Northern NSW Football junior Clare Wheeler laced up her boots to take the field in the green and gold for the first time in over a year last week.
The CommBank Matildas won all three of their Olympic qualifying matches in front of thousands of adoring home fans in Perth, with Wheeler "outstanding" according to Australia coach Tony Gustavsson.
Wheeler has been waiting to score for her national team since making her debut for the CommBank Matildas senior squad in 2021. That opportunity finally arose in her 16th cap in front of 60,000 fans, with Wheeler scoring her first international goal.
"I would describe it as pure joy," Wheeler told NNSWF.
"I think there's a lot of sacrifice and tears that have gone into the journey and to just get that goal at home in front of 60,000 fans was amazing."
Wheeler, an Adamstown Rosebud JFC junior, wasn't focused on how many minutes were on offer going into the Olympic qualifying matches. Instead, she was focused on making sure she took any opportunities that came her way.
"I was just focused on making sure I just took it if I got it," Wheeler said.
"Getting that goal was something that I really wanted to achieve and I'm just glad I took my opportunity."
Representing Australia has always been a dream for Wheeler and while getting more minutes wearing the green and gold is desirable, making the CommBank Matildas squad if her priority.
"Hopefully the minutes and opportunities will come and I just have to be ready when they do come," Wheeler said.
After a history-making FIFA Women's World Cup run, Wheeler recognised the team's resilience. Following the loss against Nigeria, the CommBank Matildas did not let that carry on, instead picking themselves up and acknowledging they needed to win against Canada.
"We did that and I think that, to me, shows we don't give up. We have to keep going and we are just a very resilient team," Wheeler said.
"For me, that could come across as just being resilient and I may not get as much time as other people. But that's okay because I'm a part of this squad."
Following the success of the Olympic qualifiers, Wheeler will return to play in the Women's Super League for Everton. In a competitive league, Wheeler is focused on playing as many minutes as possible, recognising that the more minutes she plays, the better footballer she will become.
Now that she has hit the back of the net for Australia there is no slowing down for Wheeler, who aims to make the CommBank Matildas Olympic squad.
"For that to happen with every opportunity, I must make the most of it. Take it with two arms and not let it go and show the coaching staff what I can do," Wheeler said.
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