The youngster at the heart of Bulls’ rise

Few players have reflected the meteoric rise of the Bulls FC Academy greater than Avaani Prakash. Twelve months ago, as the Academy’s women’s team was fighting for promotion from the NPL2 NSW, the 16-year-old Prakash was still playing youth football. Her emergence to senior football coincided with the elevation of the Bulls to the top tier of NSW.

Signed by head coach Jaime Gomez, Prakash flourished as the Bulls became the surprise package of the season. In a year they were tipped to battle for survival, the Bulls reached the decider where they’ll face rivals Macarthur Rams on Sunday at Valentine Sporks Park. In a year of shocks, it was also one of the youngest members of their squad that emerged as the linchpin within this season’s surprise package.

“It’s my first year playing first grade,” she said. “It’s been a long journey. I’ve been really lucky that I have great coaches with me. The coaches have stood up for me and shaped me as a footballer.”

The nimble teenager quickly flourished as the midfield metronome of the Bulls’ possession-based style of play. Tenacious off the ball, clever with it; Prakash has been the central architect. She’s a tireless worker in the engine room of the field but gifted with a delicate touch and the vision to unlock defences. Paired with a sweeping passing range and an acute eye for goal, Prakash was crowned Coaches’ Player of the Year this season despite her youthfulness.

“I feel I have learned a lot playing first grade. Especially with the physicality, it’s very different. The pace is different, it’s a lot more intense than the younger age groups,” Prakash said.

“From a young age I always wanted to become a professional footballer and this year, playing in a senior environment, it shows me what it takes to push to the next level. Some of the players in this team are really experienced and they’ve helped me a lot.”

Prakash was pivotal in the Bulls 2-1 win over APIA Leichhardt in the semi-final – a performance that showed why she’s been selected in the Young Matildas and tipped to go further. She has her sights on playing in the A-League, the Matildas and playing club football overseas – potentially for the team she supported from a young age, Barcelona. More immediately, her focus is firmly fixated on Sunday’s decider against the Rams. There’s no hiding it’s the biggest game she’s played in her young career but with a wisdom beyond her years – and a few experienced heads in the dressing room – she is treating it like it’s just any of the games she shone in on the way to the season finale.

“We know Macarthur Rams will be prepared, they are an experienced team and we are looking forward to a great challenge but it’s all about us on Sunday,” she said. “This week we are coming in really prepared and [head coach] Jaime [Gomez] is making sure we approach it just like any other game. We focus on ourselves and what we can do.”