She has played alongside him since the age of four, the only exception being her year in Christchurch.

She credits her decision to adopt football as her winter sport of choice to “having a good female group of football friends growing up”.

“Marlborough had a good mix of girls, like Katie and Jaimie [Elrick] … we would always stick together and played well together.

“There is a good [footballing] community that has been built in Blenheim … Andrea and Nicky [Smith-Scott] do a great job.”

Blazing a trail for women’s football in this province is Katie, a member of the NZ under-16 girls’ side last season, who Jemimah describes as “an inspiration”.

“She inspires me a lot. Katie is one of the hardest-working people that I have seen. She is always training, training, training. She is one of my best friends but she is also someone I look up to a lot … really motivated.”

As to her future ambitions in the game, after putting her foot on the national ladder, Jemimah is not looking too far ahead.

“I kinda just play for the love it and I will see just where it takes me. I don’t put too much pressure on myself to make a particular team but I would love it to one day take me to America, through a scholarship or something because I want to study overseas,” she said.

Andrea, Marlborough Football’s general manager, was “absolutely stoked” for Jemimah.

“She so deserves it,” said Andrea. “I had the pleasure of coaching Jemimah when she was in 11th/12th grade reps, and even back then it was evident that she was well beyond her years with her ability to read the game.

“A solid defender with a great football mind, she positions herself well on the field to not let anything get past her, and her through balls/eye for the perfect pass to play to her team mates is admirable for a player of her age.”

Jemimah has been an integral part of every Marlborough representative side and girls Academy team throughout her teenage footballing years.

“We have also recently employed Jemimah as part of the Marlborough Football coaching crew, where she helps out on holiday programmes and also helps run the new Fantails (girls only) programme that was rolled out by NZ Football last year to encourage more girls in to the game. Jemimah has a great rapport with the kids and is a fantastic role model.

“It has been a pleasure to be part of Jemimah’s football journey and I’m just so happy for her that she’s been recognised for the player she is,” added Andrea.

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