A component of Sydney FC’s success this season has been their defence, but if there is one unheralded key cog among a big-name backline it is surely Liz Ralston.
Until last weekend’s shock 3-0 loss against Newcastle Jets, the Sky Blues had conceded just eight goals in ten outings – comfortably a league best.
Alongside a trio of Westfield Matildas in the backline – Alanna Kennedy, Servet Uzunlar and Georgia Yeoman-Dale - is Ralston.
Still only 21, Ralston has impressed this term building upon constant improvement with each passing season since her debut in 2012.
Though a modest height makes her an unassuming presence in the centre of the backline, Ralston looks comfortable in a role she has played since her mid-teenage years.
“I definitely take a lot of confidence from being in the starting line-up,” says the well-spoken and articulate Ralston.
“Every week I have worked to put myself in that position, and I take a lot from the confidence (coach) Dan (Barrett) has displayed in me.
“It is certainly been a tough squad to crack into.
“Holding onto that spot as a starting player is really important to me, so week-in-week-out I try and put in a performance that will get me on the team the next week.
“That is certainly my main goal – to perform to the best of my ability and be a starting player at Sydney FC.
“It hasn’t always been easy in the past, given the team is so high-performing over the years so you really need to perform to hold your spot.”
So what has been the key to Sydney FC’s defence excellence this season?
“We work a lot on our defence structure starting from the front and working back,” says Ralston, who was also quick to pay tribute to the quality and inpiration offered by Uzunlar, Kennedy and Yeoman-Dale.
“We also only have one international import, while a lot of teams have experienced quite a bit of change.”
But there is another secret to the success. One that is quite remarkable.
Ralston, Kennedy, and goalkeeper Sham Khamis have all constantly played together since winning the U-12s a decade ago at Macarthur Rams in south-west Sydney.
Now the trio are the defence heartbeat for the Westfield W-League leaders.
Off the field, Ralston is in her fourth year of physio at Western Sydney University. She has enjoyed some practical experience through football, and has even helped out with the occasional strapping of a teammate at training over the years.
“I occasionally find myself wondering if I should offer any advice or stick to my role as a player,” laughs Ralston.
“My physio does like to quiz me sometimes about an ongoing issue within the team, and I can take that away in case it is something I experience in the future, so that is good.”
The Sky Blues can wrap up a record third premiership on Sunday should they defeat Adelaide United with the match to be televised on Fox Sports and ABC TV.
While the result is all important for Sydney FC, the performance of the Sky Blues defence will be an interesting sub-plot against the free-scoring Adelaide.