December 1, 2023

How whirlwind rise of Matildas star blew the world away

By Emma Kemp
December 1, 2023 — 7.45pm
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Clare Hunt has spent 2023 operating retrospectively. Not living in the past, but thinking in it. It has been a useful approach in a year containing so much change and requiring such precise execution that over-analysing any of it could have blown up everything.

As in, she made her Matildas debut in February and was the team’s starting centre-back by the time the World Cup started in July, then played each of Australia’s seven matches with the ease of a veteran international. And how in September, having made fewer than 50 senior appearances – all within Australia – she moved from the Western Sydney Wanderers to Paris Saint-Germain.

“Probably the hardest things to do in your football career, I’ve done this year,” Hunt says. “But I have the motto that if you do it all in one year, then it can’t get much harder than what you’re doing now. Get all the hard stuff out of the way and enjoy the rest of it.

“When I’m in the midst of it, I’m just waiting for the next thing. It’s always just seeking to improve and be better. So when you chunk it down into day-by-day stuff, it flies by because you don’t think too much about the big picture.

“I suppose that’s what my year has been. I chunk it down into days or into training sessions or into moments, and then I look back and go, ‘Oh my goodness, I did that’. If I have that simplistic approach I find it a lot easier, I don’t overthink things and I just get to enjoy little aspects of what I’m doing.”

That does not mean Hunt, 24, has enjoyed a pressure-free ride to stardom, it just means she has absorbed that pressure with perspective and maturity.

Clare Hunt on the ball during the Matildas’ 3-0 Olympic qualifying win over Taiwan in Perth last month.Credit: Getty Images

For instance, she knew the only reason she had played so few games for her age was her horrendous injury history – seven surgeries over five years will keep you off the pitch for a while. And once the rural NSW export had made her sink-or-swim Matildas debut at the Cup of Nations, she knew she was “swimming at international level”.


Really, it was the rest of the world that needed to catch up, as evidenced by Australia’s long-term search for defensive depth. When Hunt lobbed at the World Cup pre-camp on the Gold Coast and trained for the first time with new central defensive partner Alanna Kennedy, who was coming back from injury, the latter exclaimed: “Where have you been?”

Hunt answered this question not with words but with sure-footed football throughout Australia’s historic semi-final run. Then, when that football caught the attention of several overseas clubs, the daughter of sheep farmers from Grenfell found herself in France rounding up the attacks of some of the biggest clubs in the world.

Hunt arrived in Paris in September having hardly left Australia, bar the odd junior trip and a six-week stint training with Everton following April’s friendlies in the UK. She also had no local language skills nor personal connections in PSG’s squad full of French internationals – some of whom her Matildas ousted from the World Cup in that epic quarter-final penalty shootout. Lieke Martens of the Netherlands is among her high-profile teammates.

Matildas defenders Clare Hunt and Ellie Carpenter and (inset) as kids playing in Central West NSW. They both now play their club football in France.Credit: Getty, Supplied

To help with the adjustment, she has a sounding board in fellow Matildas defender Ellie Carpenter, who is from Grenfell’s neighbouring town of Cowra and has become fluent in French since moving to rivals Lyon in 2020. And she is so far enjoying living north-west of Paris, near the club’s training ground, Campus Du Paris-Saint-Germain.

“It’s nicer for me,” Hunt says. “I don’t like the hustle and bustle, so it’s actually kind of nice to have some space.

“I’ve started my French classes. I am not taking a lot of it in, I must admit, in the early stages. I just think there’s so much going on, that I’d rather focus on understanding the football and the style of play, and getting to know players as best I can.

“But I think once I’m settled and I’ve got everything sorted, I can put more resources into learning and apply myself a bit more. But I think I’ve probably applied myself in understanding the football side of things and how to contribute what I can with such a short period of time. Obviously, I went over there without a pre-season, so it’s almost like: do you put focus and energy into learning a language or do you want to get yourself on the park?”

She got herself on the park. In October, while in recovery from a post-World Cup injury, she made her club debut in the 1-1 Champions League qualification draw with Manchester United, coming on 17 minutes in after teammate Oriane Jean-Francois partially ruptured her ACL. She then played in the 3-1 second-leg win over United to qualify for the group stage, and has since started in the group-stage losses to Ajax and Bayern Munich and various Division 1 Feminine wins, including last weekend’s 4-1 result against Montpellier.

More minutes have come for the Matildas, too, in last month’s World Cup qualifiers. And on Saturday, she may well start in the first of two friendlies against Canada, who will farewell all-time great Christine Sinclair and want retribution for July’s famous 4-0 rout in Melbourne.

Coach Tony Gustavsson, who is without late withdrawals Sam Kerr (foot), Mackenzie Arnold (triceps), Charli Grant (hamstring) and Holly McNamara (ACL), along with the already-injured Cortnee Vine (hamstring), has intimated he may experiment with his XI as he prepares the Matildas for February’s final Olympic qualifiers. But Hunt is close to a sure thing for one or both of the games, in Langford on Saturday and Vancouver on Wednesday.

And the thing about Hunt is, within 12 months, she has become a sure thing for the future.

“I always had it in my heart that I wanted to play for the national team, I just kept going through ridiculous injury rehab,” she says. “I just knew I had to bide my time, however long that would be.

“The opportunity came last A-League season, when I had an injury-free season and started to get some consistent minutes. That was the first time in my career where I got to show my technical and tactical game learnt over the last 20 years.


“And I know everyone’s like, ‘Where has she come from?’ But I feel like I always had this capacity, I just could never show it. All I needed was one opportunity to show people what I could do. When I got that, I knew I could perform without much game time, then I knew I could do so much [more] when I have an opportunity to train. So now being at PSG and playing with the Matildas, every training session and every game is another opportunity for me to get a little bit better.”

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Emma Kemp is a senior sports reporter.


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