Katrina Gorry: Crafting a legacy of family and football

For this week’s Midweek Dub feature, Impetus’ Ben Carey grabbed an EXCLUSIVE chat with Brisbane Roar legend and Matildas star Katrina Gorry. In a hugely insightful in-depth interview, the pair discuss combining football with motherhood, playing overseas, the qualities of the A-League Women, and the national team (18/1/23).

Above: Katrina Gorry balances her daughter Harper on her shoulders after the Matildas game against Sweden last November. Photo: By the White Line.

It’s been a massive couple of years for Katrina Gorry. In August 2021, she gave birth to her daughter, Harper and just four months later, she was already back to playing professional football in the A-League.

Last year, she signed with Swedish club, Vittsjö, transferring there straight after finishing up her duties at Brisbane Roar. She played 22 matches in the Damallsvenskan, the Swedish women’s league, scoring three goals and providing three assists. Gorry also made 10 appearances for the Matildas.

After her exploits last year, The Australian international was understandably exhausted. She recently took a well-deserved one-month break from football. “It was exactly what I needed. Of course, you kind of want to keep on playing, as a footballer, but to have that break, I think it just re-energised me,” Gorry said. She spent her time off with her family and her partner Clara, including a week soaking up the sunshine on Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays.

Spending time with her family was very important for Gorry, as she had spent eight months away from them last year. Being away from her family for so long must have been hard, but more than anything she embraced her time in Sweden. “It’s been amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better first experience going overseas with Harper,” Gorry said. “Sweden is a really beautiful country, and the people there are pretty similar to Australians. They are very welcoming. Which is how I felt from the start. So, I’ve really enjoyed my time there.”

As one of Australia’s best footballers, who has plied her trade in the US, Japan, and Norway, Gorry was impressed with the level of the Damallsvenskan. To be honest, I think it’s one of the best leagues in the world. I think that the average player is kind of better than our best players in the A-League. So, I think that it’s a really competitive league and it doesn’t really matter what team you play for, because any team can win on any given day.”

Above: Gorry celebrating with her Vittsjö teammates. Photo: Instagram.

Gorry noticed a few differences between Vittsjö and Brisbane Roar, namely the age difference and the level of experience. “I think our average age is probably close to 30 in Vittsjö, where I think in Brissy it’s probably like 20,” Gorry said. “But that’s why I love playing at the Roar. It’s a place that I can learn from others, and I’m hoping that players can learn from me and I’m hoping I can bring that experience to the team. That’s why I enjoy playing in both leagues.”

For Brisbane Roar, last season was a transitionary one. The two-time champions and three-time premiers took a massive hit losing 2020/21 Golden Boot winner Emily Gielnik, and her fellow Matildas veterans Clare Polkinghorne and Tameka Yallop to overseas clubs. But Gorry believes that it’s finally coming back together.

“I think we really came together in the last couple of games of last season. We kind of wished the season was a little bit longer because I think that we were really hitting our form,” Gorry said. “This year, it’s been pretty similar, I think. We have really good patches of play and then we kind of fall again.”

Brisbane Roar have started this season with a mixed 3-2-3 (win-draw-loss) record – fairly similar to at the same stage last season, which was 3-1-4. “I think it’s just a lack of experience at the moment,” Gorry continued. “We have a great squad, and I think that anyone who has played and stepped in has done a really good job, and I think that the belief and trust in the team is something that we haven’t really experienced in the Roar before. So, I’m excited to see what happens throughout the next couple of games, and to see what sort of level we can all get to.”

Above: Gorry having fun at training alongside Roar teammates Margot Robinne and Jamilla Rankin. Photo: Ky0k0style.

According to Gorry, what Brisbane Roar are lacking the most is experienced players. Well, perhaps they need look no further than her Swedish club, Vittsjö. Gorry’s partner, Clara Markstedt, is a talented and experienced striker who plays alongside her in Sweden. She has tried to convince Clara to join the Roar, but the timing wasn’t quite right. Clara has just returned to Sweden to start her own business, and the Vittsjö pre-season starts early next month. But Gorry is hopeful that she might play alongside her in Australia in the future. “Hopefully, eventually she’ll come back and maybe play a season with the Roar.”

There has actually been quite a lot of cross-pollination between Vittsjö and Brisbane Roar already. Clare Polkinghorne transferred from the Roar to Vittsjö in 2021. And Kasja Lind is currently on loan from Vittsjö to Brisbane Roar for the season after hearing the positive things that both Gorry and Polkinghorne had to say about the club.

The A-League is played almost entirely during the Damallsvenskan off-season, and it is warm and sunny in Australia while it is dark and bitterly cold in Sweden. That’s a pretty good argument in itself. But for many players, it’s a huge commitment to move to the other side of the world, away from friends and family, especially given the comparatively low salary and often sub-par playing conditions in the A-League Women’s game.

Gorry has been playing in the A-League for 14 years now, with two seasons at Melbourne Victory, one with Adelaide United, and the rest with Brisbane Roar. During that time, she has witnessed a lot of change and growth but has concerns about player retention.

“I think it’s come a long way. I just think it’s hard to have a competitive league when you kind of lose all of your national team players. I think the league was probably way more experienced a couple of years ago, having us all here, and I think you do see across the teams that it just lacks those experienced players, or those players that can add a bit of flair on the field no matter what.”

It’s definitely true that there has been a mass exodus of Australia’s best footballers in the last few years. In 2020, Steph Catley, Alanna Kennedy, Caitlin Foord, Lydia Williams, Mary Fowler, Hayley Raso, and Ellie Carpenter departed for overseas clubs. In 2021, Emily van Egmond, Teagan Micah, Emily Gielnik, Tameka Yallop, and Clare Polkinghorne joined them. None of these players, which, incidentally, make up almost the entire core of the Matildas squad, have since returned to Australian clubs, which is completely understandable. Overseas clubs can offer much higher salaries, more competition, better training and match facilities, bigger crowds, and longer seasons.

Above: Brisbane Roar squad from 2020, featuring big names such as Hayley Raso, Clare Polkinghorne, and Mackenzie Arnold. Photo: Instagram.

For Gorry, the A-League is not one of the most experienced or competitive leagues, but it is a great league for developing young players. “I think for us at the moment it’s about developing our youth and giving them as much game time as we possibly can, and I think that’s exactly what this league is doing,” Gorry said. “And also, giving opportunities to players overseas, who might not see much game time in their other clubs, so they come over here. I think they add a lot to our league here. I think it’s still growing. It’s come a long way, but I think it’s really missing a lot of our special team players.

Foreign players have added a great deal to the A-League. For instance, the most recent wave of American internationals, such as Hannah Keane, Madison Haley, Emina Ekic, and Rylee Baisden, have certainly added a lot of experience and firepower to the league, but the problem is that they are not distributed equally between the teams. They have largely been snapped up by Western United and Newcastle Jets.

While the A-League still has a lot of growing to do, the global game is booming. Last year was an amazing year for women’s football. The Euros smashed attendance records, and we’ve seen that increased interest flow into domestic leagues around Europe. Barcelona smashed Champions League attendance records twice in a row, and the England against USA friendly was played in front of a packed Wembley Stadium.

Gorry has been excited to be a part of it and to reflect on how far the women’s game has developed. “It really is amazing to see how far it’s come, even since I got into the national team, or started playing the A-League. It was pretty special to be over in Sweden and to be able to watch the Euros. Every game we had it on. I think it was kind of a moment where you really have to pinch yourself, to think that this is how far it’s come and that this is the kind of respect that we deserve as players and the support that we deserve as well. So, I think, watching all of that, it just makes you more excited for the World Cup.”

The 2023 Women’s World Cup begins in just over six months. For the first time ever, it is being hosted by Australia and New Zealand. Not only could this be Australia’s greatest opportunity to have a deep run at the World Cup, but the lasting impact on women’s football, particularly in Australia, could be immense and transformative.

I think [the World Cup] will be huge. I feel like Australia is a country that wants to support sport, and it doesn’t really matter what’s being played as people will get out to the game. And I think that having that in your backyard, I think that we’ll gain a lot of supporters and a lot of kids falling in love with the game. You know, seeing their favourite players, playing, and inspiring them. I think it’s going to change Australia and Australian football for sure.”

At the World Cup, the Matildas will be looking to replicate their incredible run at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, where they took out Great Britain and made it all the way through to the semi-finals, where they lost a tight 1-0 match to Sweden. Last year was a mixed bag for the Matildas, bowing out in the quarter-finals of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, which they were one of the favourites to win. They also suffered some frustrating losses to Spain and Canada. However, they really found their form in the last three months of the year, with wins over South Africa, Denmark, and Thailand. They were also able to get revenge on Sweden with an emphatic 4-0 win.

Above: Gorry celebrates with her Matildas teammates in her first game back with the Matildas in just under two years. Photo: Ky0k0style.

For Gorry, who was out of the Matildas squad for just shy of two years, due to the pandemic and then pregnancy, it is very exciting to be playing for the national team again, but it feels a bit different this time around. “I’ve spoken pretty openly about how I was feeling before I had Harper. I was pretty exhausted, mentally, and physically. I almost felt like I was resenting the game a bit, just missing out on family things and stuff like that,” Gorry said.

“When I had Harper, I had no commitment to get back to football at all really. I feel like I just fell back in love with the game when I was pregnant and then as soon as I started training again it was a training that I was actually enjoying, and every session I was looking forward to. I really lost that towards the back end of 2019 I guess.

“I think being in camp and having Harper there gives me a whole new perspective on life and football. You know, as much as you have a crappy game or a crappy session, you can’t stay mad, or you can’t keep thinking about it because you’ve got to entertain Harper or do something with her or look at her little face. It just kind of changes it completely for me.”

At the World Cup, the Matildas will have the biggest home crowds they’ve ever had supporting them. But they will also be under the most intense pressure they’ve ever faced as well. Often in major tournaments, teams need a penalty shootout to settle close matches. The Matildas have won some of the biggest silverware, such as the 2010 AFC Women’s Asian Cup, on penalties. But they have also lost some of their biggest matches that way as well. Namely, the 2016 Olympics quarter-final against Brazil and the 2019 World Cup round of 16 match against Norway.

Above: The Matildas are devastated after their penalty shootout loss to Norway in the 2019 World Cup. Photo: Instagram.

Gorry was one of the penalty takers during the quarter-final match against Brazil at the 2016 Olympics. In the penalty shootout, it was 4-4. Lydia Williams had just saved a shot from Marta, giving the Matildas their first chance to seal the match and go through to the semi-finals. A 23-year-old Gorry stepped up to the spot. She took a deep breath and took the shot. She struck the ball well, but it was saved by the keeper. Brazil eventually won the shootout 7-6. Gorry was not the reason Australia lost, but not being able to covert that penalty shot has haunted her ever since.

Despite that, she scored a perfect two from two penalty kicks for the Roar last season. I asked her if the Matildas go to penalties in the World Cup later this year, would she stick her hand up to be a penalty taker. “Ugh. I don’t know. To be honest, probably not. Going through that at the Olympics was really hard and I think, even now when I step up for penalties it still replays in my head,” she said. “I don’t know, as a footballer you always want to challenge yourself so maybe I’d surprise myself and step up.”

She is not alone in that. Penalty kicks are the most stressful thing in football. Sam Kerr has only taken one penalty kick for club and country ever since her miss during the 2019 World Cup shootout against Norway, and that was against Indonesia, a match Australia won 18-0. But if Australia’s greatest-ever footballer won’t step up to take a penalty, who will?

Gorry knows who she would pick. “Probably Polks. She’s just cool, calm, and collected, no matter what. Nothing really phases her.” Her long-time friend, and Vittsjö teammate, Polkinghorne, is the equal most experienced Australian female footballer of all time, currently sitting on 151 caps for her country. She seems like the woman for the job. But that still leaves at least another four spots, should the Matildas go to penalties. If the situation arises, it will be fascinating to see who steps up to the spot.

Gorry has already had a truly incredible career. She’s played all over the world, including Japan, Norway, Sweden, and the US, where she won the NWSL Championship with FC Kansas City. She has 88 caps for the Matildas, representing her country at the World Cup twice, and played in the Olympic Games. But there are two major things that she is still burning to achieve.

Above: Conflicting emotions after the penalty shoot-out which decided the 2016 Olympic Games Quarter-Final between Australia and Brazil. Photo: Herald Sun.

“I’d love to go and play in the UK. Hopefully, that’s where my next adventure will take me. But I think just to have a good consistent World Cup if I get in the World Cup team that is. They are the two big ones at the moment, and we’ll see what happens with the rest.”

It says a lot about both Gorry, and the high level of Australian women’s football, that she’s not just assuming that she will be in the World Cup squad. She knows that she will have to earn her place, just like everyone else.

A potential move to the UK would be interesting. It’s one of the only places she hasn’t played football yet. She claims not to have a preference for any of the WSL teams in particular. Honestly, they’d be mad not to sign her. To put on my football manager hat for a moment, the Chelsea and Arsenal midfields seem very strong at the moment, but Manchester City is still reeling from the loss of Georgia Stanway. Gorry would make an incredible replacement, especially as they have a very similar style of play. I hope you’re reading Gareth Taylor.

Above: Gorry holds on to Harper during the official squad photo before the Matildas v Thailand match in Gosford last November. Photo: By the White Line.

Regardless of whether the Matildas have a deep run at the World Cup or whether she eventually plays in the WSL, Gorry has something now that’s bigger than both of her career ambitions, Harper. Almost every time that Gorry plays a match for Brisbane Roar, Vittsjö, or the Matildas, she brings Harper onto the field and holds her. Whenever that happens she looks so content with her life and so full of love and happiness, regardless of the outcome of the match.

“It’s everything. It reminds me of why I’m playing. To make a little human proud, I think is my purpose. To have her there before and after the game, just kind of makes me present and makes me just enjoy the game for what it is and enjoy what we’re doing together. I actually forgot to say goodbye to her in the Newcastle game and I thought about it the whole match. That’s how much it means.” Gorry scored two goals in that match, by the way. It seems that it’s just as important for her opponents that she says goodbye to Harper before a game as it is for her!

Gorry has had an incredible career, but at the end of the day, her family is just as important to her as her football legacy. “I’m just so lucky that I have the family support that I do, because I would never be able to do any of this without them. Having Clara has changed everything for Harper and I. She’s amazing with her, and Harper loves her more than anything. It’s been tough some days, but it’s so rewarding just being able to do this and take Harper along for the journey,” Gorry said. “To be 10 years down the road and to be sitting on the couch with her, showing her all of the places that she went, the countries that she’s seen, and the people that she’s met. I think it’s a pretty cool story.”

Graphic by: Charlotte Stacey, founder of On Her Side.

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