It’s the worst feeling. The World Cup is the pinnacle of any playing career. To suffer an injury during the tournament and miss games is just heartbreaking. I feel for Sam Kerr. But then you quickly need to turn your thoughts to the team – football is always more than any one person. I know that Kerr is always contributing, even off the pitch.
I played for the Matildas at three Women’s World Cups. At my first, in 1999, I sustained a knee injury in my first game. Back then, in a tournament situation, we couldn’t necessarily have scans straight away to find out what was wrong. So they just pumped me full of needles, but that didn’t fix it.
The feeling is one of utter devastation. In the moment you’re willing to do anything to get out on the park. Looking back I wonder if it was worth it – but in the moment, you just want to get out there. You put your trust in the staff around you.
In 1999 I couldn’t get back on the park – it finished my tournament, we didn’t win a game and we didn’t progress to the next round. It was devastating. You want to play your best at the World Cup. To feel that you didn’t give yourself a chance to prove your talent, how good you are, the strength of the team – to come away with that disappointment is horrible.
In 2007 it was my last World Cup – I again picked up an injury in the first game, but was able to return and play in the quarter-final. It was so happy to be able to return, but it was a reminder the team is more than yourself. Alicia Ferguson came in for me, and knowing that there was someone else doing the job was some comfort.
When I heard the news on Thursday, I was shocked – and then frustrated. The Matildas have had the best preparation, which is just what the players deserved. But the injury makes me wonder what training habits could result in the girls being injured in warmup. Are the football gods trying to tell us something? Are they training too much, to have this repetition and impact on their muscles?
But there are some positive omens. It was a good sign that when Caitlin Foord and Kerr came off against France, in the warmup match, the Matildas could still score. Winning the first game against Ireland without Kerr will give the Matildas the belief they need. And Kerr is still leading the team. She’s still among the group, giving them the right mindset.
Last week’s win also showed the importance of the home-ground advantage. It’s a superpower – as the New Zealanders found out too. Having that 12th player, the home crowd, cheering the team on is so important; as fans, we need to step into Kerr’s shoes and lift the team.
I remember playing in the Matildas’ first Asian Cup, back in 2006. It was overwhelming for us – we had to qualify for the World Cup through Asia for the first time, against the likes o highly ranked South Korea, China and Japan. We didn’t even play in front of large crowds, but being on home soil still lifted us. We played the best tournament of our lives, and went through to the final (where, unfortunately, I missed a penalty in the shootout).
I desperately hope Kerr can return, sooner rather than later. But my advice to her would be not to rush it. When you’re in the moment as a player, when you think this is the most important event of your life, and the nation is counting on you – you want to do anything to get out there. I remember thinking: “do whatever it takes, I’ll get out there, chop my leg off if you need to.”
I am sure that is what Kerr will be thinking, but I hope she knows that she can take her time. Maybe she should target a return in the knock-out rounds. She’s still playing her part off the field, and is a huge influence. The team has proved they can do it without her. I wouldn’t want her rushing back, even though everyone – herself included – would be saying they need her back as soon as possible.
Kerr needs to look after her long-term self first. She can have confidence that the team will get through while she recovers. With or without Kerr, I know that the Matildas can get it done at a World Cup on home soil.