Gold Coast local Elise Kellond-Knight marked her third World Cup appearance coming off the bench for the Westfield Matildas against Italy on Sunday.
The 28-year old experienced midfielder has come a long way from playing alongside boys for the Runaway Bay Hawks.
“Dad noticed I had the coordination for football. I was hooked right away and any spare time, I spent it with the ball at my feet,” Kellond-Knight told The Advertiser.
Kellond-Knight first started playing for the club when she was just three years old. She grew up playing in the boys’ team and even went on to play as captain which she credits to her former coach, Stuart Hallam.
“When I was 14 he (Hallam) told me maybe you should look at playing in girl’s teams. The boys in the team were always supportive but I used to cop a lot of flak by the opposition when I was captain,” Kellond-Knight said.
After spending years playing for the club, at age 16 Kellond-Knight was offered an opportunity to play for the Queensland Academy of Sport (QAS). She spent countless hours travelling to Brisbane to make training sessions.
“We’d get home at nine o’clock at night after I’d be ready for school at eight o’clock in the morning on the Gold Coast,’’ Kellond-Knight said.
The long hours and hard work would pay off because it wasn’t long until she received the opportunity of a lifetime. Just six days before her 17th birthday, Kellond-Knight made her Westfield Matildas debut in a qualifier against Hong Kong in 2007.
Since then, she’s become a formidable force on and off the pitch. In 2011, she earned the Football Federation Australia (FFA) Female Footballer of the Year Award, while in the 2011 and 2015 World Cups she was selected in the all-star squad.
But that’s not all; just last year, Kellond-Knight reached 100 international caps for the national team.
While her football journey has had incredible highs, it’s also had devastating lows. In 2011, shortly after making the World Cup all-star squad, Kellond-Knight ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament in Denmark.
After surgery she was forced to take a year off from playing, but after rigorous rehab and hard work, she found her form again.
“Setbacks always teach you resilience. It also questions your mental toughness. At times I wondered if I still wanted to play. It is a test of your love for the game,” Kellond-Knight wrote.
It’s no secret Kellond-Knight is a consistent strength for the Matildas but for her, all focus now shifts to working hard and doing well in France this month.
“I want our fans to have a sense of hope. This is one of our best chances to walk away with a medal so I want our fans to really feel and believe we can achieve something,” Kellond-Knight told www.matildas.com.
After the Matildas’ 2-1 loss against Italy on Sunday, Kellond-Knight cemented the fact that it’s not over for the team.
“The first game does not dictate where the tournament is going to go. You look at Spain [at the 2010 men’s FIFA World Cup] – how they lost their first game and came through to win the whole World Cup.
“We 100% believe in what we’re trying to achieve.”
Kellond-Knight will look to make an impact on the field in the final two Westfield Matildas games of the group stages.
READ: Gold Coast’s Hayley Raso makes World Cup debut
READ: How Queensland referees earned World Cup selection
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Words: Vivien Topalovic
Image: Alex Caparros – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images