After a World Cup of ‘mixed emotions’, Kyah Simon is ready to take centre stage on the domestic front writes Tom Smithies
It’s the comments on the street that really bring it home for Kyah Simon, and underline how the world has changed .
When “randoms”, as she calls them with a smile, approach her to say thank you on behalf of the country for the Matildas mania that engrossed a nation, it underlines every time how life for her as a female athlete has shifted on its axis.
Even while feeling what she admits are “mixed emotions” over the injuries that prevented her from actually playing at the World Cup, the power of her teammates’ collective progress is still evident long after the final whistle blew.
On a sunny day in Gosford, Simon is posing for photos in her new kit and talking for the first time about the bittersweet few weeks in July when she chased the dream of featuring at another World Cup, seemed to have won that race but ultimately couldn’t make the field.
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It wasn’t the rehab from an ACL injury that held her back, but the referred injuries that are so common after so long out. Certainly now she’s close to playing again which is why she has, in several senses, come home – back to the Liberty A-League and back to the Mariners, the club where she played her first professional season 15 years ago.
The switch back from overseas gives her the chance to spearhead efforts to keep the World Cup momentum firing on the domestic front, but also close the chapter of that tournament and write a fresh script.
“Yeah, the World Cup for me was mixed emotions,” Simon tells KEEPUP.
“My goal when I first had my injury back in October last year was to get myself back fit and healthy for selection for the World Cup.
“I always knew that the time frame was going to be tight, considering the severity of the injury and how complicated it was, to get myself back to a point to get selected.
“I was flying in the pre-camp heading into the World Cup but then to have a couple of setbacks during the World Cup, it just wasn’t meant to be for me to play minutes.
“I just tried to be the best teammate I could be and do my part off the field and try to keep the good vibes.”
Nationally there were plenty of good vibes as the Matildas smashed attendance and viewing records; the profile of players with many dozens of caps has grown exponentially in just a few weeks.
“Life’s changed, probably in the sense of more the general public recognising us girls walking down the street, people saying thank you for what we did,” she says.
“The amount of people that have come up to me and said, ‘You know, you made the country proud, you kept us on the edge of our seat. We went along that emotional roller coaster with you.’
“So I think in a sense of the name of the Matildas being a little bit more out there and recognisable, it’s still a bit of a pinch-me moment for randoms to come up and to say ‘Thank you, you inspired our sons and daughters and even our grandparents.’
“It just makes me feel really proud, impacting people’s lives on a greater scale than just doing it for football.
“There’s something really special and authentic about that, and that makes me really proud to even be a part of that.
“I’m super passionate about keeping the momentum going and riding the wave of what we did in the World Cup here in Australia.
“I’m really excited to see the impact that we have on future generations, young boys and girls aspiring to play professional football.”
A big part of that, of course, is returning to play here, along with international teammates like Lydia Williams and Tameka Yallop. The young footballers who cut their teeth in what was then the W-League are back to fly the flag for the competition that honed them.
“It’s massive for the Liberty A-League – a lot of us Matildas came through the ranks and that’s where a lot of our careers started,” Simon says.
“So I think it’s really important to keep that momentum going, for fans and supporters to come and show their support like they did throughout the World Cup at A-League games so we can continue to inspire the young boys and girls at every match every week, and to see where we can take this sport.
“In the inaugural year of the league, to play my first professional year at the Mariners was super memorable for me.
“You never forget the first club you go to. So to be back here and wearing the Mariners colours again, I can’t wait for the season to get started and hopefully we can do something special.
“It’s funny because when I was in the Mariners in my first year in the league, I was 17 years of age and I was that young, up-and-coming player with really raw talent and ability.
“I was leaning on the older players for guidance and the more mature players at the time to help me navigate through what it was like to be a professional footballer.
“So now, with a lot more years and experience under my belt, I’m hoping that I can really help and nurture the players within the team, share my experiences and help anywhere that I can.
“There’s been loads of changes in terms of the professionalism, in terms of the facilities that we get to use, I think in terms of the kit itself – and in terms of being under one umbrella in a club. Back then at the Mariners it was separate.
“You didn’t feel like you were a part of the same club as the men. So for us all to be under the one umbrella, I think is great.
“I’ve lived abroad most of my career, so to be here in my own backyard and my family just have to travel up the F3 to watch is really special to me.”