Matildas captain Steph Catley on how Olympic hero Cathy Freeman inspires the team

Ben Smith
The Nightly
3 Min Read
The NRL superstar brought a very special guest to watch his girlfriend's game.

Matildas captain Steph Catley does not consider herself a trailblazer, nor the team she will lead out at the Olympics.

But when she does think of inspirational figures who have paved the way, she says the guiding words of one of the squad’s idols in Cathy Freeman will always hold them in good stead.

As Catley prepares for a third Olympic campaign and the promise of blockbuster clashes with the USA and Germany, the team now holds an iron-clad thread to Freeman.

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Speaking as part of the launch of the Stan Original documentary Trailblazers, following the hardships and eventual rise of women’s football in Australia, Catley said their famous pre-Women’s World Cup meeting with Freeman last year proved invaluable.

“She sat and spoke with us for a good hour and let us ask questions because we felt that as a team, she was the person that probably every single person on our team identified with as being the trailblazer in women’s sports,” Catley said.

“She was the first woman we saw on our TVs representing Australia, doing something absolutely incredible on a global scale.

“So when she came to talk with us before that World Cup, that was sort of a game changing moment for us and a lot of the messages she gave us on that day were messages we took into that tournament.”

But while Catley said she struggled to put her team’s achievement son the same level as Freeman, she was beyond proud Sydney 2000 gold medallist continued to take an interest in the team.

“She was our beacon, we would never put ourselves on any kind of level that was equal with her; she was Cathy Freeman, the epitome of women’s sport,” she said.

“We’ve spoken to her since and she’s really proud of our journey and she’s our biggest supporter.

“She sees us in that light, which is really special, but even having a connection to someone like her is just so important to women’s sport and for our team.”

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 28: Mary Fowler of Australia and former Australian runner Cathy Freeman pose after the AFC Women's Olympic Football Tournament Paris 2024 Asian Qualifier Round 3 match between Australia Matildas and Uzbekistan at Marvel Stadium on February 28, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 28: Mary Fowler of Australia and former Australian runner Cathy Freeman pose after the AFC Women's Olympic Football Tournament Paris 2024 Asian Qualifier Round 3 match between Australia Matildas and Uzbekistan at Marvel Stadium on February 28, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images) Credit: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

In the same way Freeman’s famous 400m gold medal lit a fire in many aspiring female athletes, the torch has now been passed to the Matildas, who find themselves at the vanguard of not just women’s sport, but sport itself in Australia.

But for Catley, the likes of Julie Dolan and Moya Dodd — who feature in the documentary and laid the foundations for what the Matildas would become — come to mind moreso than her own side as trailblazers.

“We’re just in the moment and doing what we believe in as each moment comes, we’re facing different challenges and overcoming hurdles and when I think of trailblazers, I think of the women that have come in the past,” she said.

““There’s definitely aspects of our journey I’m so proud of and I’ll only really be able to appreciate maybe once I step away from the game and I have a look back at the journey as a whole — but we’re in it right now and trying to do our best.”

As for the Olympics, Catley said she would have taken one Olympics as a kid, let alone three — but she is excited about undertaking the campaign with teammates she trusts and loves.

“Growing up as a sports mad kid, I looked at the Olympics as the absolute epitome of sport and even just getting there is special and young me would have been beyond overwhelmed and chuffed,” she said.

“But the fact that I’m doing it with a team I believe can achieve great success as well, that’s the best part.

“I’m not going there just to be happy with going to the Olympics; we’re going there to achieve something amazing.”

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