As far as excuses for missing school go, a last-minute call-up to represent your country would have to rank pretty highly amongst them.
And while it might on first presentation sound like an excuse Bart Simpson would concoct when unexpectantly challenged by Principle Skinner over an absence, it was Rachel Lowe’s reality when the 17-year-old served as a last-minute injury replacement for Emily Gielnik in Australia’s Algarve Cup squad.
Getting the call during her commute to training, Lowe had to turn around and head back home to inform her shocked parents that not only was she was set to win her first senior cap, but that she had less than an hour to pack and head for the airport.
“My dad was very happy, and my mum was like ‘are you serious? I’m going to ring the school and tell them,’” Lowe laughed as she recalled that moment.
“It’s hard stuff with school and training as it is in Sydney, but when you’re getting called up last minute without any preparation for Portugal. It actually takes more preparation then you’d think, and I only had 30 minutes.
“It was a bit stressful, but they were very happy for me, they always encourage me.
Whilst she might not have had much time to get her head around the fact that she was off to Europe to link up with Alen Stajcic’s squad, Lowe explained that the culture shock of entering senior camp was eased by her time spent with Australia’s junior sides.
“It’s different,” she said.
“It’s (the transition) been helped by the coaches in the 20s because the whole youth system is under the same philosophy; so, the player’s style wasn’t hard to adapt to.
“Obviously, not having everyone your age and your close friends around you is hard, but the older girls make you feel very welcome.
“It was different, because it’s a professional environment – it’s all their jobs so it’s a lot more serious – but having Ellie Carpenter, Chids (Alex Chidiac), and Emily Condon, those girls around me who I’ve been with in the 20s helped me to be a little more settled, especially being called up so last minute.”
An unused substitute in the opening games against Norway and the Portuguese, Lowe finally tasted her first minutes as a senior international footballer in the Matildas’ third game of the tournament against China.
Introduced for in place of Lisa De Vanna in the 85th minute with her side up 1-0, Lowe explained that, while she may have had a feeling that her debut was imminent, nothing could have really prepared her for the feeling of entering the pitch for the first time in a green and gold shirt.
“I kind of knew that if I was going to play it would be in that game,” she explained.
“I was mentally prepared, but I don’t think anything can truly prepare you for when you’re about to go on.
“It was nice having Gary (van Egmond) there because I’ve had him throughout all the 20s stuff and he was just like ‘stay calm and believe in yourself, it’s different but it’s the same game, it’s not that different, so you’ve just got to be confident.’
Only six minutes after her introduction, Lowe found herself celebrating with her teammates when Sam Kerr found the back of the net.
“It was awesome,” Lowe said of that moment.
“I was really happy to be on the pitch when that happened and also just being around players of that status.
“Sam’s massive in the media at the moment and just being in her presence and watching her do her thing, she’s on fire at the moment.
“I felt quite privileged to say that I played with her and all the other girls.”
Four months after her debut with the senior side Lowe found herself back in the more familiar surrounds of the Young Matildas; one of four senior capped players named for Australia’s assault on the 2018 AFF Women’s Championship in which Australia’s junior women met the senior sides of other South-East Asian nations.
Starting the tournament strongly with heavy wins over Malaysia, Timor Leste and Cambodia – Lowe wearing the captain’s armband in the 9-0 win over Timor – the Young Matildas ran into a roadblock in the form of a strong Thailand side that had pushed the Matildas to a penalty shootout just under three months prior.
Defeated 4-2 in their first meeting with the Chaba Kaew, the Young Matildas had no more luck in their second meeting with the Thais in the tournament’s final, going down 3-2 at the Gelora Sriwijaya Stadium in Indonesia.
“It was good, it’s always nice to win by large margins,” Lowe recalled of the tournament.
“We played against Thailand and they were really good – the Matildas had played Thailand and they only just beat them so they’re obviously a good side.
“So that was a good challenge for us, to play older girls. They were a lot more physical than what we’re used to with our U20 national teams.
“Everyone’s kind of got a leadership role in the team, but to wear the armband I felt – you don’t play any differently – but you look around and you take more responsibility for what’s happening in the team.
“So, I like that it for that aspect. I love being captain, it makes me feel that little bit more special.”
Re-signing with the Western Sydney Wanderers for the upcoming W-League season, Lowe is now looking forward to what she believes will be a better season for the Red and Black then the last, which finished with the side in eighth place on the table.
“I think that the team changed a lot since last year,” Lowe said
“Also coaching-wise, we’ve got Dan (Barrett) and Cath (Catherine Cannuli).
“We’ve got a really great team and I’m really enjoying being under them. We’ve got a lot of new, experienced girls and I think their experience will really help us in pushing up the rankings this year.”
The Wanderers commence their W-League campaign on 25 October against local rivals Sydney FC at Marconi stadium.
Grand finalists in 2017-18, Sydney FC has recruited strongly during the offseason – adding the likes of Alanna Kennedy and Sofia Huerta to their squad – the Wanderers have only won once against their Sky-Blue rivals in the derby’s history, but Lowe believes that her squad has the ability to turn the tide in 2018-19.
“There’s always rivalry in Sydney,” she said.
“A lot of the girls have come over to the Wanderers, so I think we’re a big chance of winning the derby this year.
“In past years we’ve said ‘oh yeah, we’re going to have a crack’ but it’s never been a reality, but I think this year everybody does believe that we can beat Sydney
“Because, if you look at our team on paper I think we’ve got a really, really, strong team.
“It’s the strongest Wanderers have ever had in my opinion, with great coaching
“Sydney’s obviously a great team, but this year is the year we can beat them.”