I was only 18 the first time I went overseas to play for a club, in 2013.
It was the first year of the National Women’s Soccer League in the US and I’d joined Sky Blue FC, based in New Jersey. I got to see New York and also parts of the rest of the country when we travelled for games.
It was scary, the thought of playing professional football overseas, but it was the best thing I ever did for my development as a person. Mum would do everything for me at home and now I had to grow up and learn to look after myself.
I’d already had three seasons with Sydney FC in the W-League and been representing Australia for two years by then. I made my Matildas debut in May 2011, as a 16-year-old, and played in the World Cup in Germany one month later.
It didn’t really hit me at the time how big an achievement that was. I was still a kid and I was just going out there to have fun. I wasn’t thinking, ‘Oh my God, it’s the World Cup!’, so I didn’t feel that sort of pressure. I just thought it was so cool. I won the Best Young Player award at the tournament and probably didn’t realise until later how much that meant.
It was scary, the thought of playing professional football overseas, but it was the best thing I ever did for my development as a person. I had to grow up and learn to look after myself.
My mentality changed by the time the 2015 World Cup in Canada came around. I’d come to realise that you blink and it’s all over, and then you’ve got to wait four years before it’s on again. I was older and wiser. I was determined to soak it all up.
Playing at World Cups and Olympic Games are the sort of experiences that make it worthwhile to miss out on the typical teenage years. When you’re at high school and your friends are going out on weekends and having parties and you can’t join them because you’ve got football commitments … it’s hard. I can understand why some kids get sidetracked and chuck it in.
I’m 24, but I can count on two hands how many birthdays I remember spending at home. The rest of the time I’ve either been away at a training camp or overseas. You have to be really committed to be OK with making these sacrifices. I am.
It’s impossible to be successful otherwise.
COMEBACKS & HAT-TRICKS
The Matildas will get another crack at the World Cup in France next year. It’s not much more than six months away and the games we’ve just played against Chile are a critical part of our preparation.
It was important, after losing the first game 3-2 at Penrith, that we responded. We did that in Newcastle with a 5-0 win.
I scored three goals in a game for the first time in my career. That was great for me mentally after coming off a year in which I had a terrible foot injury. You lose a bit of confidence and I’d been having negative thoughts coming back. I’d take a shot and miss, and that would result in a spiral for me.
I’d wonder if I was still a good player.
I needed something good to happen and three goals is as good as anything.
I’m happy to be back in the place where I want to be and now I just have to keep working hard and improving. I like to set short-term goals with my game. I’ll give myself something in particular to focus on going into a match, whether it’s with Sydney FC or the Matildas. I want to get my fitness back to 100 per cent and make sure my feet are good, because I’m still rehabbing.
I want to get better at my finishing. Yeah, I scored three goals, but I know I’m still not where I can be and want to be in front of goal.
Overall, the break I had from training and playing because of the injury – even though it’s not how you want it to happen – was good for me. I’d been living football 24/7 for quite a while and it was a blessing in disguise to have some time away from the game.
Now it feels like I’m falling in love with football all over again.