Cooney-Cross looms as "secret weapon" in Matildas medals push

MELBOURNE Victory boss Jeff Hopkins says it's only a matter of time before Kyra Cooney-Cross shows the world what she's capable of.

But as she competes at Tokyo 2020 in an experienced Australian squad brimming with household names and international stars, Hopkins believes the time is now for Matildas boss Tony Gustavsson to utilise his “secret weapon” before the world catches wind of Cooney-Cross’ inevitable progression to international stardom.

Victory's teenager has made waves on Australian shores with her frightening W-League form, leading to an inevitable call-up to Gustavsson's Matildas squad at the Olympic Games.

Take a glance at her late-season escapades in the 2020/21 Westfield W-League campaign, and you'll see a player capable of impacting the Matildas' fortunes under the bright lights at Tokyo 2020. 

As the 2020/21 campaign drew to its conclusion Cooney-Cross showed her growing appetite for the big moments, notching four of her six goals and two of four assists for the season in her last four appearances, including a last-gasp strike to clinch a stunning Grand Final triumph for Victory over Sydney FC.

READ: How 2020/21 Westfield W-League stars performed in United States stalemate
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Kyra Cooney-Cross' match-winning performance in the Westfield W-League Grand Final

Selection in the Matildas’ Olympic squad was to follow, and despite appearing fleetingly in the group stage of the Tokyo 2020 Women’s Football tournament Cooney-Cross has seen her minutes incrementally increase as each fixture against New Zealand, Sweden and United States passed by.

And now, as the Matildas prepare for a Quarter Final clash with Great Britain on Friday night, Hopkins sees the occasion as the perfect opportunity for Cooney-Cross to introduce herself to the world.

"It’s no secret how highly I rate her. I think she’s going to go on and play right at the top level," Hopkins told w-league.com.au.

"I think one of the qualities of a really top player is that you can put them into another environment, maybe a higher environment, and they’ll adjust and adapt really quickly to that environment. I think looking at performances from afar I think she definitely has done that.

"At the end of the W-League season she came into some great form, not just in the finals but in the Semi Final and leading into those games.

"That form she showed in some those bigger games, I think was a really good precursor for what she’s going into now, and what she’s been in over the last month or so with the squad.

"It wouldn’t surprise me if she either starts in the next game or comes onto the field to try and really effect the game positively, and help them win the game."

Cooney-Cross impressed for Australia in a pre-tournament friendly against Japan
Cooney-Cross impressed for Australia in a pre-tournament friendly against Japan

Cooney-Cross has played 69 minutes to date for the Matildas in the Women's Football Tournament, as the Green and Gold progressed from Group G to the final eight to set up their Quarter Final date with Great Britain.

The sweltering conditions in Japan have been testing on all athletes at the Games but the workload of the footballers taking part in Tokyo 2020 has been particularly gruelling, with the Matildas' three Group G fixtures coming in the space of seven days.

Fatigue was clear to see in Australia's 0-0 draw with United States on Tuesday night as the two teams sat back, evidently content with taking a share of the spoils which ensured both sides progressed to the knockout phase.

Gustavsson handed an opportunity to 18-year-old Mary Fowler from the start against United States, pulling Caitlin Foord out of his starting lineup along with Hayley Raso and Aivi Luik as squad rotation became a factor in keeping the Matildas fresh for the knockout stage. 

Whether or not Gustavsson gives Cooney-Cross her turn from the start on Friday night or continues with his reliance on the teenager from the bench, Hopkins will join his Victory staff and playing group in watching on intently as the Quarter Final unfolds, hoping above all else that the emerging talent stares down whatever challenge set for her, and attacks it with the ferocity she’s displayed in the biggest of W-League moments.

"I’m sure that at this level teams would have done their homework and they would have seen a fair bit of her," Hopkins said.

"Maybe she might be one of the ones (Great Britain) are not focussing on as much as the likes of Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord, Emily Gielnik etc.

She could be a weapon to bring on and cause a few surprises. She’s definitely got that in her locker, that’s what she’s all about. She’s a match-winner, she can turn games in small moments - that could be a real positive.

But I don’t think she’s going to be a secret weapon for much longer, because I think she’s going to get the attention of teams all around the world."

 "At the club we are all so pleased for her that she’s taken this opportunity," Hopkins added.

"I don’t know whether anyone thought it would come this quickly but it has come, but she just needs to take advantage of any opportunities that come her way over hopefully the next two or three games.

"We’re really supporting her as much as we can from here, everyone is behind her and fingers crossed she gets the opportunity."

Kyra Cooney-Cross
Cooney-Cross will look to have an impact in Australia's Quarter Final bout with Great Britain