After Canberra United games in the then W League, Sally Shipard, more often than not, had the longest lineup of young supporters seeking her autograph.
Sally was captivating on and off the pitch.
She was very much a pioneer of the sport, with a determination to single-handedly make football as attractive as possible, encouraging as many young women as possible to take up the sport.
As a sports broadcaster, I found her among the most approachable and open sportspersons I ever encountered in my 40 years in the media.
She was also the most supportive of her teammates, especially with the younger members of the Canberra United squad. She easily transferred her lived experience to the next generation, encouraging them to succeed.
Growing up in Wagga Wagga, Sally went on to make her Matilda’s debut at just 16 years of age at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
She went on to play in two World Cups, winning a W League title in 2011/2012 with Canberra United, and being named the best player in the competition, taking home the Julie Dolan Medal.
Her life off the pitch had its challenges. She openly discussed her struggles with mental health, bulimia and injury.
Sally retired twice. The first was as a 21-year-old, but she made a comeback. She retired again at 26 following two years managing a chronic knee injury.
Upon retirement, she became a marriage celebrant before taking up a mature-age apprenticeship as a carpenter.
Her life experience was second to none, forming the platform that was invaluable to younger teammates.
And this is why there has been so much support for Sally Davis (née Shipard) as she battles a rare ovarian cancer. After undergoing marathon surgery, she now faces six months of chemotherapy.
Her former Matilda teammate, Alicia Ferguson, was first off the mark setting up a GoFundMe page to cover Sally’s loss of earnings and her medical expenses.
The target was $30,000.
This amount has well and truly been surpassed. More than $53,000 has been raised so far, with many donations coming from her former teammates.
Sally’s wife April penned a post on the GoFundMe page detailing the impact the diagnosis has on their lives.
She writes, “I will never fully understand what this experience is like for Sal. She can only describe it as having the rug ripped out from under her feet. The world she once knew has been turned on its head.”
Further to this, April says, “This experience is hard, intense and at times exhausting in many ways. As a footballer, Sal was open about her mental health struggles and she continues to work on this with the support of a psych from the AIS days. The focus and strength she utilised as an elite athlete has been woken from a slumber and we’re excited about this.”
At 35, Sally has already encountered plenty of challenges, with the cancer diagnosis being the latest and the most monumental. With the support of the football community, there is every confidence she will overcome this one as well.
For further details and to support Sally, see her GoFundMe page.