Grace Maher returned to the field on Sunday for Canberra Olympic after being on the injured list all winter, netting a screamer from distance in an 8-2 victory over Woden-Weston FC in Canberra’s women’s National Premier League.

It’s been a busy time for Maher since news emerged that she won't be playing for Canberra United in W-League season eleven, in what is likely to be another year of high turnover for the club.

"It's true, I won't be returning to Canberra United," Maher said.

"I was released at the end of June by the club after coming to a mutual agreement that it would be best for me to go elsewhere this season. The club and city mean a lot to me so it's sad, but I'm not going to let it stop me pursuing my football," she said.

It's no surprise that other W-League clubs are pursuing Maher now she is on the open market.

"There is interest from a few clubs. I'm narrowing it down. I'm considering the coaching style, and where and how I want to play, as well as what's going to work off the field."

"I really want to be able to play in midfield in a free way. At Canberra and for Australia recently I've been playing in defensive roles which has been good for me to learn but I lost a lot of enjoyment in the game. I want to play for a team and a coach that wants creativity from their player," Maher said.

Maher is philosophical about changing clubs after returning from the first break since her playing career took off four years ago, having just recovered from compartment syndrome and taking a step back from football for a few months.

"I've been working on recovering, and working on my mindset and why I love football," she said.

"I'm coaching an U13s NPL side in Canberra as well as playing and I’m really enjoying the new challenge from a coaching perspective. I want to encourage girls to play beautiful football and I hope to do that as a player at an elite level for many years to come. I'm under no pressure to get to the top quickly. I consider playing for your country an honour, not a job."

Grace Maher burst onto the W-League as Canberra United's youngest player at 15 in 2014 under coach, Elisabeth Migchelsen, graduating swiftly from being a shining talented junior in local football and as a volunteer at the Canberra United match day merchandise stall. 

Maher went on to start in the W-League grand final that season against Perth Glory, leading the team in the central midfield role, and providing the assist to Stephanie Ochs that would set United on their way to the title.

She has racked up 28 appearances with Canberra and tallied 5 goals. In her 13 games for the Young Matildas she has netted three goals and captained the side.

Asked about the signing of counterpart Alex Chidiac to atletico Madrid, Maher was delighted.

"She's over the moon - we're so excited for her. It can be such a quick rise, from club football to W-League to national team. We're such an experimental age group and cohort. We were around the game when the Matildas were going through the heartbreak and hardship of not being paid fairly. We're aware of what benefits we're getting and why. We are grateful, and at the same time we're a bit frustrated."

Off-field, Maher's passion for coaching has surprised some in the game including Canberra United's coaching staff.

"Heather [Garriock] and Alex [Epakis] asked me what I do outside of football to wind down. 'Coaching' I said. They were surprised I considered coaching different from playing, but I feel that I get such a different perspective with the young girls. They love learning and listening to the experience I can pass on to them. I feel as a coach you're there to make the magic unfold, but then it’s up to the player to decide which ball to play."

Grace Maher in her first game for Canberra United as she takes on Alanna Kennedy in the W-League Grand Final

Maher's philosophy on coaching is clear.

"The coach is there to make tough decisions, work with the younger girls on technical aspects, but never to let people know they're not good enough. If that's radiated to the team, the trust disappears and the quality suffers. Under Rae [Dower], not once did I think she didn't believe in me and my ability," she said.

"When I'm with a team, I'm coaching them to play in any team in any style, to make sure tactically they're aware. I coach to make sure the player can make the decision and they know why they're making it."

"At the Young Matildas, Gary van Egmond told us we have to make the decisions as players. He said the coach isn't there to choose the right play for you, and when you make the decision, make it the right one for the situation," Maher said.

Passion for football oozes from Maher.

"I'm in love with the sport. I've passed that onto my family who weren't as obsessed with game before I started playing. Mum used to play and has been a volunteer at the club for so long now and Dad loves watching. My Dad and I  love analysing games. It's a real passion. Although my playing career might finish at 30 or 35, I'll have coaching," she said.

The response to the news that Maher would be leaving Canberra that she shared respectfully on social media recently was met with sadness and gratitude from Canberra fans and former and current players, coaches and staff.

Her intelligent approach to the game, commitment to the club and its fans, and talent on the field will be another club's gain.

Something tells me that, while she might be heading on a footballing journey that will grow her perspective and leadership in the game even more, this isn't the last we'll see of Grace Maher in the nation's capital.