23 - Clare Hunt: You never know if you're ready, but you show up and you face it
Although she made her national team debut just six months ago, you’d be forgiven for assuming Clare Hunt had been part of the Matildas’ setup for years. In a whirlwind half-year, Hunt has already added a Cup of Nations trophy and a World Cup debut to her name.
Matildas cap #224, who grew up on a farm in the rural ‘gold rush’ town of Grenfell, NSW, made her national team debut on February 16, 2023, at Central Coast Stadium in Gosford when the Matildas took on Czechia in the opening Cup of Nations match.
Hunt explained the moment as simply “incredible.”
“It was really, really special and something I’ve honestly so worked hard for, through five to six years of injury battles. I didn’t feel nervous, it was almost like feeling the enjoyment of a hard-earned reward,” she explained.
The Matildas went on to win all three matches, the second against Spain and the third against Jamaica to hoist the Cup of Nations trophy.
Just five months out from the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ on home soil, expectations were as high as ever for the Aussies to perform. They rose to the occasion with Hunt playing a huge part in the campaign, providing not only a goal assist, but demonstrating leadership beyond what was expected of a debutant.
Tony Gustavsson praised Hunt’s performance, going as far as to say it was the best he’d seen in his time as Matildas’ head coach.
“She carried herself in a very, very mature way, beyond her years. I’m going to be honest, this might be too big of a headline, but I’m not sure I’ve seen this type of debutant in my two years with this team,” he said.
Hunt seamlessly slotted in, with many fans and spectators commenting that in between organising her teammates and contributing to the attack, she just looked like she belonged.
“Part of me knew that I could rise to the occasion and play at that level, so, I just took that with both hands and went with it. I'm proud to have conducted myself in that way, but also, for wanting to contribute to bettering the squad and bringing the best out of my teammates,” Hunt said of her highly praised performance.
“My composure came from just doing the things I'd been doing for years. I didn't come in unsure of what I was meant to do, because I knew that I had earned my right to be there.”
What many may not know is that the centre-back spent several years prior to her debut battling injury after injury. Watching on as great friends like Clare Wheeler donned the green and gold for Australia, wondering when her turn would finally come.
“Clare was my best friend through the Young Matildas and at Sydney University. I knew how difficult her pathway to the national team had been, so I felt proud to have a friend who had achieved that,” Hunt explained.
“For me, it was a motivator and I just wanted to give myself the best opportunity. I knew there was a lot of hard work involved, but I'm so glad that despite all the setbacks, I continued and didn't give up on my own my path.
“I feel really, really proud of myself and for a long time, that was difficult for me to say because I would always put so much energy, time and resources into things that would never amount to what I thought they would,” she continued.
“But once you take away that expectation and just try and enjoy the process and experience, the more you get out of it. Regardless of the outcome, you're learning, you're growing and you're challenging yourself.
“Once I took away that expectation and decided I just wanted to enjoy my ABCs and maintain my fitness… Focusing on smaller objectives was what really helped me achieve the larger objective I always had in the back of my mind.”
Hunt explained that the shift in mindset she adopted has now become a way of life.
“Now that I'm there, I feel like I have a thought process where I genuinely just want to focus on an objective, be present in that objective and give it my best. I feel like everything can come at me and I'm just going to try my best to deal with it in whatever way I can.”
After an extraordinary six months, when asked if she felt ready for all that comes with the honour, the privilege and the pressure of participating in the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ on home soil, Hunt’s response was as philosophical as fans have come to expect from the cool-headed 24-year-old.
“I think that's the beauty of it. Sometimes you don't know if you're ready. Sometimes you don't know if you're prepared,” she said.
“Sometimes you can feel super prepared and then go into a situation, not being prepared. So, I think the best way to go about it is knowing what resources you do have and understanding or visualising some of the potential roadblocks.
“For me, it's not about thinking am I prepared? It’s about knowing where I'm at, where I need to be and how I can develop myself to best respond to whatever comes up,” she continued.
“I feel like I'm always in a process of preparing myself. You will never know if you're ready or not, but I think showing up, facing it and doing your best is the best way to go about it."