Heather Garriock is one of our most decorated Matildas. Across her 130 caps, Heather represented Australia at three World Cups, two Olympic Games’, and was a key member of the 2010 Asian Cup triumph. She won the 2002 Julie Dolan Medal, and a W-League Championship with Sydney FC in 2009.

But as with trailblazers in any field it’s not necessarily the successes that define her career, but the barriers she broke down. On Box2Box Offside, Heather opened up on the on-field challenges that shaped her resilience, which later paved the way for mothers in Australian sport.

As the daughter of a football-loving Scottish migrant, Heather Garriock grew up ‘a little tomboy who just wanted to be like her daddy’ in Sydney. She was the only to trial in her age group for a place at Westfield Sports High School, and made her Matildas debut in 1999, aged just 16.

She established her career with Marconi, the NSW Sapphires and Queensland Sting, and was a dual Olympian by the age of 22. As the women’s football landscape accelerated so too did her ambition, and in 2009 found herself on the doorstep of a new era: the inaugural season of America’s Women’s Professional Soccer league.

‘Getting drafted to the American league was a dream for me, it was so many years in the making. Emma Hayes got the job as Chicago Red Stars coach, I remember receiving a call from her and we got on like a house on fire. It was a connection I knew I wanted to play under.’

‘It was a draft system in America, there were so many amazing players to go through it. Emma had given me her word and stuck to it. I was 12th pick [in the international draft], and we’re talking about a class that included Cristiane, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd.

‘I was so excited. We had a pre-season game, and because I was a lefty we knew I’d be taking all the free-kicks and corners on the left side, and I just overdid it. I took too many on the day of the game, I wanted to prove I was good enough to be there. I received a ball, ten minutes to play, was about to hit a pass, and I tore my quad.’

The ensuing period of rehab proved long and frustrating, with the American standards of treatment well below that of what Garriock was used to in Australia at the time. Under the advice of long-time Matildas boss Tom Sermanni she returned home temporarily, but ultimately her Chicago career would amount to just five games.

‘My dream to play for the Red Stars was gone within that moment. I had to come back to Australia and rehab for a couple of months… When I got back to America I’d just come on, was about to hit it in behind the strikers, and Alex Scott came in behind and chopped me, and I broke my ankle. It was the worst year of my football career.’

Garriock rebuilt her career with Sydney FC, winning silverware under Alen Stajcic, and played a crucial part in the 2010 Asian Cup success: ‘There’s no way we should have won that, the general public didn’t think we could do it, but Tommy made us believe as a team we could.’

But after the Matildas failed to reach the 2012 Olympics, Heather and her husband Matt decided to start a family, setting off a chain of events that would lead to an unhappy two years in court.

‘I’d represented my country for over ten years, and was one of the highest capped Matildas. My expectation was that I would have my daughter, come back into the Matildas fold, and if I’m good enough I get selected, and if I’m not, then I don’t.

‘I was good enough, and I got selected for the American tour. The words ring clear in my ears, every time I think about it: the coach at the time said ‘Heather, you cannot be a professional footballer and a mother at the same time.

‘I struggle with that. Any professional sports person, woman or man, would know the balance and how phenomenal your career is after you have children, because it allows you to gain perspective on life.

Already battling financially given the meagre returns for offer to professional women’s footballers of the day, Garriock took her mother on tour to care for the baby out of her own pocket, at a cost of roughly double what she received for pulling on the jersey.

‘The PFA stepped in and helped me out. We ended up going to court to change the legislation on women in sport and child policies, and to allow sportswomen to change the perspective on being able to play your profession, and be a mother at the same time.

‘That was a two year ordeal, the PFA’s legal council supported me through it. She said ‘Heather, this is not going to help you, but it will pave the way for others that come after you’, and for me, that was good enough.

‘When I see Tameka Butt with her young son, or Katrina Gorry on the field holding her daughter after a match, that pride and happiness and the feeling I get of how important those couple of years in court were, was worth every moment.’