After a standout performance at the Olympic Games, Australia striker Kyah Simon is taking a rare break from national team duties as she settles into her new life in London. As her Matildas teammates gather in Dublin preparing for their first game since Tokyo, the new Tottenham Hotspur recruit reflects on the side's historic run to the Olympic semifinals.
Talking to ESPN from her new home in London, Simon declared there has been a different feeling around the team after being under the guidance of manager Tony Gustavsson.
"Leading into the Olympics we had only been together eight weeks in total and only people in camp, in our circle, could see our progress from Day One when Tony came in, to the end of that Olympics tournament," she said. "Basically we crammed in six months of tactics and all of that, into the span of 6-8 weeks. So when you put that into perspective it's exciting for when you look into the future. If we can make that much progress in a short time, imagine what we can do in the two years leading into 2023, obviously there is a lot of football to be played between now and then, but it's exciting!"
The match against Ireland will provide a glimpse into that future with a number of regular starters absent from the camp in Dublin and while it's not a wholesale changing of the guard, the post-Olympic retirements of Aivi Luik and Laura Brock, in addition to the withdrawals of Caitlin Foord, Hayley Raso, Ellie Carpenter, Kyah Simon and Emily van Egmond, means there is a collective 492 caps worth of international experience missing.
Speaking to the press, Gustavsson insisted that the absence of some of his regulars was a chance to cast the net wider in his preparations for 2023.
"If you do the math, I think six of the players that played the most minutes, or about the most minutes, in the Olympics are not even here," he said. "That means a lot of openings and a lot of opportunities for other players to get game time, and step in and give us an opportunity also to look at some new players."
Simon was one of those players that saw maximum minutes in Tokyo and after a hectic schedule in 2021, insists her withdrawal from the Matildas camp is solely about making sure she stays fit.
"Working closely with Tottenham medical staff, coaching staff as well as with Matildas staff we felt that maybe the best scenario for me at this time was to stay at home with my club and manage my load a little bit," she said. "We've had a crazy few months leading into the season and it's a long season ahead."
The 30-year-old could be forgiven for wanting to look after her body, after a stint at PSV beset by injury, she found a new lease of life leading into Tokyo, something she attributes to the support and guidance of Gustavsson.
"I only had surgery in March this year and what was important to me was Tony's transparency and communication with me," she added. "He kept that communication open from just before surgery, all through the rehab process. He said 'just do whatever is in your control, focus on you and control what you can control' which sounds simple but when you are in that space where you are having surgery and rehabbing and there is an Olympics just down the track, it could have become very difficult and Tony alleviated a lot of that stress. I'm glad I could repay the faith going into the games in great shape and being able to play my part for the team."
Declaring that she has never felt better heading into an international tournament, Simon excelled, starting each game and chalking up 100 national team appearances in the process, a milestone she counts as one of her proudest achievements.
"To get the opportunity to be the first indigenous player to reach 100 caps -- it's in the history books and no-one can take that away from you," she said. "It's a privilege to represent my country on the world stage with so many great players around me and I've shared the field with so many great Matildas both previously and current. I wouldn't be able to do that without my teammates, without all the coaches I've had over the years and the support of my family and friends."
The team's decision to display the indigenous flag was another special touchpoint in Tokyo for the proud Anaiwan and Biripi woman.
"Before the tournament we had a discussion as a team -- do we take the knee or do we possibly look at doing something else?" she said. "Obviously we support Black Lives Matter across the board but as a team we felt that we have some issues in our own backyard and it was great that it came from the majority of non-indigenous girls that they said, 'let's do something that represents you and Lydia and the rest of the indigenous people in Australia.'
"I think for us, it was a milestone moment as far as putting our proud aboriginal flag on the map and representing it at an Olympic games. One of the only times I can remember that happening was with [Olympic 400m sprinter] Cathy Freeman and that kind of brings it full circle because that was the moment that inspired a lot of us to want to play for our country at an Olympic games."
Fittingly, it was Simon's stellar performance at the postponed 2020 Olympics that caught the eye of Tottenham Hotspur coach Rehanne Skinner and she quickly found her feet with her new team in a landmark victory.
"Getting my first minutes on the weekend in a huge historic [2-1] win for us against Man City -- we've never beaten them in the history of the club and I don't think Tottenham has ever beaten a top three side before -- it was really great for that to be my debut and to experience that was a memorable moment," she said. "You could see how much it meant to all the girls."
It's a start that bodes well for Simon's stay in England and one she says that will only help her plans for continued success with the Matildas on the road to 2023.
"Generally if you are playing well for your club and you're in a good place there, you can take that over into international football," she added. "So hopefully I can get a good few months starting here at Tottenham and build a good foundation for the next few years because this is really home for me."