Checker on the rise for Lady Reds

In just 12 months, Emma Checker has debuted for the Lady Reds, the Australian U-17 women’s team and been rewarded with a place in the Westfield Matildas squad – not bad for a 16-year-old.

In just 12 months of football Adelaide United defender Emma Checker has debuted for the Lady Reds, received her first cap with the Australian U-17 women’s team and been rewarded with a place in the Matildas squad – not bad for a 16-year-old.

Even before making her first appearance for the Lady Reds in October last year on the opening day of the 2011/12 Westfield W-League season, Checker had already featured at international level three weeks prior when she represented the U-17 side in a series of friendlies against New Zealand.

Following the three-match tour in Auckland, Checker was recalled in November to help her nation secure qualification for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.

Australia failed to qualify but Checker’s stocks continued to soar and within just over three months time she found herself training alongside Matildas Sarah Walsh, Heather Garriock and Melissa Barbieri.

The fullback was invited to join the Matildas at a training camp in Wollongong in March of this year followed by another held a month later at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.

The invitation came as a surprise to Checker, who returned home from her Year 11 studies at Immanuel College in Adelaide to discover the news.

“I got home from school and mum told me what had happened, and it just really hit me … it was a big shock and I didn’t even believe it to start with,” Checker recalled.

“The camps were amazing and I don’t even think words can describe how good it all was.

“I was so privileged to experience something like that.”

What came next for Checker was even more astounding, when she was named in a 23-player Matildas squad to take on New Zealand in a friendly match on June 24 at Win Stadium, Wollongong.

Although Checker was an unused substitute, the talented right-back was not disappointed, preferring to revel in the experience and enjoy a chance to sit on the bench alongside some of the country’s elite female footballers.

“Training with them was one thing but getting to actually sit on the bench, watch them play and take in the skills and things they do on the pitch was a really good experience,” Checker beamed.

“Listening to how they communicate was also something that has really helped me a lot.”

The 16-year-old knows she has more to prove before she can take the field on the senior international stage, but is confident the wisdom and knowledge the veteran Matildas shared will hold her in good stead ahead of her first appearance at full international level.

“I was actually pretty glad I got to sit on the bench because I don’t think I was ready to go on and play at that level,” Checker said.

“I have a lot to work on before I deserve to be put out on the pitch representing the country.

“I believe I’ve worked hard enough to train with them but I still think I have more to do before that happens.

“I have to prove my place – it’s not something that just gets handed to you.”

Although a regular spot in the Matildas remains distant by her own admission, Checker is more than ready to handle the pressure of a greater role with the Lady Reds both on and off the pitch.

On the field Checker has become a vital cog in coach Dave Edmondson’s plans to bring success back to a team that won just its second game in three years last week following a thrilling come-from-behind 4-3 victory over the Western Sydney Wanderers.

Away from the playing ground she now assumes responsibility as the face of the Lady Reds, often tasked with representing the club at promotional and media related events.

Just two weeks ago, Checker was the Lady Reds’ delegate at the W-League season launch in Sydney where she mixed with some of the league’s more experienced figureheads.

The sudden rise to prominence and added attention has been challenging for Checker but she feels she has no problem in rising above the external distractions when she laces up her boots.

“It’s been a pretty big challenge because it’s obviously not something that I have experienced before,” Checker said.

“I’ve found it difficult sometimes to take it all in but it’s something I should get used to.

“It’s really exciting to be put up on a big stage, but it’s not changing me as a person. All I’m really doing is representing the team.

“I’m pretty good at blocking it all out and it’s always been something I feel like I’m good at … I can walk onto the pitch and nothing matters.

“What people say to me and what’s happening off the pitch doesn’t affect how I play – that’s my time … that’s the team’s time.”

Checker, who trains several times a week while playing a game every weekend either at home or interstate, has also not let her emergence in Australian football detract her away from her top priority – completing high school.

“To do well in school is pretty important for me … it has to be up their as one of my main priorities,” Checker said.

“Soccer feels like it is a priority, but I know have to do well in school for me to do well in soccer because it is not something I can say that I’m going to live off of – that’s just not realistic.

“I have to spend a lot of my lunch times going to see teachers and catching up on work but I know that’s what I have to do … a lot of sacrifices have to be made.

“Time management is very important and I’m pretty lucky that the school is very aware of what it (football career) can take away from you.”

Having achieved so much already, Checker could be excused for feeling overwhelmed or even getting a little bit carried away.

However, she remains level-headed and cautiously optimistic, refusing to get swept up in the mayhem that comes with her promising career and future.

“Sometimes it does hit me pretty hard that I’m at the highest level I can be, but nothing is taken for granted,” Checker said.

“As soon as you think that, it will just get taken away from you because there are plenty of girls out there that are working just as hard and fighting up against me.

“If I keep doing what I’m doing, I know I can continue to prove what I’m made of.”