Heather Garriock played her first minutes in 18 months | (Credit: Paul Lau)
617 days. That’s how long it had been since Matildas midfielder Heather Garriock had played a game of football. For a player for whom the game has been a crucial part of her existence, it was a lifetime ago.
For the most capped current Matilda, the last 18 months have been a life changing period.
With the national team failing to qualify for the London 2012 Olympics, and a dearth of matches scheduled, Garriock took the downtime as a chance to start a family with long term partner Mathieu Louchart.
Late last year the couple welcomed daughter Kaizen Rose into the world. For Garriock, the birth was the beginning of the road back to the national team.
Not long after Kaizen’s arrival Garriock was back in the gym and training with NSW Institute of Sport strength and conditioning coach Jeff White. A coach she cannot praise highly enough and who she credits with her return to the game.
“He has been incredible. There is no way I could have done this without him.”
But even for as renowned an excellent trainer as Garriock, the return to full fitness has been a challenge.
“I have been part of the national team for the last 15 years,” said Garriock. “and I would have to say the last three or four months in coming back have been the hardest of my career to put it bluntly.”
“I was bragging to everybody that I would definitely be back and that it was no problems, but it has been extremely hard.”
The difficulty has not been confined to the gym floor. With Mathieu working full time, Garriock has had to juggle full time training with being a full time mother. Now at just over 6 months old, little Kaizen has seen more of a gym than some adults.
“Combining being a mother as well as playing football, which has for a long time been the number one passion in my life, is unbelievable,” she beamed.
"But the hardest is juggling. To go to training during the day, I take Kaizen to most of the sessions because I don't have anybody to look after her."
While other countries, particularly the United States, have managed to accommodate returning footballers, Australia’s history in catering for mothers to return to the national team has been underwhelming.
The previous collective bargaining agreement between Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) and the Football Federation Australia (FFA) had no provisions relating to motherhood, and while the latest round of negotiations has sought to address this, it is still a long way from ideal.
For Garriock and fellow new mother Melissa Barbieri, the road back to the pitch has been tough.
“It’s no surprise that the financial support has been hard.”
“You are trying to juggle full time training to come back, as well as be a mother, so you don’t have the time to earn extra money.”
“I think it is the national federation that needs to support mothers and encourage that is a normal thing to want to be a mother and also achieve at Olympic Games and World Cups.”
Despite the challenges, on Tuesday night Garriock got back on the pitch for the NSW National Training Centre program for 35 minutes of football under the watchful eye of new national coach, Hesterine de Reus.
For a football junkie like Garriock it was a moment to savour. But despite spending time in camp, she admits she is not yet ready to done the green and gold for her 139th cap.
“In terms of fitness and strength I am probably the fittest I have ever been in my career because I have had the break to work on that.”
“I would probably say I am lacking football conditioning. That is one thing that is going to hold me back for now.”
“For me personally, in the last couple of camps I have been in, I am just trying to find my feet. The team has most of all supported me on my return and the girls have been fantastic.”
Since her break from the game, the Matildas have undergone a change with several young players graduating to the senior squad and a new coach to impress. Competition for places has never been tougher, and what Garriock’s role will be within the side is yet to be seen.
Never one to shirk a challenge she’s happy to once again be pulling on the boots.
“I just love it. It has been my life for so many years and I don’t know any different.”
"Since having Kaizen and being a mother, I have realised that there is more to life than football."
“But being a role model for my daughter is something I have always wanted to be, and I have dreamt of having my child in the stands watching me play for Australia.”
“If I could achieve that, it would be very special.”