The evolution of Princess Ibini, Sydney FC's Grand Final wildcard
It’s incredible to think that at the age of 19, Princess Ibini is firmly part of the Westfield W-League furniture.
The Sydney FC youngster has matured into one of the finest forwards in the league, so much so that she is well within contention for a spot in the Westfield Matildas squad for the FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019™.
Ibini was named the January nominee for the NAB Young Footballer of the Year award, and for good reason — she has four goals and one assist in 12 games for the Sky Blues this season.
On the verge of Saturday afternoon’s Westfield W-League 2019 Grand Final, we look at the past six months that have turned Ibini into a standout performer for Ante Juric’s Sydney FC.
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Football takes me many places
We start in October, where Ibini missed out on Sydney FC’s Round 1 opener against Western Sydney Wanderers due to national team commitments.
The forward was part of Gary van Egmond’s Australia U19s squad which travelled to Lebanon — there, she helped Australia progress to the second round of qualification for the AFC U19 Women’s Championship.
Ibini had a phase to remember, playing two out of three games, including an impressive showing where she grabbed five goals in Australia’s 18-0 win over Mongolia.
The youngster returned to Ante Juric’s squad with a spring in her step but, despite entering the action before the hour mark in Round 2, Ibini was helpless in Sydney FC’s 3-1 loss to Melbourne City.
Breaking into the squad
Having had a solid pre-season of football behind her — splitting her time between the Young Matildas and Sydney FC — Ibini earned her first start of the campaign in a Round 4 home Big Blue against Melbourne Victory.
While Victory’s 3-2 win wasn’t the result Ibini had hoped for, it showed the faith Juric had in the young winger, playing her in a forward line alongside Westfield Matildas teammates Caitlin Foord and Lisa De Vanna.
Ibini’s inclusion also kept Savannah McCaskill on the bench — a player with big pedigree and a crucial part of Juric’s plans.
Two substitute appearances followed for Ibini, first in Sydney’s 2-0 loss to Canberra United, and then a 58th-minute appearance as the Sky Blues downed Brisbane Roar 5-1 at Seymour Shaw in Round 6.
Having been on the pitch for only half an hour, Ibini grabbed a goal and assist, proving her capacity to have a huge influence on affairs.
She followed that up by coming off the bench to score a late brace as the Sky Blues put another five past Adelaide United.
Making the spot her own
Ibini's form was now demanding selection and she became an integral member of Juric's starting side over the second half of the campaign.
She added another goal to her tally in the 3-1 win over the Newcastle Jets which was part of the Sky Blues' relentless charge to the Finals Series.
But it wasn't just the goals and assists that were the impressive part of Ibini's game.
The youngster was delivering mature performances and forming a formidable partnership with the likes of Caitlin Foord, Savannah McCaskill and Chloe Logarzo which made the Sky Blues' attack tough to stop.
And Ibini was rewarded for her stellar form by being named January's nominee for the NAB Young Footballer of the Year award for the Westfield W-League.
If she has another big outing against Glory on Saturday, Ibini might just add a Westfield W-League winner's medal to what has been a dream period for the gifted teenager.