Julie Murray captained the Matildas at two World Cups. (Pictures: Football Australia, Design: Theo Dimou)

A total of 228,430 have filled the stadiums to support the Matildas on top of the thousands gathered around the big screens across the country during the World Cup.

Moreover, what best summarises the booming success was the peak national TV audience of 6.54 million against Denmark, becoming the most-watched program of 2023.

At times like these when Australian football is realising its incredible reach and potential, it’s easy to celebrate and soak it all in when everything is thriving.

Forgetting the past is also easy, especially considering the previous generations had to overcome hurdles to pave the way for the results we are witnessing today.

One of those pioneers is former Matildas captain Julie Murray, who carried the honour of wearing the armband at the 1995 and 1999 World Cups.

In an exclusive interview with The Inner Sanctum, Murray opened up on her journey from the very beginning.

“Both my brothers played and we watched football on SBS and that’s when I fell in love with football,” Murray told The Inner Sanctum.

“I moved to America when I was around nine years old and started playing football over there, first with the boys and then with a select women’s side.

“After that period I moved back to Australia at 13 to play for senior clubs in Canberra and went straight into the first division.

“It was a big change because I then represented the ACT at 13 and then selected for the Australian side at 14 or 15 which from then on progressed rapidly.”

We live in an unprecedented time where the Matildas and women’s football are making headlines across the nation and receiving the recognition it deserves.

Murray and the players that came before, however, were not so blessed with the same environment which presented challenges along the way.

“I guess when you’re younger in those early teens you don’t recognise any struggles because you’re there just playing football,” she said.

“Back then it was part and parcel having to pay to play for your country and there were very few International games given the lack of investment from the government.

“We didn’t get uniforms that were particularly good for females and there actually weren’t any football boots with leather in the country that fit me. It’s pretty crazy to think now that little kids can access leather boots in size one.”

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For the majority of the tournament, instrumental defender Steph Catley has had to take on the responsibility of the captaincy after Sam Kerr’s unfortunate injury.

Safe to say, the 29-year-old has not been fazed by the role one bit as she’s scored two ice-cold penalties, dominated down the left-hand flank, and has offered invaluable leadership.

Registering two goals of her own wearing the armband on the world stage, Murray understands the pressures that come with the weight of expectation.

“Being an Australian representative comes with a lot of pressure anyway, but it just depends on what the team setup is and how much the coaching staff are reliant on the captain and co-captains to get the team doing what they want,” she said.

“The Catley’s and Kerr’s of the world have played at a high-quality level overseas for such a long time now and I think Catley would’ve been absolutely ecstatic to wear the armband despite Kerr’s absence. She has really taken it in her stride.

“It can be an interesting transition just from player to captain because you’re trying to feel your way into it and ask ‘What does it actually mean for me?’, while at the same time trying to facilitate the best football and also being a leader on the pitch.

“I know just from my own experience I initially struggled a bit in terms of trying to do too much concerning the captaincy as opposed to playing my natural game.”

The Matildas’ 2-0 victory over Denmark on Monday night was a stark contrast to the 5-0 defeat suffered during their World Cup debut 28 years ago.

During that long timeframe, what are some of the key differences that stand out for Murray?

“Preparation for sure because it means everything,” she said.

“When you think back to 1995 we just didn’t have the appropriate preparation but when you look at the Matildas today, they’ve been preparing for that match over the past three or so years.

“You have to remember also that the conditions have improved on top of players from my time having jobs on the side so I guess that team cohesion and spending as much time as possible has been great for the Matildas in recent times.”

Julie Murray was captain of the 1995 Matildas squad. (Photo: Football Australia)

What makes this tournament special for the Matildas is that it has shined a light on what they have been building toward for this very moment.

A core group of the Australian team have been together for the best part of a decade which speaks volumes regarding the work and dedication they have put in both on and off the field.

That aspect will prove critical against some of the best nations in the world still remaining as echoed by Murray.

“For sure it’s a massive benefit,” she said.

“Some of the players currently play club football together or even going back in the past whether it be the A-League Women’s (ALW) or elsewhere.

“They’ve gone from being really raw and talented to now really sophisticated and mature type of players who know how to win games which is a credit to the structure of the program over the last two to three years.

“Some may disagree, but the Matildas haven’t even played their best football yet as a squad which can be seen as a positive.”

Australia’s attention is now on its quarter-final clash with world number five France, coming off a 1-0 win against Les Bleus in their friendly just a week prior to the World Cup.

The major taking point in the lead-up will no doubt be whether coach Tony Gustavsson will stick with the same lineup or add Sam Kerr from the first whistle.

Although a good headache to have for any manager, Murray is predicting to see a change in the lineup come Saturday, also highlighting certain players who have impressed.

“I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he (Gustavsson) decided to bring Kerr back in from the start,” she said.

“Caitlin Foord has really impressed me and she’s really taken it up a notch which I’m really pleased for her. Defensively Clare Hunt has been exceptional at the back and she’s really made that position her own now.”

Before the showpiece event commenced, Football Australia CEO James Johnson stressed the importance of ensuring that the World Cup would not be a sugar hit, but instead a platform to continuously grow the game.

There have been multiple times where Australian football has failed to capitalise on opportunities, however, Murray remains optimistic that the flow-on effects can be carried on into the future.

“I hope all of the member federations really take everything on board in terms of the legacy programs and really help drive the game forward,” she said.

“With the Paris Olympics just around the corner, it’s great to have it at the cornerstone of people’s minds and promote the game to its full potential because it’s absolutely imperative.”

A record-equalling fourth quarter-final appearance at the World Cup for the Matildas has them motivated to create even more history.

Does Murray believe they can go all the way?

“They certainly can, but there will be some significant obstacles in their way,” she said

“We’ve beaten the likes of France, England, and Spain recently so the Matildas will definitely have to be at their best.

“Australia has the belief it needs and its progressed far enough in this tournament to build that. It’s all about translating that pressure into something great which I think they’re pretty close to achieving.”

Australia face France at Brisbane Stadium on Saturday night at 5pm AEST.

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