'We're very proud Australians': Mary Fowler to be a Matilda for life

She's the teenager with the world at her feet and a Women's World Cup on the horizon – and for Mary Fowler and her family, it's hopefully just the start of a long, fruitful and trophy-laden career with the Matildas.

At 16 years of age, Fowler is in line to become Australia's youngest ever player at a World Cup after earning a spot in coach Ante Milicic's 23-strong squad for next month's tournament in France.

It caps an incredible rise from almost total obscurity for Fowler, who made her senior international debut last year at 15 and was hailed by then-coach Alen Stajcic as one of the most gifted young players he'd seen in the women's game. That assessment is shared by Milicic, who insists he has picked Fowler on current ability – not on potential.

For Australian football, it's a massive relief. There were fears Fowler would be lost to the Matildas late last year when her father, Kevin, blocked her from a call-up for a pair of friendlies against Chile to have her train in England with Cristiano Ronaldo's former sprint coach, Mick Clegg, while she trialled with European clubs.

It infuriated Stajcic and led to a rift between the family and FFA, but the relationship has been fully mended and there is no doubting their loyalties, with Kevin describing Mary's selection as a huge vote of confidence from the federation in her ability and a moment of great pride for the family.

"We're very proud Australians and very proud to be a part of this as parents and as a family," Kevin told the Herald. "And we're very excited about the opportunity ahead.

"We look forward to many, many years of Mary bringing success to the Matildas and that this kind of environment and opportunity just serves as a great leap of faith, if you like, by the federation in her ability and her potential."

Kevin is Irish, and met his wife Nido while working in Papua New Guinea – she was seven months pregnant with Mary, the second eldest of five children, when they settled in Cairns in 2003.

They are now based in Sydney, with Mary, sisters Ciara and Louise and younger brother Seamus all playing NPL football for the Bankstown City Lions. The oldest member of the 'Fowler five', Quivi, is with the Sutherland Sharks and has previously represented Ireland at youth international level.

All of them wish to play football professionally and have honed their skills together throughout their young lives – at their local clubs, in the backyard and on the beach. The family has moved back and forth between Europe and Australia over the years to further their footballing dreams.

"Every parent wants the best for their kids," Kevin said. "You do everything you can to provide opportunities and make sacrifices and today is just one piece of satisfaction that … all that, it's worth it. You do get to see some joy in all of that."

Milicic sees Fowler as a player not just for the future, but for now. "I understand that the age gets mentioned a lot, but at the same time I will always revert back to the footballing quality and that's something that she does have," he said at the squad announcement in Sydney on Tuesday.

"I think the players we have in the group, particularly in the attacking third, she's going to learn so much and it's all about educating the young ones … what better place than going to a World Cup with this squad?"

with Michael Lynch

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