What being a Matilda teaches you
When Kuralay finds her job stressful now, she turns her mind back to playing at Mexico’s Azteca Stadium in 2004. Every time she touched the ball 85,000 fanatical Mexican fans would shout abuse in unison, willing her to fail. She smiles recalling playing a good game and winning.
“The pressure that you had in those situations … it's like you’ve got this incredible focus and you've been conditioned to do this stuff from a very young age. I was effectively high-performance training from the age of 12.”
She also understands how moments of triumph on the field can be mixed with moments of bitter disappointment. One of her most memorable games was against Brazil at the FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship held in Canada in 2002.
With minutes to go, the Matildas were losing 2-1 in front of a stadium filled with 40,000 spectators. Kuralay found herself in front of the goals with the ball at her feet when she was awarded a penalty.
“My parents were in the stadium and I could never forget looking over at Mum and Dad. And Mum had turned her back as she just couldn’t watch.”
She sank the goal and the Matildas pushed the game into extra time, but Brazil would score one more goal to seal the match.
“I think sport really helps you build so many different characteristics and strengths, like resilience,” she says. “You perform in stress situations, and we saw that in the penalty shoot-out (against France). You’ve got to have nerves of steel to stand up there in front of a crowd of 50,000 and put that ball in the back of the net.”
While the pressures of working at ANZ are different, Kuralay says the skills learned in top-level football now serve her well.
“I love working in teams and collaborating with people,” she says “It's about where the teams got to get to rather than me individually. You have this incredible time management and discipline.”
At the same time, Kuralay has not left sport behind. She serves on the Australian Olympic Committee Advisory Committee helping advise athletes traveling to Paris for the 2024 games.
She credits ANZ Customer Fairness Advisor – Commonwealth fencing champion and Olympian – Evelyn Halls as a mentor. Kuralay is also a director of Taekwondo Australia and now enjoys coaching her nephew’s team in Strathmore.
“They are a bunch of nine-year-olds and I love it. It's been special watching their journey as they improve so much,” she says. “I take them for private sessions to build up their skills. It's really quite special and unique.”
Even her team of nine-year-olds now know about her history as a Matilda.
“They gave me nothing their entire lives and now all of a sudden I’m really cool and they're super proud.”
What now for the womens game?
Kuralay says the biggest test of the tournament is whether initiatives like the FIFA Women’s World Cup legacy programme – aimed at boosting grassroots participation in the women’s game – are effective in the long run.
“Are we going to be getting an increased amount of participation as a result of this World Cup? We need to make sure it isn’t just a sugar hit.”
The benefits are obvious. The Office of the Women in Sport estimates that for every dollar invested into women's sport, the return is about $7.30.
"Leveraging women's sports through what is currently a modest investment offers a significant opportunity, tapping into a growing market while promoting diversity, inclusiveness and empowering narratives."
Jeff Whalley is a Senior Journalist with ANZ