Thursday 02 June 2016, 07:49

Carpenter leads Australia's 21st century brigade

As one gets older, it seems that doctors and police become younger and younger. The same trick of the mind could be applied in reference to footballers. Australia’s newest female international footballer is certainly adding to the perception. Ellie Carpenter, quite remarkably, was born in 2000, and is the first male or female Australia international to be born in the 21st century.

It has been a whirlwind nine-month adventure for Carpenter. Even selection for the Western Sydney Wanderers’ W-League squad late last year was, Carpenter admits, a shock. So when a national team call-up was announced in February, the-then 15-year-old was truly stunned. The youngster could even be an Olympian come August.

Suffice to say Carpenter, though only in year ten, and with two-and-a-half years of schooling still left, now boasts some serious credibility in the school playground. And that is at a school - Westfields Sports High – whose alumni includes numerous male and female national team players, most notably Harry Kewell.

Yet it all could have been quite different. Indeed, perhaps Carpenter could have been at Rio 2016 as a sprinter. Carpenter was a talented track and field athlete as a primary school student, winning medals at national level. But the decision was made to swap spikes for boots. And there was to be another big decision too, which proved pivotal.

Sliding doors Carpenter grew up on a farm some 400 kilometres west of Sydney. Opportunities for further development in Cowra were limited, and 11-year-old Ellie, and the Carpenter family, bravely decided to make the move to the big smoke. “Moving was very hard, it was a really big change,” Carpenter tells from Matildas camp, where the side are preparing for two final home matches against New Zealand ahead of Rio 2016. “My parents backed me all the way, and it has happily turned out well.”

Carpenter made her international debut during March’s AFC qualifiers for the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament. The schoolgirl’s reaction to donning the Green and Gold for the first time was almost one of bewilderment. “I wasn’t even expecting to play at the Wanderers this season, so I was a bit shocked and overwhelmed,” said Carpenter, recalling her selection.

“I was at school when I saw my name on an email and I thought, ‘Is this real, have they made a mistake?’. Going into camp I was really nervous, but the girls were very supportive, and a few have taken me under their wing. About six months ago I was looking up to all the girls, and I was star stuck, so it has all been surreal.”

Carpenter had initially been selected to travel as a shadow squad member. But again, fate dealt its hand, as injury saw the youngster promoted on the very day she was due to return home. “My emotions went from one extreme to another,” Carpenter said. “I was nervous before my first game but Staj (Australia coach Alen Stajcic) talked me through it, and got me calm and confident. I was a bit emotional in the dressing room, but it was a great feeling .

"My Twitter followers doubled between the start of the match and the end,” adds Carpenter with a laugh. “It was certainly all a bit weird going back to school afterwards.”

A fullback by trade, Carpenter, due in part to her athletics background, boasts searing pace. But can she keep up with the genuine flyers in a squad already renowned in that regard? “I like to think I can keep up with Lisa De Vanna and Caitlin Foord,” said Carpenter good-humouredly.

Whether a ticket to Rio is forthcoming remains to be seen, but what seems certain is that a long and prosperous career awaits. “It has always been a dream to go the Olympics, like every athlete. It would incredible to be an Olympian and that is something that can never be taken away from you.”