THE hallway of Caitlin O’Bryan’s Strathfieldsaye home is a poor substitute for the soccer fields where she stars as a striker for Colts United, but she doesn’t seem to care.
With younger sister Brianna installed at one end of the corridor as goalie, the talented 12-year-old loves practising her foot skills and scoring ability, albeit with a softer ball so she doesn’t damage the walls or anything else that gets in her way.
And her dedication has paid dividends.
Caitlin has earned a place in the School Sport Victoria girls’ soccer team that will compete at the national titles in Queensland next month.
But she almost missed out on the selection process altogether.
“We were at an inter-school athletics competition earlier this year and heard the principal of another school talking about state soccer trials,” Caitlin says.
“I didn’t know anything about the state school team before that.”
She had already missed the local trial but, with help from her teachers at Strathfieldsaye Primary, was allowed to attend the next stage of selections in Melbourne in early June.
After making the initial training squad of 23 players, Caitlin was over the moon when her name was read out in the final team of 14.
“I was actually really shocked, because I didn’t think I would get in,” she says.
Caitlin’s school community is rightfully proud of its newest sporting star.
“Our last Victorian primary schools representative was (St Kilda footballer) Nick Dal Santo,” says PE teacher David Taylor, “so it’s been a long time between drinks!”
Soccer has been Caitlin’s sport of choice for the past five seasons.
She plays in a mixed club team in the Bendigo Amateur Soccer League’s under-12B division and has represented Bendigo at the girls’ country championships for two years in a row.
She was also part of the Loddon Mallee Lightning squad that played in the under-13 girls Victorian Champions League last summer.
Caitlin says she enjoys soccer because it allows her the freedom to run around unrestrained with a ball at the end of her boot.
She tried netball, but didn’t like being confined to one position and a set area of the court.
And while scoring as many goals as she can is high on her agenda, her favourite soccer memory shows she’s a true team player at heart.
“In one game, there was an opposition boy who has a very big boot and is very big and strong,” she recalls.
“I took him on and gave a great ball down the line to a boy in our forward line and he kicked a goal!”
A Melbourne Victory fan, Caitlin rates midfielder Stephanie Catley as her idol.
“She’s only 19 and she plays for both Melbourne Victory and the Matildas,” she says.
Caitlin was thrilled to meet Catley and other female Victory players early this month at her state team’s uniform presentation.
The young stars of the future heard how several W-league champions also started their elite pathway through the primary school representative squad.
Some even played under coach Cameron Heath, who is still at the helm of the SSV team.
In the lead-up to the national carnival, Caitlin is training in Melbourne every Wednesday with her team-mates, including girls from as far afield as Swan Hill, Shepparton and Beaconsfield.
She leaves school early at 1.30pm and parents Kylie and Luke take it in turns to drive her down for the weekly drills and practice matches.
Kylie O’Bryan, says her daughter’s versatility on the field has been a big advantage throughout the selection and training process.
“They threw her into virtually every position at the last trial and the fact she can play anywhere was a bonus.
“She always played as a striker, but Loddon Mallee Lightning had her playing in the back line this year and she was in centre midfield for the Bendigo team.”
Mrs O’Bryan says Caitlin has always been an active child to whom most sporting endeavours have come naturally.
“She’s a bit of a tomboy.
“She’s always loved sport and running around and can’t sit still,” she says.
“You really know when she’s sick, because it’s the only time she doesn’t do anything.”
The School Sport Australia 12 years and under national soccer carnival will be held in the outer Brisbane suburb of Richlands from September 15-20.