The whistle had been blown. 120 minutes of gruelling football complete with only the penalty shootout left to decide who goes through to the semi-final; Brazil or us, The Matildas. The nerves that I felt prior to the match came rushing back as I stood shoulder to shoulder with my teammates. While waiting for my turn, I was chosen to take the 7th penalty shot. I took a step back to look at how far I had come in what feels like such a short time but in fact it has been several years in the making. Everything moves in the blink of an eye. As fast as success can come, it can also vanish.
My story is a little different. When I was younger I never stood out nor was I the star player on field. I was told I wasn't good enough, fast enough or strong enough from a few too many coaches and was made aware that football wasn't going to be my career. What those coaches didn’t know about me was that I like hard work, I have desire and determination to prove people wrong, something I pride myself on. This can never be taught. These qualities are what got me to where I am today. I didn't care who doubted me, in fact the more people that doubt me, the greater the feeling was when I proved them all wrong. These are the people who made me strive to be better every day.
I was finally given the opportunity that no other coach had given me back in 2011 when an injury contract came up with Sydney FC. 4 seasons later, a W-League title and the opportunity to play in my first ever International Club Tournament, thank you Sydney. It was the experience of a lifetime lacing up against teams like Chelsea FC in Japan.
In 2013, I was honoured to be named Captain of the Young Matilda’s. This was something I’d dreamt of achieving all those years ago when I was told I wasn’t going to make it. I along with the team flew to China for the World Cup Qualifiers. That tournament and playing for my country made me even more determined to reach my goals. Before I knew it I was training at the net Matilda’s camp gearing up for a couple of friendlies against China. An unfortunate situation led to me getting the call up. I remember being over the moon not even imagining the possibility of getting game time. I was sitting on the bench watching the game with about 60 on the clock when 'Hestarine', the coach at the time, ordered me to 'warm up'. Before it had even registered what she’d said I was behind the goal warming up. It is not very often we get to play at home in front of our friends and family, so I was extremely fortunate to debut in front of the people that mean so much to me. It was one of my proudest moments.
I felt it was time I played a season abroad in the American W-league, playing for Colorado Pride. 2014 was their inaugural year, one of a few turning points in my career. As I said earlier success comes fast and it did for me in America. Finishing 2nd, 8 goals, 11 assists and Rookie of the Year honours. I was the first ever Australian to have earned this title. After finishing the season in America I returned home and signed another year with Sydney FC, this time around there was the expectation for me to perform. I was receiving a lot more media coverage due to my successes. I was 18 at the time and let success get to my head and my bad attitude took over. Again as I said earlier as fast as success can come it can also disappear quickly. With all eyes on me that season I completely shattered and performed poorly on the field. By season’s end I wasn't getting game time and the spot I thought I had in the Matildas was gone in the blink of an eye. My chances of playing in the World Cup team was gone and so was my dream.
I completely turned on football and resented it. I blamed football for not allowing me to have a normal life. When the girls went away for the World Cup I travelled overseas for 3 months and did what I thought every normal teenager would do. I let what could have been a once in a life time opportunity slip through my fingers due to my own faults. When I returned from my trip overseas I had a complete new view on football. I didn't see football as depriving me from normal life. I realised that in fact, I don't have a normal life, I have an extraordinary one.
I looked for a fresh start so in 2015, I headed to the Newcastle Jets where I started all over again. I was determined to build up the player I knew I could be with a new attitude and new goals. I was determined to earn my spot back in the National Team and have a good consistent W-league season. I put my head down and worked hard. I only focused on football and everything I could do to improve myself. It paid off. I had a consistently good season with Newcastle which lead to my call back to the Matilda's team. Once my foot was back in the door I knew I would never take advantage of the opportunities that were given to me, so I worked hard. I worked harder than any other person there, I made sure of it. I wanted to gain respect from my team and let them know that they could count on me no matter what. Come the Olympic Qualifiers I was the fittest I had ever been. In our first game I was a little nervous and it was something that Coach 'Staj' said which really resonated with me. He said;
“You know that math test you should have studied for but never did and now you are nervous and dreading doing it? Well this isn't that time. We have done all the research we can do, we have trained, and we are prepared as best as possible, we are ready!"
Before every game I play I think about what he said. It is true, I never fear going out and playing no matter who I play against because I know I have done all the homework I can and it’s all up to who wants it more on that given day. The rest was history; we had topped the tournament. WE HAD FINALLY DONE IT. 12 years to finally see us off to the Olympics. I can’t tell you the amount of relief, joy and excitement we all felt. Heading into camp we felt unstoppable.
Canada was our first matchup at the Olympics. Before stepping out of the change room everything suddenly hit me. I was about to cry, raw emotion spilling out, joy and disbelief. I remember looking at all my photos of my family and friends with my Jersey #6 hanging up in my locker and thinking that all my hard work, all the pain, sweat and tears had finally paid off. My childhood dream had finally come true and I had proven everyone wrong.
I had never been so nervous before in a game like I was against Brazil. We were playing in front of 65,000 Brazilian fanatics; you could actually feel the roar of the crowd rushing through your body. It was an unbelievable feeling; one I will never ever forget. I started the game on the bench but within the first 20 minutes Catley tore her hamstring and I was called up. Before stepping on the field I couldn't hear myself think. In a way I felt it was a good thing as it kept me focused on the game not the crowd. The first 120 minutes were the hardest I’d ever been involved in. I left nothing in the tank.
It was my time to take the long walk all the way down to the box. On the way to picking up the ball I had this weird feeling like I knew I was never going to miss. In that moment I was able to block out the noise of the 65,000 screaming fans and just focus on my task. IT WAS IN! The relief was unbelievable. I had just scored my first ever goal for my country on the world’s biggest stage.
The feeling after the game has to be one of the lowest points in my career as we were so close to being in medal contention. I still get overwhelmed with emotion at the thought of all my accomplishments. I sit back and think only a few years ago I was sitting in front of the TV watching my heroes at the Olympics and before my eyes, I was now one of them. I hope to be a hero to someone out there. I want everyone to know that with hard work, dedication and the right attitude anything can happen.
6| Australian Olympian : Westfield's Matilda : Newcastle Jets
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