Tough year for Steph Catley leads to Tokyo

An injury-plagued season for Steph Catley meant league appearances seemed far away, let alone making a second Olympic squad.

However, her return to fitness was well-timed with the Victorian defender booking her ticket to Tokyo.

“It feels amazing. I obviously had a rough year with injuries, so getting to this point is really, really amazing.” Catley said of her Tokyo 2020 Olympic selection.

“It feels so good to be back with the girls and preparing for another major tournament after everything with COVID and everything we've gone through the past year.

"The Olympic Games don't come around very often and you don't know if you're going to qualify, so to be here is very special.”

Her return to full fitness was the work of months after ankle and hamstring injuries limited her domestic season. The injuries coupled with COVID made this a season that tested Catley in more ways than one.

“It was a lot of hard work. There was a time there where I didn't think I would play any games for Arsenal. I thought my season was done at certain points, so it was nice to get some games in there," she said.

Catley went on to explain the tough experiences she endured introduced her to a strength she never knew she had.

“There were different times where I was struggling. There were times where I was better, but the hits kept coming," she shared. 

"I really learned to lean on my friends and my family and found a strength in myself that I didn't know that I had.

"Honestly, it was a tough year, but where I am now, the way that I feel about playing football, I'm refreshed mentally, physically; I wouldn't change it for the world.”

Catley’s focus shifted from Arsenal to national team duty and she was able to feature in both June friendlies against Denmark and Sweden.

SQUAD:  Matildas team locked in for Tokyo with official Olympic selection

READ: Tokyo 2020 a childhood goal ticked off for Mary Fowler

WATCH: "One day better" Gustavsson and Kerr on Tokyo 2020 aspirations

The Swedes will prove to be familiar opposition with the two nations clashing in Group G. For Catley, the tough tests ahead are simply part and parcel of a major tournament.

“It's another tough group for us. We're usually in a pretty tough group, but it's exciting," she explained. 

"The first game against New Zealand is going to be really important, I think that will really set the tone for our tournament. Sweden are an incredible team, and then the US speaks for itself.”

“They're definitely tough games, but we've already started preparing thoroughly for each team and I think everyone's just really excited to get going.”

The Olympic experience won’t be new for Catley who represented Australia at Rio in 2016. However, there is no less pride in being chosen to represent your country for the biggest sporting competition in the world again.

“It's pretty special. I think when you grow up and you watch the Olympics, you look at the athletes competing and you think they're just the best of the best," Catley shared.

"It's the biggest sporting event in the world, so to represent my country for a second time, definitely makes me very proud.”

Catley and her Australian teammates will play Japan in a final warm-up game before Tokyo on July 14th before taking on New Zealand in their opening Group G game on July 21st.