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The future is bright at Sunderland AFC Women - and if you read our most recent piece covering the fantastic U23 team and their 26 game unbeaten streak, then you know just how accurate the above statement is.
Whilst falling on hard times in recent years, Sunderland has always prided itself on its innate ability to find, nurture and develop the next generation of talent, be that on the men's or women’s side.
The Sunderland Regional Talent Centre and subsequent youth teams have established a plethora of incredible prospects over the years. You need only look at England Lionesses and players who have represented the national team to see the likes of Beth Mead, Steph Houghton, Jill Scott, Lucy Bronze and Jordan Nobbs don the three lions shirt, but it was red and white stripes that they wore first all of those years ago.
Since then, the RTC has continued to unearth real diamonds through the bountiful talent we have in this region. Swooping the best of the best and looking to implement them into the Sunderland umbrella with a pathway in mind to reach the senior team.
In the last two seasons, we have seen prodigious talents like Katy Watson, Grace Ede, Libbi McInnes, Eve Blakey, Abby Tower and many more be given a vote of confidence from the gaffer Mel Reay and her coaching panel to illustrate their abilities on the big stage - but have done so, in a safe, gentle and conducive environment.
Providing them enough opportunity to make their mark in competitive senior games and training sessions, yet knowing when to rest them, allow them to time to pursue their education, spend time with family, and not overburden them with pressure.
This delicate process has been a resounding success and we now see the slow but methodical integration of the next crop of talent. Rising to expectations, even exceeding them in some circumstances. Niamh Boothdroyd, Eve Parker and Ella West are just a few more names to look out for.
We don’t need to spend big money on big name players — we’re developing our own right here on Wearside.
The 19-year-old is a fierce presence and not just on the pitch. No, in fact, she is also a two time World Kickboxing champion, defending her title and winning gold once again just a few weeks ago.
The Black Cats Academy winger has demonstrated her football skills since joining the Club through the Professional Game Academy trials in the summer, in addition to her accomplishments in kickboxing.
The youthful striker played for Redcar Town in the North East Regional Women’s Football League before joining the Lasses. In just 18 games, she scored 32 goals and provided seven assists.
Corbyn sung the praises of first-team assistant head coach Steph Libbey when she sat down earlier in the month to chat with Sunderland AFC, and explained that the coach was pivotal in her applying to take part in the trials. Steph was her PE teacher and told the winger about the upcoming trials and opportunities at the club.
What a brilliant bit of recruitment and fate that was.
In the Conti Cup, Corbyn made her first-team debut against Sheffield United Women — and just how did she mark the occasion of her senior debut? Well, she only went and scored the would-be winner in the 66th minute to ensure that the lasses left North Street with three points and a 3-2 win.
She has since gone on to start in another Conti Cup game against Durham Women where she proved her mettle and skill to come out on top over experienced full-back Abby Holmes. Corbyn has now become a regular name on the matchday squad sheet, coming on as a substitute in Sunderland’s 1-0 loss to Blackburn, 1-1 draw against Charlton and 3-0 win over Blackburn in the Conti Cup.
Corbyn has solidified her place in the senior setup already.
Ambitious is one of many words that could be used to describe Emily Cassap, but perhaps the one that fits the most.
Her rise may seem sudden to most of us, but those involved in the club (and one of our contributors Ant Waterson) can attest to is that this rise has been happening years before she came on most of our radars.
The sixteen-year-old midfielder has already earned six appearances while competing for England’s U16 side, including games in Sweden and Portugal.
Just this summer, she graduated from Venerable Bede Academy in Sunderland with six Grade 6s and four Grade 8s and is attending Bede College to pursue an A-Level in criminology, psychology, and law.
Similarly to Corbyn, Cassap was given her first call up to the Sunderland senior team back in October when she came on as a substitute against Sheffield United in the Conti Cup. Since then, she has had frequent forays into the Sunderland match day squad and consistently training with the senior setup.
Travelling down to Blackburn in the Conti Cup last week, I was delighted to see Cassap come on as a substitute in the second half. Almost immediately after her introduction, she injected energy, pace and finesse into the team. The squad’s confidence and belief was rising and Cassap epitomised exactly that as she rose highest at the front post to head home Sunderland’s second from a corner. Her first senior goal for the club.
Playing senior football against older and more experienced players is the only way for Cassap to grow and improve her artistic abilities and technical skills. Her teammates clearly have a great deal of trust, pride, and confidence in the young starlet, and she can only benefit from having such strong support from the players and technical staff.
Cassap certainly has a bright future ahead of her, and it is a privilege to watch her develop within our squad.