Kyra Cooney-Cross has already achieved so much in her 18 years, but she believes she has plenty more work to do to make the Westfield Matildas’ 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup squad.
When Australia and New Zealand were announced as hosts for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 in June, for many female footballers, the road to 2023 began that day.
While many members of the senior Westfield Matildas squad recently jetted overseas for the European season, in Western Sydney a group of players also got down to work as the Future Matildas program commenced for 2020.
The Future Matildas program is one of the key pieces in the women’s football development pathway and brings together some of Australia’s most promising players. One such player is Kyra Cooney-Cross.
Cooney-Cross has been a part of the program since its inception three years ago and the Victorian is happy to be back in 2020.
“It's been a good start for us the last couple of weeks,” said Cooney-Cross.
“Leah [Blayney] and Steve have done really well in starting us off right. I think the squad is good.
I'm just getting used to playing and training with each other again and the intensity has been really great in the sessions.”
It has been a long-awaited restart of the program for the players and support staff. Like many athletes around Australia, Cooney-Cross and her squad mates found themselves at a standstill following the onset of COVID-19 at the conclusion of the Westfield W-League season.
While challenging, Cooney-Cross had access to programs prepared by head coach Blayney and the Future Matildas coaching staff. And fortuitously the teenager had a ready-made training partner in Courtney Nevin.
“She's one of my best friends and I've been living with her and her family for nearly a year now,” Cooney-Cross stated.
“Having her around during COVID was good because you can push each other to train. We’re lucky to have each other during this period.”
As well as being a close friend, Nevin is also a Future Matildas and Western Sydney Wanderers teammate. Last season both young players were a key part of the squad as the Wanderers qualified for their first ever Westfield W-League finals series.
It was Cooney-Cross’ most consistent season yet in the league as she played a career-high 13 games and scored four goals, with a sprinkling of assists in between. The result was her nomination for the Young Footballer of the Year.
After debuting in the Westfield W-League as a 15-year-old, the midfielder is now in her third season, having experienced both the highs and lows of football with Melbourne Victory and the Western Sydney Wanderers.
While her first season with Melbourne Victory was a rewarding one – making 12 appearances across 12 games – her second season with the Navy Blues didn’t give her the match minutes she craved.
It precipitated a move to NSW to further her prospects through the Future Matildas program. The move included the sacrifice of moving away from her family at a young age, but it is starting to bear fruit.
“In my first season, I was almost 15 and played I think almost every game. Then my second season wasn't the greatest; I was on the bench,” Cooney-Cross said.
“But then last season, I had a good season playing every game, scoring and assisting. I think it's definitely helping me, and it does help a lot of young players playing with [more] experienced players.
I feel like in moving to Sydney, I made a great decision and I'm think I'm doing quite well. I miss my family, obviously, but I'm used to living away now.”
Like so many other Westfield W-League players, Cooney-Cross’ sights are currently set on the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 at home. After being involved in the France 2019 pre-camps in Turkey and the Netherlands, Cooney-Cross knows what is required.
“I think I need to improve my work rate; it can always be better,” she said. “There’s so much to improve because I’m still such a young player.
Training hard every day, planning to work hard [is important]. You also need to have a good mentality; I think that is something us as young players can get better at."
“I still have a few years to get there, but I'm still young.”
Cooney-Cross has already represented her country with Westfield Junior and Westfield Young Matildas at the AFC U16 Championships, the AFF Women’s Championships and the AFC U19 Championships.
While the World Cup is an aspiration, at the end of the day, Cooney-Cross plays football because of love and that has led her decisions so far.
Her passion for the game, which started almost as soon as she could walk, is matched only by her determination to improve enough to see her in contention for Australia’s 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup side.