Steph Catley reflects on a decade of growth
Steph Catley is decisive on the field. Whether she is whipping in a cross on her magic left foot or making a crunching tackle, she rarely takes a backward step. However, when asked if she was having fun with her football, she hesitated.
“That’s a good question. It’s funny, if you had asked me that last year I might’ve had a different answer,” she said.
Catley debuted for the CommBank Matildas in June 2012, which means that 2022 marks her ten-year anniversary as a Matilda.
An established leader in this squad, she speaks with pride about the youngsters who have come into the team in the last few years.
“Charli [Charlotte Grant] is the one for me that’s really pleasing,” she said. “Seeing her growth from when she first came in has been great.”
“Filling Ellie [Carpenter]’s shoes at right back is a massive role to fill, but she’s done it and looked so calm in the process. She’s held herself well and showed that she’s grown and matured as a player.”
“Courtney [Nevin] and Kyra [Cooney-Cross] are continuing to grow as well. It’s awesome for us as a team.”
Catley’s long career has seen the rapid growth of professional leagues around the world, and an increased viability for young players to ply their trade overseas.
It is these opportunities that the senior group regularly encourage the younger players to pursue.
“When a lot of them first came into the squad, we really pushed them to go overseas,” she said.
“At this level you need to be challenging yourself and getting out of your comfort zone. You need to learn from other players and other styles.
“Charli has been doing it forever, but now we have Courtney and Kyra over in Sweden as well, pushing themselves and doing amazing things.
“You can see the difference in camp – they’re more confident in themselves, and they’re not nervous to be in an environment around more senior players.
“When they come on the field, you know that they’ve had exposure to high intensity football. They’re ready to go. That’s been great for our team.”
The 102-cap veteran is no stranger to challenges in her career. She’s suffered injuries and setbacks, and has needed to adapt to different styles of play in different countries and different leagues.
Catley moved to Arsenal in 2020 after having experienced only two other professional leagues in her career. Like many of her teammates, she alternated playing in both the NWSL in the United States and the A League Women’s competitions throughout the year.
Her move to the Women’s Super League meant that she had to fight for her place in the starting line-up for the first time in years.
“England is very different to America and that’s exactly why I wanted to go and challenge myself,” she said.
“Looking at Arsenal as a club, they’re pure football – they want to possess the ball. When it works it’s always beautiful to watch. That’s something that I wanted to be a part of.
“Going there, I knew I’d have to prove myself and start from scratch.”
However, impressing her new teammates and manager would prove the least of her issues. Her first season was marred by a series of injuries, beginning in a game against West Ham in September, that took almost the entire year to overcome.
She admits that it was a challenge, but now that she is on the other side, she counts her experiences at Arsenal as some of the best in her career.
“It has probably been one of my proudest achievements in football in terms of how hard it was to recover, and how enjoyable it was to come back into the team,” she explained.
“Some of the experiences I’ve had – playing at the Emirates, playing alongside the players that I do every single day – are amazing.
“Training is always 100%. It’s a challenge and hard work, but it’s extremely enjoyable and literally the best environment I could possibly think of being in right now.”
With less than 12 months to go until the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the focus of the CommBank Matildas playing and coaching staff is narrowing. Unfortunately, preparations have been interrupted by injuries to key players such as Alanna Kennedy, Emily van Egmond, Kyah Simon, Clare Wheeler, and Tameka Yallop.
Catley hurts for her teammates, but can see the positive side as well.
“You never want your teammates to be injured in any sense,” she said. “You always want everyone on the park, available, playing their best football, and fit and healthy – but that can’t always happen.
“It’s just another challenge for us and another chance for someone else to step into their shoes to prove why they should be starting, and prove that they can play at the highest level.”
Just as she once stepped up as a youngster ten years ago, injuries are an opportunity for new players to gain experience before a home World Cup.
“Someone can do something amazing, and show the world what they’ve got,” she said.
So – is Steph Catley having fun?
“I’m in a good place,” she said. “The journey has been difficult, but I think our team is in a good place as well.”
The rapidly changing landscape of women’s football has meant a much more competitive environment for players. With professionalism comes scrutiny, particularly on social media, something that Catley is keenly aware of.
“To be honest, I don’t read much at all,” she said. “I think I know how to handle all of that a lot better now.
“I don’t really see too much and if I do, I know whose voices matter. I know the people who really have my best interests and the team’s best interests at heart are the ones that are going to tell me what I need to do better.
“I have a Twitter and if I get tagged in something I do see it usually – but it’s easy to ignore if you actually choose to do it. Last year I didn’t do that too well.
“This year I’ve been really able to tone it down. It makes everything so much more enjoyable when you’re just focused on what you’re doing, and your team.”
Helping keep her focus on the fun and light side of life are her furry friends – particularly her pet dog Calvin, who is with her in London.
“I can’t tell you how amazing it’s been for me!” she laughed. “Dogs have always brought such a light to my life.”
“Really, it has changed so much. I go home and I don’t think about football – I think about him! He needs a walk, he needs food, and I need to make sure he’s okay.”
“The way he greets me when I walk through the door, it just makes everything go away.”
Crucially, she did assure fans that her love for her dog Bentley, who lives back home in Australia, is undimmed.
When looking back on her career, she couldn’t be more pleased with where she is positioned now. Despite her rocky season back in 2020/21, everything has fallen into place.
“Looking at where I’m positioned now – vice captain here, and playing at Arsenal, I reckon everything has worked out really well,” she said.
“If we get everyone fit and firing, the home World Cup could just be one of the most amazing memories that I will personally have in my career. It will be the same for the rest of the team as well.
“Ten years later, I think things are pretty good.”
Australia v South Africa will be broadcast live on 10 Bold, 10 Play and Paramount+, with the fixture against Denmark live and exclusive to Paramount+.
CommBank Matildas v South Africa
Date: Saturday, 8 October 2022
Location: Kingsmeadow, London
Kick-Off: 12:30pm (local) / 10.30pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: 10 Bold, 10 Play and Paramount+
Denmark v CommBank Matildas
Date: Tues, 11 October 2022 (local) / Wed, 12 October (AEDT)
Location: Viborg Stadium, Viborg, Denmark
Kick-Off: 6.00pm (local) / 3.00am (AEDT)