This time last year, Matilda Caitlin Foord injured her foot while playing for Sydney FC against the Newcastle Jets in the 2017-18 W-League semifinal.
She sat on the sidelines the following week watching her team lose the Grand Final to Melbourne City.
This weekend, Foord will be lining up to take on Perth Glory and this time, she is intending to play every minute.
Foord spoke to The Women’s Game about the ups and downs of the last 12 months, starting with her return to the W-League after playing abroad, and ending in what she hopes will be Sydney’s first Championship trophy in eight years.
In 2017, Foord became one of a handful of Australian footballers to play professionally in Japan. She signed for Vegalta Sendai Ladies on a one-year deal and played 17 games, scoring four goals.
When the Japan season ended, Foord returned to Sydney FC for the 2017-18 W-League season. She had a point to prove, both to herself and to her critics.
“I was in a not-so-good mind-frame coming back from Japan. I didn’t think I played my best football [there]; I was struggling to score goals,” she said.
“Coming into the W-League, I felt I was getting back to where I wanted to be and starting to feel good, but then my injury happened. It came at a very bad time because I was in the middle of a turning point.”
Foord’s lisfranc injury, a fracture or dislocation of the bones in the foot, happened in February. The following six months were a difficult and emotional period for the striker, having had the same injury in the opposite foot years earlier.
So stoked to finally have my plate and screws removed from my foot 🔧🔩 instantly feeling so much better 🐣 will have a few days to recover but looking forward to getting back into it & finishing off the final stages of my rehab! Not to much longer now til I’m back doing what I love 🙌🏽
“Having [had] that injury before on my other foot, it was really challenging to have those thoughts coming [back] into my mind: ‘Am I even going to be able to play again?’," she said.
“Now I have these two feet that feel like the one I already have, I was thinking ‘it’s pretty much going to be impossible for me'.”
However, Foord had an interesting way of coping with her own doubts and anxieties this time around.
“I would ask myself, ‘am I even going to be a good player anymore?’
“[But] I watched a lot of footage of myself playing just to remind myself ‘you can actually play football'.”
Her return to football came in August when she came on as a substitute for her NWSL club, Portland Thorns.
“I’d never really doubted my ability in playing before until I had these injuries, and having these really big players around me, I didn’t think I was good enough to be there when I obviously was,” Foord said.
“Within myself, I knew I wasn’t at the best [level], physically and also mentally. I think I was almost afraid of what they would think of me; that they wouldn’t think I was any good because at the time I felt and knew I wasn’t any good and I didn’t want them to see me as that player.
“So [I had] all these negative thoughts and then on top of that, my foot was not feeling great, so that was my building stage to getting back to where I am now.”
The environment in Portland was ultimately a great help for Foord’s recovery, from the backroom staff to the players to the fans.
“I got a lot of support from the fans, and obviously the coaching and medical staff that helped me on my return, they were all amazing.
“Everyone was amazing, even the players. Nobody probably thought [these negative things] about me, it was just me in my own head. Everything couldn’t have been better. It was just me at that time. Even the people around me, they wouldn’t have known that was going on [in my own head].”
I asked Foord if she had sought the help of a sports psychologist during this period, either with Portland, Sydney FC, or the Matildas.
“We have one through the Matildas, but I didn’t really open up about it,” she said.
“I didn’t see it as too much of a problem until I look back at it now. Off the back of the NWSL, [the Matildas] had the trip to Europe where we played France and England, and that was the time I used to open up to [Alen] Stajcic and our sports psychologist [Kate Wensley]. Since then, she has helped me a lot and we worked closely together on that trip.
“[Kate] checks in randomly throughout the season now as well. But now I’m like ‘now I’m fine, you don’t need to be calling anymore!’ That comes with playing again and getting confidence and finding the player I know I can be.”
That player has taken a long time to emerge, but Foord feels she is finally starting to get there.
“I started to see glimpses of good play in myself over [in Portland], but it wasn’t until I got back [to Australia] and used it as a fresh start, everything else is behind me, it’s a new season, [that I started improving],” she said.
“I did everything in my power to make myself better.
“I was lacking ability in front of goal, so I started doing extra sessions away from the team, some shooting sessions, which has really helped me. All I needed was the [repetitions], to be hitting the ball one after the other to feel what it was like to hit the ball [well], to take shots and feel confident taking shots.
“[With] Portland, when I should have been taking shots, I was passing it because I was too afraid to make a mistake. So it was getting that ruthlessness back into my play. That obviously came after each game [with Sydney FC].
“I got off to a really good start [scoring a brace], so I was just building off that each game. I honestly just started enjoying playing the game again and stopped [over-]thinking it.”
Now the W-League’s second-highest goal scorer and leading the Sky Blues into their third Grand Final in four seasons, it’s safe to say that Foord has well and truly got her spark back.
Sydney host Glory on Saturday at Jubilee Stadium at 4:30pm. The game can be watched live on SBS, Fox Sports, Kayo, or the My Football app.