EXCLUSIVE: She recently abseiled down the Opera House - just another day at the office for all-action Matilda Thea Slatyer as she battles for World Cup selection.
On the eve of the Matildas clash with New Zealand in Gosford later this week – their final test on Australian soil before June’s World Cup – Aidan Ormond sat down with national team defender Thea Slatyer…
Thea, World Cup 2011... your thoughts on playing Brazil first and the rest of the group?
I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or bad. It’s most likely to be our hardest game though.
Would you be happy with a draw?
No! I want to win. I want to beat them. Especially at that level. We haven’t beaten Brazil at a World Cup. To beat them in our first game would be a tremendous start for us.
Brazil say their strength is their unpredictably? How do you respond to that?
As players, yeah I’d agree with that that. Their skill level’s quite high and you never quite know what they’ll do on the ball and sometimes are quite hard to read. But their biggest weakness is if you get them in the head and their confidence is down, they’ll just crumble. So all we have to do is not concede for as long as possible and slowly wear them down. Then they’ll get frustrated then we can dominate them.
Norway and Equatorial Guinea. Your take on these two?
I don’t know a lot about Equatorial but none of us are underestimating them. If anything we may be over-estimating them. They’re African so they’ll be strong and fit. Norway are always going to be a difficult game. That was one of the most difficult games we played in the last World Cup. They are extremely organised and quite ruthless.
I know it’s four years ago, but what did we learn about Norway and Brazil after playing them at the last World Cup?
With Norway, we are a very different team to 2007 so we can probably exploit them a bit more now in being a more attacking unit. We still have de Vanna coming off the bench but we have more guns, and more ammunition. Having said that, they may’ve changed a bit so we’ll have to do our homework on them.
Who’s caught your eye in the lead up to the World Cup?
I think Catherine Cannuli has stood up in camps and I’d be surprised if she didn’t get a spot. She’s put even more pressure on the strikers. There are so many strikers [laughs]. It’s going to be tough for Tommy to pick the final squad. But I’m proud of Cannuli for coming back after being away for so long. And she’s still got it. She’s a clever player and that maturity transcends into the games.
Now that we’ve won the Asian Cup do we have more respect on the world stage? And is that good or bad?
I’m not sure. It doesn’t bother me if they don’t respect us. If they don’t respect us then they’ll under-estimate us. That’s a good thing for us. Norway didn’t respect us when we played them at the last World Cup and it worked to our advantage.
We’ve played so many Asian teams now, it seems we’ve grown accustomed to their styles. Is it now a little more difficult to play European nations and their styles?
I think we’re definitely used to play Asian teams. Now when we’re faced with Euro teams it can be a bit of a shock to us. But having said that I think we held our own against Germany [in a friendly loss last October]. It’d help if we could play a few more European teams each year of being prepared.
What goes through your mind as you’re walking out on the park and lining up for the national anthem?
Usually I try to think of nothing. Just to have a calm mind - which is a hard thing to do.
Thea, how’s your fitness right now?
Yeah, good. Been training and playing in a men’s league on Sydney’s north shore. And the intensity in the Matildas training camps has been very high. You come away sore and tired so yeah it’s great. It’s a big challenge.
How’s that come about?
I just think it’s been evolving and younger generations coming through are going to be more skilful, fitter, faster, everything. Even in just the last couple of years I didn’t think the team would be taking this shape so quickly. When I first joined the national team in 2002 a lot of those players wouldn’t have dreamt of being able to make the team now. The standard is so much higher. I always looked at those players back then as great players - and they are - but everything’s evolving. It’s great for the game and the country and makes everything a bit more challenging – which is fun.
The 2010 Asian Cup was a golden time in the national team but I understand you had some health issues in China?
I’m feeling much better now. I was a bit ill and was quite exhausted. I had a few issues with low iron levels which I wasn’t aware of at the time. I’m feeling really strong now.
Cheryl Salisbury, how much of a role model was to you defenders?
I’d like to be myself. Not so much replace her but I did learn a lot from Chez in training and playing with her. She was a great leader. I see her around Newcastle sometimes and now she’s got a kid so it’s kinda nice.
You get paid relatively small amounts yet must fit the travel, training and games into your schedule. What drives you to do this?
I think the joy the game gives you and the friends you meet. They become your family. The memories you get playing in this team you couldn’t get anywhere else. It’s uncomparable. Just enjoy it while you can and have no regrets. I’ll be sad when it’s all over.
You said you have a lot of things you want to pursue after football... tell us more?
My full-time job is rope access as an industrial absailer. We absail off big structures and buildings working on maintenance and testing. I absailed off the Opera House last week.
As you do...
It’s a physical job. I also DJ for friends just at parties. The security work I do is horse-mounted security for the Australian jockey club working at the race days. I also ride a motorbike too. I’ve got a black R6 but I’m looking at getting a Ducati one day. I also have a student’s pilot licence. I haven’t finished that yet...
So if the plane goes down en-route to Germany you’ll step in?
I’d give it a go [laughs].
Is there anything you can’t do?
I don’t think there’s anything any of us can’t do [laughs].
What’s the future for Thea Slatyer?
Mmm ... hopefully I’ll have my pilot’s licence and flying 747s or AirBus A380s. And possibly go into stunt performing. Or try-out for the lingerie football league [laughs]. A drop of the shoulder and tackling’s right up my alley [laughs].
*Check out FourFourTwo magazine's special feature on the 2011 World Cup bound Matildas in the next issue, out in early June.