By Emma Kemp
For four weeks during the World Cup, just about everyone in Australia knew everything there was to know about Sam Kerr’s left calf. But for the nine weeks since, almost nobody cared about the right one. Not even really Kerr, for a while, after she went down following a challenge during the second half of Australia’s third-place play-off against Sweden.
We all saw her on the ground at Suncorp Stadium, holding the opposite leg to the injury that kept her out of the tournament’s early stages and will forever go down as one of the most speculated-upon muscles in Australian sporting history. But she continued playing until the end and was unfazed about it after the game.
“I just kept playing, I didn’t care at that point,” Kerr said on Saturday. “I just kept running until the last minute. I didn’t even really know. I didn’t know until I got back to Chelsea two weeks later. I went on a holiday, just chilled. I knew it was sore, but didn’t think it was that sore.”
Back at Chelsea, Kerr slowly but surely did the rehab, and started the past couple of English Women’s Super League games. Most of the outside world assumed she was rehabbing the left calf. It wasn’t Saturday, in front of Australian media for the first time since the Sweden match, that a simple enquiry about recent life at Chelsea revealed the full extent of her struggles.
“It’s been difficult to be honest,” was the first thing she said. “I re-did my calf in the Sweden game. Well, not re-did it, did the other one. So I was rehabbing that and then came back.
“I’ve just had a bit of an icky run the last two months, but now I’m back to getting back to full fitness, enjoying being back on the park, sick of being with the physios. I am back to being on the park every day, training, playing. And it was great [coach] Emma [Hayes] let me have the time, but then I had to come back and start getting fit again, that’s for sure.”
Sam Kerr’s calf injury during the game against Sweden.Credit: Getty
The press conference was held in the bowels of Optus Stadium, where the Matildas will play in front of a sold-out crowd on Sunday. The entire squad has been treated like rock stars since landing in Perth a few days ago, treated to hugs and screams and photos by fans. But where the other players still do their media duties standing next to the training field, Kerr gets the press conference treatment.
All the reporters, cameras and microphones are ushered into a room and the striker – who is known for being media-shy and contains her press commitments to the bare minimum required by her as the team’s captain – is in and out in 13 minutes.
“Is it just me?” she says when she walks in and sees the table for one. “I thought it was Tony [Gustavsson], too.”
It is a funny moment and it does, in a way, reconfirm that the media shyness is genuine shyness rather than self-importance.
The timing and location are fitting, too. The last time the Matildas played in Kerr’s hometown, she was still at Perth Glory. That was in 2018, in front of little more than 7000 fans at her then club’s home ground of HBF Park. On Thursday, back at HBF Park, she scored in front of 18,798.
“I felt a bit younger in my Perth Glory days,” the 30-year-old said. “I played a lot of big games for Glory. And I mean, the crowds weren’t that big for Glory, but it just shows how big the change has been in women’s football and the stadium’s actually got a nice revamp since I’ve been there last, so it was good to see.
“I’ve been watching all the W-League games. For some reason, it’s easy to watch the W-League in London, so I turn it on when I’m having my morning coffee. I saw the [record] crowds, which is amazing.”
Then she realises something, laughs, and turns to a Football Australia official. “Sorry, I think it’s the A-League now,” she said. “Sorry, I’ve been out of the country too long.
“I think the crowds have come from the World Cup and the success of the Matildas, but we all grew up in that league and we’re really proud to have played in it.
“Hopefully, it’s a league that continues for many, many years because … it’s a good stepping point, starting point and stepping stone for your career.”
Kerr’s career, as it stands, is one befitting big press conferences and young fans turning up at Perth Airport at 3am just to greet her off the plane. She is, objectively, one of the best strikers in the world. Her honours, nominations and records list is too lengthy to reel off without making each of the hundreds of accolades sound less significant than they actually are.
On Friday, the newly built State Football Centre in the Perth suburb of Queens Park was renamed the Sam Kerr Football Centre. Western Australia Premier Roger Cook wore a Matildas shirt as he made the announcement. On Sunday, there will be about 55,000 of those shirts inside Optus Stadium, where the Philippines game was moved to cater to the huge demand. And where Kerr has only been previously to watch her West Coast Eagles.
“Obviously, I’ve always come here for the AFL, so it’s nice to kind of play here once,” she said. “I didn’t think we were going to pack out Optus, so that’s a credit to all the fans. I was a bit shocked when the game moved, but I guess being out of the country, we kind of weren’t aware of the buzz around the Matildas in Perth post the World Cup. But it’s nice to see.
“[This game] was always the big one for us this tournament. I think you see with how it’s kind of shaped out with the crowd and everything – everyone kind of knows it’s the biggest one.
“But we’re focused for all of the games. Last game, a few girls got a chance to play and show what they can do. So there’s lots of competition for spots and everyone’s really ready for tomorrow.
“We know this is the big one but we’re not trying to overdo it. We’re just trying to focus on ourselves and play some good football and get a result.”
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