In football there are stories of disappointment but there are also the ones of triumph and dedication, where players fight tooth and nail to get their chance. Westfield Matildas forward Emily Gielnik is one of those stories.
It wasn’t until the age of 12 that Gielnik started playing football, after injuries in basketball convinced her parents to encourage her to give a different round ball game a go.
Playing most of her junior football with Redlands United FC, Gielnik worked under the guidance of current Junior Matildas coach Rae Dower, who was Technical Director at the Cleveland-based club at the time.
“Rae coming up was good for my development; she more or less gave me the confidence to be free as a player, take players on and score goals,” Gielnik said.
“It’s what made me become more of a goal scorer so most definitely she had impact when I was younger and obviously as I got older and matured as a player there are a lot of other coaches and people.”
In her first season of playing, the Melbourne-born attacker made the Queensland squad for the National Championships at Coffs Harbour however, at the age of 15 with teammates and friends making the Queensland Academy of Sport (QAS) team, Gielnik didn’t receive a letter.
It was a disappointing moment for the teenager.
However, opportunities pop up in the strangest of ways and it was while on a school trip to Canberra when she visited the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), that an unbelievable chance came about.
The Matildas were training at the AIS with then Head Coach Tom Sermanni when Gielnik’s sports teacher asked him if she could join the training session.
“I must have trained out of my skin even though I was so intimidated because it was all the best players in Australia, and all the really old-school Matildas were there,” she said.
“Tom Sermanni asked me to come back the next day and I played a training match with the Matildas.”
Impressed with Gielnik, Sermanni called Jeff Hopkins who was heading up the women’s football program at QAS and recommended he get her into the program.
“That’s kind of how my journey kicked off,” Gielnik said.
She played a whole season with the QAS before earning a contract the following year with Brisbane Roar, however an injury would keep her sidelined for the whole 2009 Westfield W-League season.
It wasn’t until the following season at 18 that she made her debut.
Gielnik had to work incredibly hard to get her Westfield W-League opportunity and even in her first two seasons with the club she wouldn’t see much game time with 15 of her 19 appearances coming from the bench.
However, after a successful 2011-12 season with Roar, where she was dubbed the ‘super sub’ for her ability to score goals as a substitute, Gielnik earnt a call up to the Westfield Matildas.
It was a tough squad to break into at the time, particularly being a striker, with the likes of Sam Kerr, Lisa De Vanna and Kyah Simon just some of the players who had cemented spots in the national team.
After making several appearances, Gielnik spent a couple of years away from the national team but fought her way back into Westfield Matildas fold for the 2016 Olympic qualification campaign.
However, there was heartbreak when she just missed out on going to the Rio Olympics.
“It’s disheartening to be out of the squad but once you are it makes you realise how hungry you are to get back in,” Gielnik said.
Always one to work hard, she continued to keep pushing and made the decision to leave Roar for Melbourne Victory ahead of the 2018-19 Westfield W-League season to reach new heights as a player.
All her hard work paid off when Gielnik got the phone call that she was selected in the Westfield Matildas FIFA Women’s World Cup squad for the France tournament this year.
It was an emotional moment for the 27-year-old, who cried after hearing the news.
“I can’t really put a word on it to be honest,” Gielnik said.
“It’s more a sense of relief and satisfaction in a way with the build-up and how everything has come together.
“I know I spoke about it in W-League and how desperate I was to make this one so it was more the relief of what I had done had been recognised and I’ve been rewarded for it.”
Gielnik puts her recent selection for the national team down to perseverance and dedication.
“It’s just persistence and I think that’s the key for me, the earlier I learnt that it takes more than training with the teams and that it takes dedication then that’s where you’ll be rewarded,” she said.
The Westfield Matildas are currently in Antalya, Turkey for a 10-day camp as they prepare for their opening game of the World Cup on June 9 against Italy.
Image: Matt King/Getty Images