ALW Focus: “It was love at first slide tackle!” – Claudia Mihocic discusses her football journey

Ben Gilby continues his series profiling our A-League Women’s squad by catching up with highly-rated central defender, Claudia Mihocic.

Claudia Mihocic has come back from a serious injury that saw her miss the whole of the  2022/23 campaign to become a key member of the Perth Glory backline this season.

Her status as a regular starter is a well-earned reward for the 20-year-old who had found her extended period out of the game due to injury one of the toughest challenges that she has had to overcome.

“It was harder than I ever expected it to be if I’m being honest,” she said.

“”The physical rehab was a challenge in itself, but for me, the mental setbacks were the hardest to overcome.

“It took a lot of support from my family, teammates and coaches to work through it.

“I’m so grateful for everything they did to help me through that time; it’s not something I could’ve done on my own.

“It’s been great getting some consistent game time this season, especially after the struggle that last season was coming back from injury.

“I’ve had a fantastic opportunity to learn from a backline full of experience and trying to translate that against quality opponents in the league.

“I’m a long way off where I want to be, but this season has felt like a step in the right direction and that’s the most I can ask of myself right now.”

Mihocic’s footballing journey has gone from her backyard in North Melbourne to Perth, with call-ups for both the Junior Matildas and Young Matildas along the way.

The defender takes up the story.

As a little kid I always copied what my brother was doing and football was no different,” she said.

“Back then there weren’t any girls’ teams for me to play in, so my dad signed me up at our local club Brunswick Zebras in the boys’ team.

“It was love at first slide tackle!

“I spent my junior years playing with the boys at Brunswick and then Moreland Zebras until I was 12.

“During that time I was also a part of the AC Football Academy which played a massive part in my technical development as a footballer.

“After turning 13, I had reached the age where I had to stop playing with the boys.

“It was super-daunting at first going into the girls’ NTC/FV Emerging program as I had never played in a team with girls before, but it was short-lived as I was welcomed with open arms.

“It was there I truly got to grow into myself as a person and player.

“I spent the next six years there before signing for Glory in 2021, spending time at South Melbourne FC and most recently Bulleen Lions in-between A-League seasons playing NPLW Victoria.”

Any player coming through an NTC program has a strong grounding in the technical side of the game, but playing in a team full of teenagers each week coming up against seasoned campaigners in the NPLW, who will also have significant A-League Women experience, is a big challenge.

Mihocic believes the period played a key part in her development as a player.

“The intensity of play helped build my composure and ability to play under pressure,” she said.

“It was super-challenging from the beginning and there were many big defeats, which definitely built resilience – even though it didn’t feel like it in the moment – but was also rewarding as it forced the team to band together and I’ve made lifelong friendships because of that.”

Another key period in the defender’s formative years were her experiences with age group Matildas sides.

After touring the Pacific Islands with the Junior Matildas in 2019, she was part of the Young Matildas’ squad alongside the likes of Kyra Cooney-Cross, Charli Grant, Courtney Nevin and Mary Fowler which made the semi-finals of the U20 Asian Cup.

“Also named in the Australia squad for that tournament were Mihocic’s current Perth Glory team-mates Susan Phonsongkham, Abbey Green, and Morgan Aquino.

“It was a time that the 20-year-old looks back upon fondly.

“It was an honour to represent Australia at the youth level,” she said.

“Off the field in particular, it was an unreal experience,” she said.

“Getting to see and experience the different cultures and the close-knit communities was both eye opening and humbling.

“The opportunities I had to play in those games and at the AFC Asian Championships gave me that experience of high-pressure tournament games, where results are all that matter.

“It really opened me up to the standards of professional football and the expectations of players at that level.”

After making her return from injury with Bulleen Lions in the NPLW Victoria earlier this year, which included scoring a goal in the semi-finals of the competition, Mihocic returned to Western Australia and became a regular starter for the Glory as they made a strong start to the A-League season.  

“I think coming out with a new formation had a big impact on our initial success,” she said.

“I think it shook things up and made it hard for teams to defend us.

“That being said, I can’t at all take away from the team being really clinical in their execution, especially up front.

“It was massive for us in those early games.”

Since Christmas, however, wins have been harder to come by and the Victorian believes that the familiarity that comes with playing every opponent twice during an A-League Women season now has had some impact on the current run of results. 

“It definitely plays a factor the second time around (that you play teams),” she said.

“It becomes an even bigger tactical battle in my opinion, as you have the first-hand experience to work on as well as footage from other games.

“The margin of difference in quality from top to bottom this season is really slim.

“If you want to win games, teams have to perform at their absolute best.

“There’s really no room for error in the competition this year.”

With the campaign now in its final month, Mihocic knows it’s now or never for the Glory to return to winning ways and she identified the specific improvements that are required to claim that all-important top six spot.

“I think all around the park we are just looking to be a bit more clinical,” she said.

“We know we can be a winning team, we started the season that way and we’re just trying to click back into that rhythm.

“The more we keep the ball, the more chances we have to create meaningful attacks, the more we can score.

“It’s well within our grasp and the playing group are all working towards bringing back that form from the start of the season.

“Regardless of the results around us, we’re doing everything we can to put out performances to be proud of that will get us the wins we need to make Finals.

“On an individual level, it’s similar.

“I’m just trying to do everything I can to be at my best to try help the team put their best foot forward.”