Emily van Egmond sums up her passions in life quite simply – she’s a self-confessed coffee snob, a big beach girl and loves football.
“I’m from Newcastle so I love the beach – big beach girl - and I’m a big coffee snob. I enjoy going out for coffee and being sociable with family and friends when I’m home – but in summertime you’ll definitely catch me at the beach,” she said with a laugh.
For an athlete at the top of her game but still very much in her youth, that’s just how it should be.
With a wealth of experience already accumulated – she racked up 50 games earlier this year with the Matildas - van Egmond has no doubt she owes a lot of her current success at the elite level to the opportunities which have come her way from a young age.
“I’m 22 and there are still lots of things I need to work on in my game, both on and off the field, so I guess I still consider myself quite young, but I’m also extremely lucky to have been able to make it to two World Cups already,” she said.
Her upbringing was an active one like most Aussie kids but one thing set her apart in terms of sporting influence – her dad Gary was a Socceroo.
“I played a lot of different sports when I was a kid growing up – school sports such as netball, touch footy, swimming and I did a bit of little athletics – but I it was always soccer I was coming back to and that I enjoyed and really loved.
“Growing up with dad playing the game, watching football all the time and just speaking about it - and I guess playing with the boys at a young age - it was definitely always football,” she said.
While her father was not initially keen on his daughter following in his footsteps her talent and passion for the sport eventually won him over.
“I don’t think he ever envisioned his daughter playing football but I was pretty persistent as a kid and probably came across as quite annoying, so I think he probably just gave in in the end,” she said.
Van Egmond played a lot with boys’ teams as a kid and acknowledges that this played an important role in her development.
“I think when I was growing up and playing I was very lucky to have come up in a generation where they still considered the best girls should be training with the boys week in, week out and playing games with them and I think that went a long way in my development.”
When she reached U15s though she found it had become a more physical game in the competition with the boys, but before that could have any effect she was identified and scooped up in the net cast for future talent.
“At around the U15s it starts to get a little more physical – which is normal – but during that time I was also scouted to start training at Newcastle with Mark Jones and was very fortunate to be able to train against the Matildas at that time – Cheryl Salisbury, Joey Peters and Kate Gill – we had a wealth of experience up there. So I was very fortunate to be brought in and train alongside those girls at a young age,” said van Egmond.
Like most kids, kicking the ball around the park was part of her childhood but what set her apart was the opportunity to learn under her father’s tutelage in those early playing years, spending hours practicing technique and ball skills.
“I was very fortunate to have Dad who was my coach for the majority of my junior years and we went down to the local park quite often and worked on technique and he was very big on emphasising the fact that touch and technique and passing were extremely important in a game.”
Van Egmond laughed when asked about her mother – having survived the many years she spent as a player’s wife – then having to face the prospect of being the mother of an elite player.
“She probably thought ‘thank goodness’ when Dad retired, thinking no more football, and then here I am – an absolute nutcase – running around the house with the ball, kicking it and smashing lights and probably just driving her crazy,” said van Egmond.
“But no, she’s been very supportive from day one; my whole family have and I’ve been very fortunate to have them on my side and supporting me through my whole entire career so far.”
Having already been involved in two World Cups, played for several overseas teams and with her first Olympics kicking off in less than a fortnight, what can be left on van Egmond’s ‘to do’ list?
“I’ve really been thinking about that over the last couple of weeks and at the moment my goal is obviously to do extremely well with the Matildas going to Rio because I think we’ve got a lot to offer. So that’s my big motivation now - to go over there and do the best we can and perform well at a high level,” she said.
The Matildas squad navigated its way through a significant transition phase over the four years from 2011 to 2015 and has taken a major leap forward since Alen Stajcic took over the coaching role in 2014. As a consequence of the development of the talent at his disposal, and of the confidence gained out of an historic 2015 World Cup campaign, the team is heading into this next major challenge with a strong belief in its ability and potential to excel.
— AUS Women's Football (@TheMatildas) March 7, 2016
Van Egmond says the players are ready to make a big statement through their performance.
“Staj has come in and done a massive job with the team and we now play quite an attacking style of game – that’s his philosophy and the girls have definitely bought into that - building off that momentum from the World Cup. I think it’s time to get out there and give it a real crack and make a statement because we’ve got a young, positive team and it’s got a lot of potential and the girls are all on that same page of wanting to get to Rio and be a real medal contender. It’s going to be a big challenge for us in the group we’ve been drawn in – Canada, Germany and Zimbabwe are no easybeats – so we’ll have to be on our game,” she said.
“I think these weeks leading up to the first game against Canada are going to be vital and that’s going to be the big one – that opening game. If we can get a good result there it will really put us in good stead for the rest of the tournament.”
All the hard work has been put in over recent months in the lead up to Rio with the players being tested at every turn looking to learn from their performances.
A common theme emerging out of the growth and development of women’s sports is culture and its effect on a team’s performance and success.
The Matildas is no different according to van Egmond.
“We’re a really close knit group. A lot of the girls have been fortunate enough to grow up together from around 15 years of age. I’ve played with four or five of these girls throughout my whole entire junior career, so that’s been great and we’ve formed some really good friendships. I think on the whole we’re a really close group and we’re all building towards the same goal - the team culture is great.
“Everyone trusts each other on the field and wants to be positive for each other as a team and I think we all know that if we aren’t together as a team, we aren’t going to be successful. So we’re really fortunate to have such good friendships and that close unity within the group - I think that’s one of our strengths,” she said.
On the back of last year’s World Cup performance, the players returned to home to a heros welcome and to more exposure and attention than they had ever before received. Players have now moved into the spotlight and as such have become aware and even embraced their new place as role models.
“Since being back in the country I’ve noticed that massively. We were successful in qualifying for Rio and now people want to know about the team and they are supporting the team. I think the girls know that the more success you have, the more that’s going to come and I think it’s great at the moment in sport – with the Rugby7s and others doing so well - I think it’s a really exciting time for women’s sport in Australia.”
One part of the past eight years at the elite level that van Egmond reflects on with mixed emotion is the time she has spent playing overseas.
While she now sees it as having been invaluable to her growth as a player, she remembers finding it very hard when the first opportunity came up.
“The first professional contract I signed was for a Danish club when I was 17 – I had just come off the back of the 2011 World Cup – and I lasted just three weeks there because it was a massive culture shock and living away from home was hard. So I actually ended up coming home as I was really homesick - I was in a little bit of bad shape saying I didn’t want to ever go overseas again,” said van Egmond.
“Then the opportunity came to go to the US and I really had to say to myself if I wanted to be a professional footballer this is the sacrifice I had to make.”
This second opportunity meant she had to reassess what it was she really wanted from football.
In the end she spent several seasons in the USA and then had time in Germany playing for FFC Frankfurt and this time she enjoyed the experience.
“I think the footballing environment over there was great – I trained and played against some of the best footballers in the world – and I can’t ask for anything better than that. So I did really enjoy my time there,” she said.
Van Egmond says she is in no rush to plan a life after football at this stage with age on her side. She is looking to make the best of the years she still has ahead of her - always looking to develop her game.
“I just want to keep growing and learning as a player and potentially just try and mix it with the best.”
While it has been a big ride so far for van Egmond, the future has plenty more to offer on the professional front but for her and her team mates the Olympics is the next big test as they look to take their game to the next level.