Matildas sensation, Steph Catley, has made sporting history (again) as the first Australian woman to appear on the cover of EA Sports FIFA 16.
The Women'sWorld Cup star will appear alongside football legend Lionel Messi after seeing off Aussie teammates, Katrina Gorry and Kyah Simon for the honour.
More than nine million football fans took part in the vote for their favourite stars in a world first for the global franchise.
It caps of a whirlwind rise for the 21-year-old since her senior team debut for the Matildas against New Zealand in 2012.
“It’s a bit surreal at the moment to be honest,” said Catley from the US where she has linked up with her team, Portland Thorns.
“It’s so exciting I can’t believe it really. The in-game image looks so much like me – all the fine detail, the nose, the forehead and every little thing down to the headband it’s kind of perfect. It’s quite scary actually.”
And next step: “I think I’ll definitely try and play myself – I think I’ve got to get that out of the way as a kind of out of body experience.”
The W-League Melbourne Victory title-winning captain and two-time Young Player of the Year says it’s another indicator of the growth in the women’s game.
The Matildas became the first Australian senior national team to win a World Cup knock-out match (against powerhouse Brazil) before falling to Japan in the quarter-finals.
“The Brazil game in the knockout stage, was a real highlight,” Catley said.
“Brazil are obviously one of the best teams in the world and full of incredible players and to get over them and to make a quarter final – the first Australian national team to do that – was pretty big.”
The level of interest the triumph sparked off the pitch was unprecedented.
“In Australia we always had quite a bit of support but nothing like the mainstream support we got when we started performing really well at the World Cup,” she said.
“A lot of people started to pay attention. Mum was sending me things saying you’re on the front page of the paper or you’re on mainstream news. Which doesn’t really happen back home so it’s pretty amazing.
“It’s definitely something we get used to. You know, we work so hard as athletes and it’s nice to get a little bit of attention now and then.”
It’s a far cry from the days when the Matildas had to pay to play and sew the emblems on their own jerseys.
— EA SPORTS FIFA ANZ (@EASPORTSFIFAANZ) July 10, 2015
At a young age Catley finds herself a flag bearer for the game she loves.
“This whole world cup campaign we were getting so many messages from younger girls,” she said.
“On my Instagram and twitter I was getting a lot of personal messages from little girls saying they idolise me and they want to play like me when they grow up.
“It kind of hits home a little bit why you work so hard for what you do. The more exposure we get the more we can influence young girls.”
The Aussie defender is nursing through some well-earned World Cup war wounds in the US before hitting the pitch again and says the next step for the history-making Matildas is a crack at the Rio Olympics.
“For the World Cup we were literally together all year and preparing non-stop,” she said.
“We probably only had three days apart during the preparation. So to finally go our separate ways was probably a little bit sad I think.
“It definitely took me time to adjusting when I first got to Portland and realised I didn’t have my little Aussie friends next to me.
“But life goes on and we’ve got Olympic Qualifiers coming up so I’m sure I’ll see the girls pretty soon.
“As a team we didn’t qualify last time around, which was really disappointing because you want to be playing all the major tournaments – they don’t come around too often so we’ll definitely be looking to qualify there and hopefully do pretty well there as well.”
Beyond that, Catley sees a world of possibilities for the women’s game.
“I’m over in America right now and it’s a fulltime program here, especially in Portland – we train in the mornings and have our afternoons off,” she said.
“It’s a professional league and definitely ahead of what we have in Australia but hopefully one day we can catch up and have a professional league too.”
Want to find out more about FIFA 16 cover hero? Read on.
What is your major football goal?
My goal is to play in World Cups and Olympic Games with the Matildas.
What is your major goal outside of football?
I haven’t decided exactly what footpath I’m heading down with my education just yet but when I do, my goal is to successfully graduate and be involved in a career that I enjoy.
What keeps you busy outside of football?
I’m still completing my certificate 3 and 4 in Personal Training through AIPT. We train at night, so I often have time during the day to go and visit friends. I also spend a lot of time with my Corgi – Bentley.
Favourite team to play against?
The US National team. They are such a great team and always an incredibly challenging team to come up against, especially at home. And they have so many fans that the atmosphere is always amazing.
Who is your hero?
Steven Gerrard. Not only is he an incredible player but he started playing senior football from a young age and hasn’t missed a beat since. He’s continued to get better and better as the years go on because he never puts hard work second. He’s a fantastic leader and someone I admire very much.
Which Matildas’ teammate are you closest to?
Brianna Davey and Teigen Allen – I’ve known Bri since we we’re about 11 or 12 and we’ve been best friends for a long time. I’ve known Teigen a long time too, but we’ve only just become really close in the last couple of years, she’s my roommate and one of my best friends. Both of these girls are like sisters to me.
One thing you love about being a Matilda?
There’s so many incredible players within the squad, that every time I’m in camp or we’re travelling overseas, I know I’m being challenged, improving and learning just by being involved with a few training sessions.
Which football team do you support?
Liverpool – I haven’t always enjoyed watching football. Not until I started watching Liverpool play. They play the ball around quickly and skilfully, they have the ability to keep the ball around the 18 yard box and wait until the best opportunity to score arises. And I love watching Steven Gerrard control games in the middle and Glen Johnson cause havoc attacking as a fullback.
If you could have dinner with any three people who would it be?
Lenny Hayes (St Kilda Football Club) – He’s been my favourite sportsman ever since I was a little girl, his work ethic and modesty are characteristics I strive to mimic every day, Jeff Buckley – he passed away at a young age but I love his music and Michael Jackson – So many questions.
Favourite holiday destination?
Anywhere that’s full of beaches, sunny and relaxed.
Most treasured possession?
Matildas debut jersey.
Homemade Pizza – chicken, onion, tomato, broccoli, kidney beans, spinach leaves, barbeque sauce and cheese.
What would you buy with your last $10?
A bus ticket to the library to write and print my resume (Probably going to need a job if I only have $10 left) and a pack of strawberry extra gum.
Who would play you in a movie?
Ellen Pompeo – Not because she particularly looks like me at all…but I love her as an actress.