Mary Fowler: Australia's teenage Olympian inspired by Ronaldo & Pele

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When Mary Fowler, Montpellier’s Australian starlet, was younger, she had “one dream” – to be an Olympian.

That dream, which she has realised this summer as part of the Matildas squad at Tokyo 2020, was hatched on a beach in Queensland, where the forward’s parents would take her and her four siblings to compete in their own Games.

“We would cook dinner and take it to the beach. The kids would do their homework on the beach,” her father, Kevin, told the Sydney Morning Herald . “We had our own beach Olympics with medals and stuff, it was huge.”

No wonder Fowler was taken aback, then, when the news came that she would be on the plane to Japan this summer, at just 18 years old.

“I don't really expect myself to react over the top and be so emotional,” she told the Matildas' website. “But when I was told and handed the piece of paper saying I'm going, everything just clicked and I was like, ‘wow, this is really happening’, then I just started tearing up.”

On Wednesday, she made her Olympic debut against Australia's neighbours, New Zealand, in a 2-1 win. It was the latest achievement in what has been a crazy three years for Fowler, having made her senior international debut back in 2018.

Aged 15 years and 162 days, she was the fifth youngest player to represent the Matildas.

Mary Fowler Australia Women 2021

Later that year, she flew out to England to trial with Chelsea, Manchester City and West Ham, before being included in Australia’s squad for the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

All of that thrust the youngster into the limelight at a very young age, and she was named in Goal ’s 2020 and 2021 NXGN lists.

But Leah Blayney, who has coached many of the country’s bright young talents in her role at Football Australia, says her mentality never let that affect her.

“She's one of the most driven kids that I've ever worked with in terms of knowing what she wants and where she wants to be,” Blayney tells Goal. “She's always just got on with things.

“She just has a ball at her feet all the time. If you have that sort of mentality for a long time, everything else gets blocked out as outside noise. I think that's been a massive benefit for Mary.

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“If I liken the mentality to any other players that we've worked with, I would say it's very similar to the Ellie Carpenter mentality, that she's driven and she knows what she needs to do. I respect that in a young player.”

Like Carpenter, the 21-year-old full-back who finds herself at seven-time European champions Lyon, Fowler currently plies her trade in France, having joined Montpellier off the back of the World Cup.

Fowler, who counts Cristiano Ronaldo and Pele among her idols, did not play in that tournament, but she learned plenty being around the squad and scored three times in her first seven W-League appearances upon her return to earn her move to Europe.

“I think she's maturing as a player,” Blayney says, asked what developments she has seen in the teenager since her move abroad.

“We saw in the last minutes of the games [in June], herself and Kyra [Cooney-Cross, the Matildas’ 19-year-old midfielder] were trying to get on the ball and make things happen.

Leah Blayney quote PS 1:1

“Mary was rewarded with a goal - Kyra made an excellent forward run that dragged some defenders into the box that made the space for Mary.

“That's what's most pleasing about these young players. We're seeing them be brave on the international stage and we're seeing them try to take games by the throat a little bit, which you don't know how it's going to go with a young player, whether they're going to be too nervous or whatnot.

"But those girls are being brave over there and they're being rewarded by Olympic selection. It's fantastic.”

Technically excellent, with a superb first touch and the physical strength to thrive in the senior game, Fowler's recent exposure to international football has come in midfield, rather than as a No.9 or a winger.

The latter two are positions she is more associated with, but she has shone in the deeper role.

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“She likes the ball at her feet, so she's obviously going to come towards to the pocket quite often in between the lines,” Blayney adds. “I think that's a benefit of her as a player, that she can be utilised with the ball at her feet or she's also quite good in and around the box with her striking ranges.”

The teenager has already shown that she belongs on the biggest stage, with her ticket to the Olympics only a reminder.

But while Fowler might have already realised her biggest childhood dream at just 18, there will be plenty more achievements in her incredibly bright future.