Surreal rise of emerging Aussie football family

Today, they’re three emerging midfielders looking to make their mark in the professional game. But as kids, they were “ferocious” competitors in the family backyard.

Together, Jake, Corey and Shay Hollman tell the “surreal” story of one of the A-Leagues’ emerging football families. And this weekend, Shay – the youngest of the three – will look to help Sydney FC book a spot in the Liberty A-League Grand Final.

Jake is the eldest of three siblings; the 21-year-old plays for Macarthur FC in the Isuzu UTE A-League – the same league in which Corey (19) is signed to Sydney FC.

Then, there’s 17-year-old Shay. The teenager is in her second year at Sydney FC in the A-League Women, and despite being just three years older than the league itself, has flourished as a key contributor to the Sky Blues’ third-consecutive premiership campaign.

The teenager is a defensive midfielder who does not look out of place amongst the more experienced campaigners in the league; that comes as no surprise to her father Stuart, who remembers playing the role of the anxious observer as his three children scrapped it out in hotly-contested football games in the backyard.

“My wife and I often look at ourselves and say: ‘How did we end up here?’” Stuart Hollman tells KEEPUP. “To see them all set on their way toward having the possibility of a career as a professional athlete is very, very surreal.

“As kids they were three very competitive little beasts, and never wanted to take a backward step. Having the two older brothers, the backyard battles Shay used to have probably gave her confidence she could match it physically with boys of her age.

“They were very ferocious. You’ve got the older brother Jake, and Corey trying to battle with the older brother, and then Shay being the youngest always wanting to be involved.

“You were always on edge looking out at the backyard, waiting for something to explode.”

Shay Hollman joined Sydney FC as a train-on player last season, making two appearances for the club as a 16-year-old. She was backed in by head coach Ante Juric to make a greater contribution in 2022-23, earning a senior contract and going on to make 14 appearances (12 starts) as Sydney became Premiers for the third time in succession – a league record.

“It’s something you dream of when you’re younger,” Hollman tells KEEPUP. “I remember watching the Sydney FC team on TV, watching their games, and now I’m actually part of that team, passing the ball around to players of such high profile, it’s just unreal.

“I’m beyond grateful for (Sydney head coach Ante Juric), for the faith he’s put in me. He’s always been supporting me and giving me the opportunity, always helping my development. I cannot thank him enough for the opportunity he’s given me.”

An ankle injury curtailed Hollman’s impact through the backend of the campaign, but the teenager will push for minutes in this weekend’s Preliminary Final against Melbourne Victory at Allianz Stadium. 

It’s been a dream season for Hollman, who has not only stepped seamlessly into the Sydney FC senior setup, but captained the Junior Matildas to win the AFF U18 Women’s Championships in August, earning Player of the Tournament honours in the process.

“I would do anything to go back there,” she tells KEEPUP. “It was my first tournament for an Australian team. COVID meant all our other trips had been cancelled, so that was really exciting. Putting the Australian jersey on before every game is a moment you don’t forget.

“The main goal is to one day make the Matildas. But at the moment I’m really happy where I’m at with Sydney FC and the Young Matildas.”

Hollman’s love for football sparked whilst attending her elder brothers’ training sessions and games as a child. Before long she was engrossed in the sport, playing with and training against boys in an extension of the games played between siblings in the backyard or down at the local park.

It was at a national primary school tournament, before Hollman had even reached her teens, when her parents first saw her potential as a player come to the fore.

“She went down injured in the first game of the week – and it’s really unusual for her to go down,” Stuart Hollman says. “But she kept playing. At the end of the game we asked: ‘Are you okay?’ And she said: ‘I’ve hurt my wrist’. We went and got it X-rayed at the hospital, and she had fractured her wrist.

“We said: ‘We better tell the coach and you can’t play again for the rest of the week’. She looked at us and said: ‘There’s no way I’m doing that!’. So she didn’t tell the coach. 

“The doctor at the hospital wanted to put a cast on it, and she said: ‘Well, if I have a cast I won’t be able to play’. So they put a temporary cast on that you could velcro on and take off. 

“She didn’t tell the team or her coach, and played the rest of the week with a fractured wrist. I knew at that stage she certainly had the commitment to do whatever was needed to get to the top.”

“Shay’s greatest strength is her mental strength,” he adds. “She’s incredibly resilient in terms of having that focus of achieving what she wants to achieve.

I think a lot of those tears and yelling matches in the backyard, and bloodied knees and what have you, all would have added to that resilience.

That fractured wrist occurred on the cusp of Hollman’s teenage years; now, she’s on the cusp of adulthood, and emerging as a young Australian talent to watch. 

Stuart Hollman says Shay has found herself in the best possible place to continue her development, at an A-League Women club with a reputation for nurturing young talent.

Shay Hollman in action for Sydney FC against Western Sydney Wanderers.

“Shay went into the Sydney FC environment last season as a train-on, and the culture Ante and the girls have got there is just phenomenal, in terms of the support they provide,” he said. “Shay immediately felt absolutely at home, supported and loved, and very much encouraged to flourish as a footballer. 

“They seem to have a high regard for not just football, but the type of people they recruit into that squad. 

“Going into this year, to be offered a contract when she was 16, and to be given the opportunity for game time that she has, and entrusted to play an important role within a very good team of footballers, has been phenomenal. 

“If you said to Shay at the beginning of the season: ‘You’re going to start in 80% of the games and play 90 minutes every week’ she would have thought you were kidding.”

Match Details

Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory
Liberty A-League Preliminary Final
Saturday 22nd April
Allianz Stadium, Sydney, NSW
Kick Off: 3pm AEST
Gates Open: 2pm AEST
Broadcast Live: Paramount+ & 10Play
Tickets: Click Here