The FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand was always going to be about Matildas captain and superstar striker Sam Kerr coming home and leading her team towards glory.
But in Australia’s final warmup match before the tournament it was 20-year old Mary Boio Fowler that stole the show by grabbing the winning goal off the bench.
Fowler, born in Cairns to a Papua New Guinean mother and Irish father, sent a 50,000-plus crowd at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne into a frenzy last Friday night with her 66th minute goal.
The strike was enough for a 1-0 victory over France that cemented the Matildas’ status among the teams that can feasibly win the whole tournament.
Going that far will require more of the same from Mary Fowler and despite her youth, she has the maturity and experience to be up for the task.
First picked for the Matildas at age 15, Fowler was immediately pegged as one of world football’s next stars thanks to her complete attacking skill set and uncanny ability with both feet.
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She had trials with clubs in England, but her professional career began with a bang at Adelaide United in the 2019-20 Australian W-League season.
A goal on début and two more in just six further games was enough for French heavyweights Montpellier to pay a transfer fee, still a relative rarity in women’s football, to bring the then 16-year-old to Division 1 Féminine.
Fowler’s international career blossomed as well – after just four appearances for the Matildas in 2018 and 2019 she became a regular player (and goalscorer) for Australia in 2021.
The goals (10 in 40 games for Montpellier, 10 in 37 for Australia to date) and general attacking dynamism and versatility caught the attention of English Women’s Super League giants Manchester City, who paid the 19th highest transfer fee for a woman player ever to secure her services in June 2022.
Fowler was named in Australia’s squad for the previous World Cup held in France in 2019, but missed out due to a hamstring injury.
Therefore she’ll be desperate to get onto the field in Australia’s opening game on Thursday night to be played in front of 80,000 fans in Sydney.
The occasion will be even more special given the Matildas’ opponents are her father’s native Republic of Ireland.
Fowler’s older brother Caoimhin and sister Ciara were both born in Ireland and have represented national youth teams, and the Football Association of Ireland tried to recruit Mary as well to no avail.
“There were moments when I thought about it,” Fowler told FIFA+ in May.
“But I felt very strongly connected to Australia because it's where I was born, I have my friends there, I grew up there. So Australia ended up being the obvious choice. But I do feel very connected to both my parents' backgrounds, and I don’t see myself as just an Australian. I see myself as Papuan and Irish too.”
In April Fowler told The Guardian she had only been to Papua New Guinea once.
“But it’s a place, and a culture, I’d really love to connect with. Setting up a football academy or a school in Papua New Guinea one day would be exciting.”