As Michelle Heyman closes in on fulfilling her Olympic dream, she admits it all may never have been possible without the Illawarra Stingrays.
The Shellharbour product began her career south of Wollongong, but it wasn’t until she arrived at the Rays in 2007 that things began to fall into place for the star striker. After excelling with Illawarra, W-League contracts and Matildas caps soon followed.
Now, the 27-year-old is an integral member of the Australian squad which booked their spot at Rio 2016 in a qualifying tournament in Japan last month.
Heyman said she was ‘still buzzing’ from the experience and added it never would have been possible without the Stingrays.
"I grew up playing locally for Warilla Wanderers and when the Stingrays started, it was a big change for me and it as where everything started for me,” she said after Friday’s announcement she would return to play with Illawarra this season.
"If it wasn't for Stingrays I wouldn't be in the W-League and where I am now.
This club, I owe a lot to it and I am excited to get back out here and have some fun with all the girls."
Heyman will play with Illawarra throughout the 2016 NSW NPL women’s 1 season in an effort to maintain match fitness for the Olympics in August.
This Sunday’s season opener at JJ Kelly Park against Manly United will be her first opportunity to don the famous pink again should she get clearance from Football NSW in time for the match.
She will attempt to play as many matches as possible during the season while also participating in Matildas camps which will help selectors pick their final squad for Rio 2016.
Heyman is determined to be named in the team.
"I am more focused and driven and I know what my goals are,” she said.
"Training has been awesome and I am actually putting a lot of effort into it to make sure I am ready for the Olympics."
Heyman isn’t the only Stingray hoping to be on the plane to Rio.
Star defender Caitlin Cooper is also in the running for a spot in the squad after playing in the Matildas qualifying campaign in Japan.
The two Illawarra products are training side-by-side in an effort to give themselves every chance of making the Olympic team.
"We keep pushing each other at every training session,” Heyman said.
"We are training four times a week with each other and then three in the gym so we are getting a lot of fitness.
"It is always nice having somewhere there to support you and push you to make sure you are doing the hard work."
If she makes the squad, Heyman isn’t planning on travelling to Rio with a low expectation.
"We have got our eyes focused on one thing and that is to bring home a gold medal from the Olympics,” she said.
Illawarra Stingrays vs Manly United
JJ Kelly Park