Checker eyes growth ahead of W-League milestone

Full article first published for SBS’ The World Game:

As she prepares to take the field for the 100th time in a W-League contest, Melbourne City’s Emma Checker is targeting growth in both her and the women’s game in the years ahead.

25-year-old Checker, who celebrated her birthday last week, will bring up a century of W-League caps when she and teammates head West to take on Perth Glory this Friday in what is the penultimate contest of City’s 2020-21 campaign.

City snapped a five-game losing streak by downing the Newcastle Jets last Sunday and though they are already eliminated from finals contention, they are looking to finish strongly against the Glory.

City captain Checker made her national league debut for Adelaide United at just 15 years old, playing 17 games across two seasons, before logging stints with Melbourne Victory, Canberra United and Adelaide again, and then signing with City ahead of their all-conquering 2019-20 W-League campaign.

But whereas that season represented something of a dream run for the defender, the going has proven a little tougher since; a stress fracture in her leg ending a stint with French side Fleury 91 and giving her pause as to if she would even hit the 100-game mark in 2020-21 when she re-joined City.

“Coming in with a big injury, I wasn’t too sure where it would fall in the season,” Checker said. “And when I had a slight setback I wasn’t actually sure if it would end up happening this year.

“It’s something I’m really excited for and it’s a big milestone game, and it’s one that you never really know if you’re going to get.

“If you look at a number of other sports, 100 games in the AFL is a bit different to 100 games in the W-League, because when I first started we played ten games a season and if you don’t make finals you don’t have the extra two.

“No we’re at 12 and, fortunately, I’ve been in teams where we’ve played 14 with finals. It’s been a big ten years of work and I missed a season through an ACL injury and knee reconstruction, so it feels really special and I feel really proud to represent City in my 100th game.

“But in saying that, I’m really proud to have represented a number of other clubs along the way that have helped me get to this point.”

Checker’s W-League debut with Adelaide back in 2011 wasn’t exactly auspicious: Michelle Heyman (who is one game away from her 100th Canberra United appearance) putting Canberra up 1-0 at Coopers Stadium that day in just the second minute.

That game would end 4-1, and Checker would subsequently go on to play in 4-1, 4-0 and 2-1 losses before she tasted her first triumph in a 1-0 win over Perth Glory.

“It was almost overwhelming in the sense that you don’t really understand at that age the full level of what you’re doing,” Checker recalled.

“If anything, the nerves were almost less than once you’re older because you kind of just go out there and go get it.

“For me, it’s really important to look back because I’m really grateful that I was given the opportunity at such a young age. Full credit to Adelaide for believing in me back then, at 15, to play a full season at such a young age.

“From memory, I played every game in full in that first season other than a couple of national team commitments.

“It was just full credit in Adelaide for believing me and backing me.”

Checker’s early breakthrough into senior football would be cemented the next year when she received a call-up to the Matildas and made her international debut as a 16-year-old in a friendly against Hong Kong and, as a 17-year-old, was part of the Matildas’ squad that went to the 2014 Asian Cup – playing 90 minutes in a 3-1 win over Jordan.

It would take until 2019, in friendlies against Chile, for her next call-up to arrive but Checker hopes to make appearances in the green and gold a much more regular occurrence in her next decade.

“On a personal level, I want to become a more regular part of the Matildas,” she said. “That comes from playing well in the W-League and having consistency there.

“Moving forward, I would hope that my football can go up another level and being at City is where I need to be to do that.

“For me, we speak about growth; I want to see more growth and I want to be a big part of that. I want to push for what’s going to be best for football moving forward.

“I think extending [the W-League] and being longer is a big part of that, we’ve got a great opportunity to do that leading into a home World Cup. Now is the time to make those big changes.

“There’s a number of gaps in the pathway and unfortunately the drop off rate, especially through those youth national teams, is massive because if you reach a point where you’re not brought into the senior Matildas there’s not a lot in between – especially in the offseason of the W-League.

“I think that is an area that I have a big interest in and I was really fortunate to have the opportunity to travel on the [Junior Matildas] Pacific tour and just see the quality of youth coming through.

“For me, it would be so disappointing to see those girls fall under the radar. Fortunately, this season, with the shift in personnel, a lot of those girls have got an opportunity and a lot of them are excelling.

“So, in terms of bridging those gaps and further developing the pathway moving forward, that’s really important.”

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