Tuesday 28 June 2016, 02:21

A Matilda midfielder's fatherly inspiration

To have one Olympian in the family is something special, to have two is simply astonishing. All being well the Van Egmond family will attain such a feat come August. Emily van Egmond is set to represent Australia at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in Rio de Janeiro. There she will be following in the footsteps of father Gary, who played for Australia at the Seoul Olympiad in 1988.

It is certainly a rare achievement, albeit one done before. Notably, Norway’s Isabell Herlovsen featured at Beijing 2008, with her father Kai doing likewise 24 years earlier in Los Angeles. But what makes the Van Egmond’s feat all the more extraordinary is that Gary will be part of the Matildas’ inner sanctum in Rio as the team’s assistant coach.

Paternal guidance Australia will tackle Germany, Canada and Zimbabwe in Rio, and Emily is set to be a key component of the team’s midfield, given her cultured and considered passing. Stepping out onto the Corinthians Arena pitch on 3 August would bring a football relationship full circle, one that started on the suburban fields of Sydney nearly two decades ago. There Emily commenced playing as a five-year-old, coached by her father who would soon achieve success in professional ranks, most notably winning an A-League crown with Newcastle Jets.

As for Emily, her career has been on an upward trajectory since breaking into the national league as a raw 15-year-old. Now at the age of 22, she has already participated at two FIFA Women’s World Cups™.

Late last year, Gary was appointed assistant to Matildas’ coach Alen Stajcic and the career of the two Van Egmonds were again intertwined. “It didn’t feel much different having dad with the national team,” Emily told FIFA.com. “I have had him as a coach throughout most my junior years. Even in the Under 6s - he couldn’t help himself,” added the 1.FFC Frankfurt midfielder with a laugh.

In contrast to his daughter, Gary Van Egmond was a central defender throughout his career. He featured in three matches at Seoul '88 in what was a breakthrough showing for Australia, who reached the knockout stage of a senior global tournament for the first time.

“ it is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and to make the most of it,” Emily said of her father’s advice about being an Olympian. “Not everyone gets to experience it, and it is something that doesn’t come around very often.

“As a young kid I wasn’t perhaps aware of how big the occasion was, but as I got older the Olympics was something I wanted to tick off my sporting bucket list."

Matildas riding a wave of optimisim Australia head to Rio 2016 in a confident frame of mind. After reaching the quarter-finals at last year’s Women’s World Cup, the Matildas stepped up another level in their qualifying campaign for Rio. They defeated old nemesis Japan as well as Korea DPR, while a spectacular long-range strike from Van Egmond against China PR ensured Australia ended the five-match campaign undefeated.

“We can definitely take confidence from that Olympic qualification tournament,” said the Matildas star. “The most important thing is to stay grounded, and try and take that success into a major tournament because that is where it matters.”

Australia are unlikely to suffer from over-confidence in Brazil. Indeed, no doubt Van Egmond senior will impart some of the wisdom accrued in Seoul nearly three decades ago. “I’m very fortunate to be a part of it with dad,” said Emily.

“He is the first one to say he will push me harder than anyone else. He brings a wealth of experience to the team, and I think the girls are enjoying learning from what he has to say, so it is has been enjoyable for sure.”