Steph Catley’s debut season at Arsenal didn’t go according to plan.
Consecutive injuries - one to her ankle and one to her hamstring which required surgery - limited the left back to only six appearances in the league for the Gunners and tested her physically and mentally.
But after months of rehab and some minutes under her belt, she is back in camp with the national team after 15 months away.
“It’s definitely been the hardest year of my football career.” Catley said.
“The injuries just kept coming and I couldn’t find the answers. But I found strength in myself I didn’t know I had and also strength in my relationships with the people around me. I learnt to lean on people and overall I feel like I’ve come out the other side of it all a much better athlete.”
Catley has also taken some valuable lessons out of that time off the pitch which have benefited her in both a physical and mental sense.
“I’m better at preparing, I feel stronger physically and mentally and just have a real appreciation for being out on the field every day doing what I love.” she explained.
“I’m feeling really good. My body feels strong and I’ve been back on the field for the last few months now so I’ve got a good amount of load back there too. But mentally I feel really fresh and just excited to be on the field every single day.”
Not only is Catley excited to be back doing what she loves but, after missing out on the April window, she will also be reuniting with the people she loves in this camp in Sweden.
“It’s the best feeling in the world. Being part of the Matildas means so much to me so not seeing all the girls and being part of the group for so long has been so hard. But I’m finally fit and just so excited to see everyone and get cracking on our preparation.”
“I’ve missed the people. From the players to the staff it’s just a really special group.”
While there were more than a few Westfield Matildas based in London, and the recent easing of restrictions meant they were able to see each other more and more, Catley admits it’s not the same as playing together.
“A lot of the girls are over here in London with me so we have managed to spend a lot of time together which has been really nice. But there’s nothing like being on the same team again.”
The bond between this group of players is well known and Catley can’t wait to have a coffee with the women she describes as like family.
“I think our team has a really unique and deep bond that separates us from other teams. I think wherever we are in the world, whatever team we’re playing for, we’re always there to support each other and want the best for one another.”
“I’ve grown up with the majority of these girls and they’re definitely like family to me.”