Mary Fowler, Matildas, Manchester City, Paris Olympics 2024, Nathan Cleary relationship, Mary Fowler family


On July 27, 2018, a gifted young striker made her debut for the Matildas, replacing Sam Kerr in the fourth minute of stoppage time for the briefest of cameo appearances.

Mary Fowler, just 15 years old, had not even made a professional league appearance at that point.

Yet she was already being discussed in superlative terms. A ‘tremendous weapon’, the ‘next Sam Kerr’, a future Matildas superstar, and so on.

A fortnight ago, Fowler became the second-youngest player to reach 50 international caps for the Matildas, notching the milestone just two weeks after her 21st birthday – and celebrating with a goal and an assist as the Matildas booked their ticket to Paris.

Having starred in the Matildas’ record-breaking Women’s World Cup run last year, Fowler looms as a key figure as the team hunts a first-ever Olympics medal.

She has gone from kicking a ball with her siblings on the beaches of Cairns to playing for English giants Manchester City – and become one of the most recognisable names in Australian sport.

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But reflecting on her meteoric rise, Fowler says she still considers herself “someone super normal (who) gets to play the sport that I enjoy playing for my living.”

Fowler has now teamed up with Uber and the Australian Sports Foundation for a campaign supporting community sports, seeking to find Australia’s most deserving reserve grade community team. The winning club will earn $50,000 [more below].

She spoke to about her own journey from community sport to the heights of the Matildas and Manchester City.

Mary Fowler after the Matildas qualified for the Paris Olympics.
Mary Fowler after the Matildas qualified for the Paris Olympics.Source: Getty Images


Born in Cairns as one of five siblings, Fowler famously grew up with no TV in the family home.

Instead, she says: “I think my family spent pretty much every day at the beach. We did all sorts of sports and football just happened to be one of them. I think a big part of my competitive spirit came from there, being able to play with my siblings because there’s five of us.

“It was great. And it’s an upbringing that I’m very grateful for because I can see where I got my ambition and competitiveness and my willingness to win, and just my passion and love for sport in general. So yeah – good old days!”

She adds: “Looking back, playing in my local team, playing with my sister and my friends, that’s what I got a lot of my enjoyment from and where a lot of my love for the game was able to blossom. I think without me having that experience, maybe I wouldn’t have enjoyed football as much and maybe I wouldn’t have kept going.”

Luckily for Australia, she did keep going. By 10, she was playing for Queensland’s under-12s side – often competing against boys two years her senior. Then it was off to the NPL NSW, where her blossoming talent (and knack for banging in goals) was soon spotted at the national level.

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Mary Fowler, aged 12, holds the FNQ School Futsal Championship trophy. Picture: Brendan RadkeSource: Supplied


Though she hadn’t even played professionally in the A-League Women (then the W-League), she was picked by then-Matildas coach Alen Stajcic for a debut as a 15-year-old.

Looking back, Fowler can’t help but ‘giggle’ at her confident younger self, saying she didn’t fully comprehend how momentous the opportunity was.

“It’s funny,” she says. “I think back on those times sometimes, and I think I was so confident in myself just because I was so young. And I was just like ‘I want to prove what I can do.’

“So I don’t think I even really thought about what it all meant or how big it was to make a debut or anything – I was just super confident in myself. ‘

“And I just thought ‘I’m young, even if I make a mistake it’s okay, I’m just going to keep growing and keep getting better’.

“I think it’s only looking back now that I can kind of see like how big that was to be able to get the chance to do it at such a young age, how fortunate I was to get the opportunity. But yeah, I kind of giggle a bit at myself in terms of looking back and seeing how I was thinking.”

Fowler was thrown in the deep end with the Matildas as a 15-year-old – facing England in 2018 before she’d even played a professional club match.Source: Getty Images

Fowler’s father Kevin hails from Dublin in Ireland, while her mother Nido is from the Papua New Guinean village of Kira Kira near the capital Port Moresby.

Besides Australia, Fowler was therefore also eligible to represent those two nations. The Republic of Ireland chased her as a teen, while two of her siblings represented that nation in junior internationals.

Speaking of her decision to pick the green and gold, Mary says: “At the end of the day it was an easy decision for me to make. I was born in Australia and I grew up there. And I think out of the three nations that I could have picked, Australia is the one that feels like home for me. I didn’t want to put on a jersey that didn’t feel like I was really representing my home.”

50 appearances and 15 goals later, she laughs: “Definitely no regrets about that decision!”

Not that she even paid attention to becoming the second-youngest Matilda to reach 50 international appearances a fortnight ago, narrowly pipping teammate Ellie Carpenter.

Fowler says: “I think I even forgot that I was making my 50th cap, like it’s just crazy to think that that’s happening!

“But I just feel super fortunate to have been given the opportunity to be able to make so many appearances for Australia, being at this age.

“I just take it and I almost use it as more motivation to want to keep going, because people have obviously given me that belief and that trust to go out and do that. So I just want to make sure I’m making the most of the opportunities that I’m getting.”

Fowler brought up her half-century in style.Source: Getty Images


When Fowler first arrived on the international stage as a confident 15-year-old, she made headlines when she declared she wanted to be “the best in the world”.

Having played in two World Cups and an Olympics, and having gone from Adelaide United to Montpellier in France to Manchester City in the space of just a handful of years, Fowler says her goals have changed.

“I definitely see the world a bit differently now. I think for me, the definition of success has changed a bit. I think it’s a lot more of a personal pursuit rather than trying to aim to be the best out of everyone else, I’m aiming to be the best in myself and try to do what I can to make sure that when I finish my footballing career, I feel satisfied that I’ve done what I could to become the best athlete I could.

“But I think for me a big thing that’s changed is the balance in life: being able to become the best footballer that I can in the time that I’m playing, but also being able to finish my career looking back, knowing that I did have fun off the field. I did make friends. I did go out and travel to places and have some years while I’m young where I am experiencing life and not being consumed by just football alone.

“So I think the journey has become a lot more important for me than just that single point of becoming the best in the world. So (I’ve) definitely changed a bit since that time.”

Fowler celebrates her World Cup goal against Canada.Source: Getty Images


Last year, Fowler’s fame reached stratospheric proportions.

Behind Matildas captain Sam Kerr, the 21-year-old was the second-most Googled person in Australia in 2023.

When Kerr was struck down with injury on the eve of the World Cup, Fowler took on an even greater role in the Matildas attack as the team’s depth shone through.

She scored against Canada in the group stage, delivered a masterful assist for Caitlin Foord to open the scoring in the Round of 16 win over Denmark, and converted a crucial penalty in the shootout against France – her first-ever penalty shootout.

She was nominated for the Best FIFA Women’s Player Award and the European Golden Girl Award (for the best young player in Europe).

Off the field, she would earn a host of big-brand endorsements – including a new campaign with Uber announced today (more on that below). She graced the cover of Marie Claire for their Woman of the Year edition, and also began a relationship with NRL player Nathan Cleary.

Fowler concedes she’s still not fully comfortable with the attention.

She said: “Yeah, it has been a bit of a crazy year for me – there has been quite a lot of attention around things. But I think for me, it always comes as a surprise because I don’t really look at myself in that light. I just think of myself as someone super normal and I just get to play the sport that I enjoy playing for my living. So I’m just super grateful whenever I get a bit of recognition.

“It can sound a bit silly but my dream is to have kids and have a family, so that’s usually what grounds me at the end of the day. Even walking out into the field, I’m like: ‘what kind of story do I want to tell my kid in the future?’

“So I don’t really look too much into everything else around that and the attention that I’m getting. But I’m very much grateful for the belief and the recognition that comes with that.”

Fowler – and her iconic black gloves – have struggled to nail down a spot in a star-studded Manchester City XI.Source: Getty Images


Now in her second season with City in the Women’s Super League, she’s happy to fly under the radar on the streets of Manchester, saying: “No one in Manchester recognises me, so it’s quite nice!”

But playing for one of the biggest teams in the world comes with its challenges. Fowler did not make a league start in her maiden season in Manchester, and has largely been restricted to a substitute role again this season – though she made a rare start in a cup appearance on the weekend and scored just six minutes into the match.

“It has been difficult at times. I think it can always be difficult when you feel like you’re doing well but you’re not quite getting the opportunities that you so much want.

“But I think it is a humbling experience and one that is good to go through actually. I think as a person and as a player, I’ve grown.

“I think I come to the team now and I’m like: ‘what can I bring to the team that’s not just my footballing abilities?’

“And then I think for myself personally, it’s like: ‘well why did decide to play football and what’s keeping me going?’

“It’s always bringing me back to that little girl that started, and she was so happy enjoying kicking the ball around with my family and with my friends growing up.

“Being able to show up to training and getting that same feeling, and not having to let that feeling be hooked onto just getting game time. That’s been so big for me, because I’m still able to feel that love for the game even if I’m not getting as much game time on the weekends as I’d probably like to get.”

Fowler opened the scoring against Spurs in a rare start for City.Source: Getty Images


In 2020, Fowler made her Olympics debut – and played a key role as the Matildas secured a best-ever finish of fourth. That included scoring a long-range screamer in extra time against heavyweights Great Britain to hand the Matildas a place in the semi-finals for the first time ever.

Fowler says the Tokyo Games motivated her to become a better player – and she’s just as excited to pull on the green and gold in Paris.

“I mean those Olympics were amazing for me,” she says. “I’ll always look back and get goosebumps thinking about it, because it was such a childhood dream to go and compete in the Olympics.

“So I look back and it’s a very special feeling – and being able to get a goal. And although we didn’t place in the top three where we’d like to, we did have a very good run at the Olympics.

“That team feeling as well, it fuelled a lot of my motivation to want to be a better player and want to be in that national team consistently and get more game time. Because I just loved that feeling being there with the team and being at such a big tournament.

“But going into the next Olympics (I’m) still getting goosebumps thinking about it, like I’d have the opportunity to go out and potentially play again in another Olympics.

“I think, not just looking back at how we were at the Olympics but how we were at the World Cup as well, I think that’s fuelling a lot of the motivation within the team to want to do better at a major tournament and come away with something this time.”

The Matildas followed up their fourth-placed Olympics finish with fourth in the World Cup last year – both their best-ever performances, but equally a heartbreaking pair of near misses.

Even with captain Sam Kerr set to miss the tournament as she recovers from an ACL injury, Fowler is confident the team will take the next step and finally stand on the podium.

She says: “I do believe that we have what it takes to finish on the podium. I think we’ve shown that in the last couple tournaments. I think it’s just pushing on through that last little bit of a tournament now. And now that it’s happened to us twice where we finish fourth, I don’t think we’re going to let that happen again.”

Fowler with Olympic great Cathy Freeman after the Matildas qualified for the Paris Games.Source: News Corp Australia


Having grown up in Cairns, kicking a ball with her friends and family on the beach, Fowler is understandably passionate about community sport.

Today, she was unveiled as the face of a new campaign from Uber and the Australian Sports Foundation called Reserve Grade Heroes.

Reserve grade community teams across the country can enter here, with Fowler and the hosts of the Hello Sport podcast picking the most deserving team to earn a $50,000 grant for their club.

Fowler told “I think community sport is so important for Australian sport. I think that’s where a lot of the next generation is coming from.

“For me personally growing up in Cairns – looking back, playing in my local team, playing with my sister and my friends, that’s what I got a lot of my enjoyment from and where a lot of my love for the game was able to blossom.

“I think without me having that experience, maybe I wouldn’t have enjoyed football as much and maybe I wouldn’t have kept going.

“Being able to look back at my own career, I think it is quite important. So I hope that with this campaign, we’re able to give that same opportunity to other people coming through.”

Mary Fowler (left) playing in the State School Soccer Championship in Cairns in 2013.Source: News Limited

The Australian Sports Foundation provides a major (tax-deductible) fundraising platform for sports clubs and athletes, as well as delivers grants and other forms of support.

ASF Chief Partnerships Officer Ryan Hollaway told that community clubs around Australia were struggling in the wake of Covid-19 and a cost of living crisis.

“The Covid pandemic saw a huge decline in participation … out of Covid we [also] saw a big drop-off in volunteerism for community and grassroots sports clubs.”

He points to a major ASF survey of grassroots clubs last year, which found one in four smaller regional and remote clubs were considering closing due to financial pressures.

“Our role at the ASF is … to reduce those barriers to participation, keep the doors open, keep their communities together.

“As we know, particularly in regional and rural areas, sport is more than a club where they go to play a game. It’s a meeting place, a place where people come to connect – it really builds the community. It’s really important that those clubs survive.”

Hollaway added: “They’re definitely losing numbers and that’s why this Uber Reserve Grade Heroes campaign is an important one – trying to keep people within the club. Trying to keep those reserve graders there and coming to the sport.”

Australian research shows that girls drop out of community sport from ages 13 and up at significantly higher rates than boys.

Hollaway says the ASF is working hard to support community clubs to deliver more opportunities for girls in sport – and hopefully uncover the next Fowler.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” Hollaway says. “Stories like Mary’s are what sport are all about in Australia. Any young girl that is signed up to play this year, they’re looking towards the Mary Fowlers of the world as the blueprint for them to be able to get there.

“From a smaller community to reach the heights of what she has in football just shows what’s possible.

“That’s why it’s so important for funding like this, from the Uber Reserve Grade Heroes campaign, to get into community sport so we can keep these clubs alive and thriving and make sure we don’t miss out on our next Mary Fowler.”


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