23 - Alanna Kennedy: "I wasn't going to watch my dream slip away."
Earlier this week, Matildas head coach Tony Gustavsson proudly announced the 23-player squad that would be representing Australia at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™, with each player having a unique story on their path to becoming one of 23.
Growing up in Campbelltown, NSW, Alanna Kennedy has been part of the Matildas' team for over a decade. Making her national team debut as a 17-year-old in 2012, Kennedy grew to become an intrinsic cog in the team's defensive mechanics.
Announced to her third World Cup squad, Kennedy has spent the last nine months sidelined with various injuries including a broken shoulder and a repetitive calf injury.
"My journey has been different. I'm in a good place now, but if you rewind back a couple of months, there was a lot of stress and anxiety around what my World Cup was going to look like," Kennedy explained.
"Returning from a break and getting back to the load, I ended up having a few niggles and unfortunately broke my shoulder, which was really frustrating because the rest of my body felt good, I just couldn't play.
"That kept me out for a while and then I did my calf a couple of months back, which was also frustrating because I felt like I was so close to being back," she continued.
"Being on the sidelines was really tough and I obviously hadn't been able to play for the Matildas for a long time, but I think that's been a huge part of my determination. I just so badly wanted to be a part of this team and I think not being able to, makes you appreciate it so much more."
Although she wasn't able to participate in the matches herself due to her ongoing injuries, the Manchester City defender supported her teammates from the stands in both the Matildas' 0-1 loss to Scotland and their 2-0 win over England in April of this year.
"When I'm in the team environment, I want to be able to contribute as best as I can and be present," she said. "Even if that's from the sideline, I want to be a good teammate, but when you step away from the environment, that's when you're more honest with yourself and you think about how much you really miss being out there. I wanted to do everything I could to be back in that position.
"It's nice to be there and to support, but watching your dream and feeling like it might be slipping away... I can't explain how that felt," she shared.
In the race for World Cup selection, Kennedy embodied the term 'leave no stone unturned.'
"I literally did everything possible to make sure I was going to be selected for this World Cup," she said emphatically.
"I feel it's not like often that you sit back and give yourself a pat on the back for what you've done, but I genuinely feel so proud of myself for what I've achieved over the last few months. There was no way I was going to let this opportunity pass me by.
"Now I'm here, I just want to tear it up. I'm not here to be like, 'Oh, I made it. That was tough,' I feel like I have this new sense of purpose, wanting to make the most of every opportunity. When it's nearly taken from you, the appreciation and determination are huge.
"When I play for the Matildas, I feel like I'm where I belong. I feel comfortable, I feel like myself, so being back here with the girls, just makes me so happy."
With the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™ a game changer in terms of the legacy it will leave behind for women's and girls' football in Australia, Kennedy has her own personal goals when it comes to the kind of legacy she wants to leave.
"I always feel a sense of frustration or unfulfillment when I'm not being myself, whether it's on the pitch, or off the pitch interacting with the fans," she shared.
"I like standing up for the things that I believe in because I just want people to feel comfortable in being who they are. I want to lead the way, but without putting an expectation on people to stand for this or that.
"There are obviously a lot of things that I stand for, and if there's an opportunity for me to make something better or stand up for something, then I will always do that. I would be letting myself down if I didn't speak out on things that I believe in, or that can help make our game better.
Ultimately, when it comes to young girls, I just want them to be confident in who they are," Kennedy continued.
"I want them to enjoy themselves and feel empowered by how good it feels to live your truth. There's nothing worse than looking back and feeling like, I followed the crowd, or that wasn't me, so, in everything that I do, I want to be myself and if that can inspire people, then that's amazing."
Kennedy knows it would be remiss not to address the burning question... 'Are we going to win the FIFA Women’s World Cup?' Her response is one that shows this team is about more than silverware.
"When you're younger, you're still trying to figure out who you are, but I think as a person, I know who I am now and I feel confident in that. But as a footballer, I don't feel like I've reached my potential and I think if you asked anyone in this team, they'd say the same thing" she shared.
"There's been a lot of reasons why, things happen to people and you come in and out of form, you face different stresses, life events or whatever it is that people will never know about. That frustrates the hell out of me sometimes, because I think to myself, if people only knew why certain players were having a bad game... But that's part and parcel of the job."
"Reaching our potential is something we're looking to do at this World Cup. People don't like playing us, they think we're tough to beat but we're not necessarily in the conversations of the top two or three to win, so it's almost like we've done everything else except for win.
"Winning trophies is the end goal. But there are other ways you can gain respect and I think we've already done that. We want to make history and if you fast forward and we win the World Cup, we would be pretty satisfied."