It’s been over five and a half years since I interviewed Australian football star Lisa De Vanna for the very first time.
During our lengthy chat, I discovered that she was like no one I’d ever met or interviewed before - she was unapologetic, real, full of fire and she didn’t give a damn what you, or I thought about her.
The Matildas were just days away from embarking on their historic journey at the 2015 World Cup and changing the way Australia - and the world - viewed them forever.
“At the Canada World Cup, we just won the heart of Australia. People actually fell in love with a Matilda and not just as women athletes but as women who could play really good football. The momentum just built from there.” She says as she reflects on that monumental moment for the side.
Five years on and two major tournaments later, the seasoned professional’s goal tally and caps may have risen but my affections for her haven’t changed - she is still the same hugely infectious character that she’s always been but there is a new sense of balance to her.
After spending the last year playing for Italian powerhouse Fiorentina, where she was a beloved figure by all, scoring five goals in 14 matches, the pandemic struck and saw De Vanna reduced to confines of her home.
Coupled with being trapped inside and a “psycho” neighbour who complained incessantly of the noise she made while she was working out to keep up her fitness, it drove the sharp-shooting forward to consider returning home to be closer to family.
It was a hard decision because, as she revealed to us on The World Game LIVE yesterday, “I absolutely loved Italy. I felt like I actually blended in because I am such a passionate person and I express myself in a way that some people might think is a bit too much but some people might like.”
After my first encounter with her, I have always loved everything that De Vanna represents so when the news hit that she had signed with W-League side Melbourne Victory, many of us were overcome with joy that she was back on home soil because she’s a legend of the game worth celebrating.
It didn’t take long for her to make her mark and the sensational goal that she scored against Melbourne City in the derby was nothing short of a De Vanna special.
When we asked her to relive that moment, I was relieved to see that her banter and goal scoring standards also hadn’t changed.
“I got a lot of messages about it and It’s a good goal, I am not taking anything from it but I feel that that’s sort of my trademark so when I see a goal like that, I look at that and go ‘that is my strength’. So it’s just really weird when people make such a big deal out of that.”
The fact is, it is a big deal because at 36 years of age De Vanna is showing no signs of slowing down. It’s also clear that even though we’re two years out from a World Cup on home soil, the highly talented footballer is still just as important to this national team outfit whether it’s on or off the park.
With 150 caps to her name - one shy of equalling Cheryl Salisbury’s record - and the leading goal scorer in the country, the girl from Fremantle who grew up taking her football to bed with her at night, still has so much offer.
“There’s a bigger picture now and it’s the World Cup and even though it’s two years away, I am trying to mentor these young girls and make them understand that this is a major thing - it’s an opportunity, the doors are open for everyone.” She said.
“At the same time, I am trying to lead by example and be an older, mature, experienced player - it’s a different role but it’s given me a different balance, it’s exciting.”
There’s that balance that I spoke of earlier.
When I sat down with her at the Parramatta hotel in June 2015, she was going to the World Cup as a vice-captain for the first time in her career and although she cried when coach Alen Stajcic told her at the time, it made perfect sense.
De Vanna’s hunger and determination to win, coupled with her undying love for the game were ingredients she would always have but to be a leader was something else altogether and it’s a role that she’s grown into over time.
But, given that she believes the 2019 World Cup in France may have been her last, just how much time does she have left before she considers hanging up the boots?
“I literally retired yesterday.” she said.
“I was in the car about to get to training and I am like, ‘I’ve retired. I am done, I am so sore, I am so tired' but then today I am out playing and I am talking to the girls and joking around and then I am like ‘I am back again, you’ve won me back again’.”
“My emotion changes all the time. At the moment, I’ll just take W-League as it goes and just see what happens. Now that I am at that age, I’ll just keep working hard and I like to drive the young ones. If I am having a running race or a goal competition, I want to compete with them and then I’ve always got that bragging right, I go ‘you know how old I am? You should be ashamed of yourself’.”
She laughs as she says it, conceding that the girls are in on it too but not before she goes on to say “I always think that a good leader is leading by example.”
Her high-speed metres are still top of the charts by the way, so when it comes to setting examples, the young players have plenty to aspire to.
After four World Cups, two Olympic Games, multiple domestic Championship titles and an enviable list of international accolades including an Asian Cup trophy and being named in the FIFA Women’s World Cup All-Star team not once but twice - De Vanna is the epitome of success.
None of it of course has come without hard work or sacrifice and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that’s loved representing their country more than her.
It’s why she deserves the perfect send-off, whether that be in two years' time in front of the nation or on her terms.
Although icons like De Vanna won’t last forever - I know that my feelings and respect for everything that she has achieved in Australian football will and that’s where the real beauty lies.
Welcome home, legenda.