You must forgive the residents of Cowra and Grenfell for being glued to their televisions at night as their hometown girls Ellie Carpenter and Clare Hunt kick their way to success with the Matildas.
Both girls have become overnight heroes in their hometowns following the inspiring win of the Aussies in the latest group stage of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.
The home team’s stunning 4-0 victory against reigning Olympic gold medallists, Canada, has seen towns, cities – indeed the whole country – increasingly united behind their growing success.
In honour of their hometown hero, Cowra Council has well and truly been caught in the fever of the cup, staging a live viewing area, complete with a big screen, for locals to watch the Matildas play their pool matches against Ireland and Nigeria and, of course, the win over Canada.
Ellie Carpenter may have moved to France to play with Lyon Football Club in 2020, her contract now extended to 2026, but the Matildas’ star has never forgotten where it all began, her contribution to the town continues in helping to secure funds and equipment while also holding clinics for young players to hone their skills.
Clare Hunt – having grown up on a sheep farm just outside Grenfell – has journeyed to the top through sheer drive and determination.
After practising her skills, using a goal arena her father constructed out of poly pipe in a paddock on their farm, Clare decided she wanted to be a footballer at the age of 12.
She has spoken in the past about the long drives from her family’s property to attend training and matches in Bathurst, Canberra, and as far away as Sydney.
While she may have overcome the tyranny of distance in her rise to the top, Clare has also had to overcome multiple injuries – having had seven operations between 2018 and 2022.
Cootamundra MP Steph Cooke said for Clare to beat those obstacles and compete on the biggest stage of them all, was something everyone could all take inspiration and encouragement from.
Ms Cooke said the residents in their hometowns were exceedingly proud of what Ellie and Clare had achieved.
“Their inspirational path to the international level is making an indelible mark on the minds of young girls in the regions.
“Junior players are drawing deep inspiration from the journeys of these superstars – journeys that started at the local football fields in regional NSW and culminated in last night’s triumphant result on the world stage as they competed against the best players on the planet,” Ms Cooke said.
In Cowra, for instance, junior soccer club president Derek Sullivan recently remarked on the positive impact Ellie’s success had had on female participation at the club, with girls now making up almost a third of players.
Ms Cooke said these stories of success served to remind us of just how important sport was to the fabric of our communities, particularly those in regional NSW.
“Sport not only helps from a physical perspective by keeping us healthy and active, it also helps develop social connections and a sense of belonging,” she said.
“Whether it be through the shared achievements of a sporting team, or the social interaction that comes from participating in solo events, sport contributes to our social capital in a way that nothing else does.
“Sport can support education; it can help alleviate antisocial behaviour; it oftentimes contributes significantly to economic growth through business investment and increased visitor numbers during sporting events; the list of benefits goes on.”
Ms Cooke offered her enthusiastic congratulations to the entire Matildas team on their outstanding and inspirational effort and wished them good luck for the rest of the tournament.
The Matildas now face Denmark in the round of 16 at Stadium Australian on 7 August.