Foundation player signs on for two more seasons

Zoe McMeeken has recommitted to the Wellington Phoenix, signing on with the club through until the end of the 2024-25 Liberty A-League.

The young fullback will be one of the Phoenix women’s four scholarship players for the upcoming season, before returning to a fulltime contract next year.

McMeeken, 19, started all but one of the team’s matches in their inaugural campaign, but was limited to seven appearances last season, six of which were off the bench.

She spoke to incoming head coach Paul Temple and returning assistant Callum Holmes at the conclusion of the 2022-23 A-League, and opted to remain in Wellington to play for the club’s reserves.

“I talked to Paul after the last game of the season and he was super happy to have me at the academy,” McMeeken said. “Callum also pushed me to go to there because he knew I needed game time.

“It was a tough decision to make because I knew other girls were going overseas and I didn’t know anyone who was coming back to the academy.

“Some people would consider it a downgrade, but I knew that it was the best for me.

“The last few months at the academy have been so great, just getting game time, getting on the ball and getting some confidence back.”

Zoe McMeeken in action for the Wellington Phoenix women’s reserves. Photo: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.

The New Zealand age-group international has primarily played at left back for the Phoenix reserves and has been given a bit more attacking license.

“The more positions you can play the more helpful you can be to the team.

“I can play left or right back, and I’m happy to play winger as well as I do quite well in the wide areas. Being right footed I can cut inside and shoot when I play on the left.

“It is kind of going back to my roots and playing football for enjoyment. I can play the way I want to play and it ends up being better for me and the team because I’m doing what my instincts tell me.”

Paul Temple enjoyed getting to know McMeeken at the academy before he moved into his head coaching role.

“Getting to watch her play every week has been really beneficial for me,” Temple said.

“What we’ve seen working with her closely is she’s a crazy-good athlete and a really powerful runner with the ball.

“We’ve given her a little bit of attacking freedom as a fullback and she’s really embraced that and has played with a smile on her face.”

WOLLONGONG, AUSTRALIA – DECEMBER 30: Zoe McMeeken of the Phoenix controls the ball during the round five W-League match between Wellington Phoenix and Sydney FC at WIN Stadium, on December 30, 2021, in Wollongong, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Zoe McMeeken is the third specialist fullback in the women’s squad for the 2023-24 season, alongside Football Fern Michaela Foster and American Hailey Davidson.

“It’s a two-year deal because we see Zoe as the future in that position,” he said.

“Her time will come where she’ll be the starting fullback I believe, whether that’s on the right or the left. She’s got the versatility which helps her a lot.

“With Michaela, Hailey and Zoe, two of which can play on either side, we’ve got three really good fullback options.”

Temple expects McMeeken will “provide really good competition for places” this season, but “I also see her as a key part of our future”.

“We want to work with her on becoming the best professional footballer she can be.

“The conversation with Zoe has been about not just what’s happening right now, but more about her pathway and how that’s going to go over the next few years.

“She’s a great personality and is a really lovely character. She’s got a great worth ethic, is humble and her mental toughness is also a strength.

“We’re getting a really good person and we’re also getting a really talented player with a lot of potential.”

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 09: Zoe McMeeken of the Phoenix and Hannah Wilkinson of Melbourne City contest the ball during the round six A-League Women’s match between Melbourne City and Wellington Phoenix at AAMI Park, on January 09, 2022, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Zoe McMeeken is the 16th player confirmed in the Wellington Phoenix women’s squad for the 2023-24 Liberty A-League, joining fellow defenders Hailey Davidson, Michaela Foster, Kate Taylor, Mackenzie Barry, Marisa van der Meer and Rebecca Lake, goalkeeper Brianna Edwards, midfielders Hope Breslin, Chloe Knott, Grace Wisnewski, Alyssa Whinham and Macey Fraser, and forwards Mariana Speckmaier, Emma Main and Michaela Robertson.

The remaining scholarship players will be confirmed in the coming days, with the squad to assemble for pre-season training early next month.