Canberra United and Matildas striker Michelle Heyman. Heyman almost gave up soccer two months ago when her cousin passed away. Photo: Jeffrey Chan Heyman at training with the Matildas during the week. Photo: Melissa Adams

Photo: Jeffrey Chan

THE HEARTBREAK of her cousin’s death almost forced her to quit soccer, but Michelle Heyman is using the pain of losing ”the boy version of me” as the inspiration to chase her World Cup and Olympic Games dream.

Just weeks after contemplating walking away from her blossoming career, Heyman will run out for the Matildas in a ”Centenary Cup” match against New Zealand at McKellar Park on Sunday.

The goal-scoring machine is nearing the peak of her career.

But the shock death of cousin Aaron Pinilla from blood clots on his heart in April sent her on an emotional roller-coaster and her passion for soccer faded.

”I’ve been like a little messed-up kid running around trying to focus on football while my other life was falling apart,” Heyman said. ”Aaron was 24. He was my age. It got too hard and I couldn’t focus, I didn’t know if football is what I wanted to do. I had all these things running through my mind, but now I’m here I know I love training and being here with the girls.

”I’m back on track and I’m feeling good about it now.”

Heyman is Canberra United’s star striker and the most prolific goalscorer in W-League history.

She’s scored 25 goals in 34 games for Canberra and found the back of the net 36 times during her career.

Her international career is only in its infancy but the 24-year-old is determined to prove she can be a long-term Matildas star.

She declined a contract with a Danish club to stay in Canberra and focus on the W-League and Matildas.

But that was the furthest thought from her mind when Pinilla became unexpectedly ill in April.

Heyman cut short a trip to Adelaide and rushed from back to visit her cousin in hospital in Sydney before he died.

Losing such a close family member was tough. But the fact Pinilla was the inspiration behind Heyman’s decision to start playing soccer made it even harder.

All of a sudden she was ready to give up on everything she had worked so hard to achieve.

Heyman – a two-time golden boot winner for the most goals in a W-League season – walked out of a Matildas training camp when the heartache became too much.

A meeting with new Matildas coach Hesterine de Reus and her staff changed Heyman’s mind.

”I didn’t know whether I wanted to keep pursuing football if I was on the boundary,” Heyman said.

”The coaches told me I was a quality player, no one has ever told me I could be a starting player for the Matildas before and that gave me a massive confidence boost.

Now she wants to pay tribute to Pinilla as she aims to play at a World Cup and the Olympics.

She is also getting a tattoo of an elephant’s head with a dove on the tusk because ”elephants bring good luck, Aaron was always by my side and everything just worked with me and him. We were lucky together.

”We were best friends and we were cousins. We did everything together and he’ll always be with me and is the big inspiration for my career.

”I started playing soccer because I wanted to hang out with him when I was 11.

”Now that he’s gone I didn’t know whether I wanted to keep doing it, life’s so short.

”I was confused. I had a friend pass away in a car crash in 2011 and she was my striker teammate when I played for Illawarra … I wanted to play for her. Now I’m doing the exact same for my cousin.

”I know he would be proud of me and wouldn’t want me to stop doing what I am.”

The good news for the Matildas is that Heyman feels like she’s rediscovered the dominant form that helped catapult Canberra United to its inaugural W-League title in 2011-12.

The Matildas won their first international of the week when a Heyman goal secured a 1-0 win over New Zealand behind closed doors on Thursday night.

The second match of the series is part of Canberra’s centenary celebrations and there are less than 300 tickets remaining for the fixture on Sunday.


Sunday: Australian Matildas v New Zealand Football Ferns at McKellar Park, 2pm. Gates open at 1pm.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.