It was fitting that Matilda Kearns was in the backyard with father and former Wallabies captain Phil last week, when the 20-year-old learned of her selection in Australia’s water polo team for the Tokyo Olympics.
Kearns is one of seven Olympic debutantes in the 13-strong team for the 2021 Games.
Bronte Halligan, who is the daughter of former New Zealand rugby league international Daryl, and goalkeeper Gabi Palm, whose father Mitchell Palm toured Canada and France with the Wallabies in 1989, will also be competing at their first Olympics.
Stingers coach Predrag Mihailovic made the calls last Tuesday.
“There were a lot of waterworks and dad went straight inside and popped open a special bottle of champagne that he’d been saving for a special moment,” Matilda Kearns told AAP.
“I’ve wanted to be an Olympian for as long as a I can remember.”
It is easy to assume that dream could have potentially been fulfilled on the rugby sevens field after Australia’s unforgettable triumph at Rio 2016.
Kearns grew up idolising her father, who was part of World Cup winning squads in 1991 and 1999, while her brothers’ love of rugby union also ensured she was “surrounded by” the sport while growing up.
But it quickly became clear that water polo was her passion.
“I’m definitely not a land person, I belong in the water,” Kearns said.
“In another life, I’d absolutely love to play rugby sevens or any kind of rugby.”
Kearns, who declared Australia “absolutely have the spirit, resilience and talent” required to win their first gold medal in the sport since Sydney 2000, added that life lessons imparted by her dad were vital in securing a ticket to Tokyo.
“My dad is my hero. He’s taught me the meaning of hard work, discipline and other things,” she said.
“He never sat me down and was like ‘this is how you do it, this is how to be an athlete, do this and do that’.
“It was more watching such a good and motivational role model … I always looked up to him and wanted to be like him.
“I used to Google his name when I was young because the stories he’d tell us weren’t enough.
“But it is a completely different sport, so it’s good he can’t tell me what to do when I’m actually playing.”
Bronwen Knox will become the first Australian woman to compete in water polo at four Olympics.
The 33-year-old Rowie Webster will captain Australia at her third Olympics, while Rio Olympians Zoe Arancini, Keesja Gofers, Hannah Buckling and Lea Yanitsas return for their second Games.
Australia’s campaign starts on July 24, with European champions Spain, Netherlands, Canada and South Africa also in Pool A.