First Cap: Clare Polkinghorne’s uneventful debut in an eventful match

One of Australia’s most capped and decorated players, the defender shares her memories and feelings from her international debut.  

14 years ago, on a hot night in Shanghai, the career of one of Australia’s most respected footballer began.  The match was friendly against China on 19 June 2006, in a game in which the Westfield Matildas fell short 2-0. 

Born and raised in Brisbane, Polkinghorne had been attending the Queensland Academy of Sport during the time of her call up to the national side.

Still a 16-year-old emerging player, being named in the friendlies against China was not what Polkinghorne was anticipating at that point in her life.

“It wasn’t something that I was really expecting,” Polkinghorne reflected.  “I was just happy to be a part of the squad.”

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While we all know of Polkinghorne now as a resolute defender, when it comes to her debut game, she remembers she didn’t spend her first moments as a Westfield Matilda in the backline.

“I was trying to remember what the game was like, and we actually got a red card.  I was then subbed on as a striker.”

That’s what I can remember from my first game that I actually come on up front, toward the end of the game.”

Polkinghorne’s substitution was just another moment in an eventful match which saw Lydia Williams subbed off in the 38th minute with an injury, Cheryl Salisbury pulling up with a hamstring/groin injury, two goals and four send-offs late in the match. 

As well as reminiscing on her debut game and what the achievement was personally for Polkinghorne, she looks back and appreciates how lucky she was to be such a young player amongst a team of older, experienced players who she could learn from.

The youngster played alongside the likes of Joanne Burgess, Heather Garriock, and Cheryl Salisbury. Just a few of the women who were able to guide Polkinghorne through her youth years of football at a senior level.

“I was lucky enough to be training with a lot of the girls. I’d been lucky to spend a lot more time with them and see how they went about preparing themselves, how they went about training at high intensity every single day,” she remembers.

“I was real lucky to have a good opportunity at a young age. I think I definitely learnt a lot from those older players during my first few years for sure.”

100 Games Polkinghorne
Clare Polkinghorne is one of the highest capped Australian footballs of all time (Photo: Getty Images)

With over 100 caps under her belt now for the Westfield Matildas, Polkinghorne has become of the most successful defenders in Australian football, also securing – and being the first to – 100 Westfield W-League caps for one club.

If she had the opportunity to go back and tell her younger self one thing before her international debut, it would be to ensure she soaked in all of the moment.

Savour the moment, anytime you are lucky enough to represent your country is really special.”

“If I could go back now, I would say take it all in and remember as much as you can.

“Right now, it’s just like a blur of what it was like 14 years ago, don’t take any opportunity for granted.”