June 16, 2014
Football and family go hand-in-hand - or should that be foot-in-boot - for a lot of Kiwi youngsters starting out in the game and Football Ferns striker Hannah Wilkinson is no different.
The 22-year-old Wilkinson, who has played 56 times for her country and scored 19 goals, made her start in football in the far north of New Zealand, first stepping out at grassroots level as a seven-year-old for Kamo Swifts in Whangarei.
Her connection to the game in the early years, as it does for a lot of Kiwis, came through her family.
"I had one older brother and one younger brother playing and I just joined in," Wilkinson said.
"I started playing at about seven and my dad started coaching and it became this love in our family for football and that's how I got into it."
A bit of a sporting all-rounder growing up, Wilkinson gave most things a go but began to realise football was her primary passion.
"I did quite a lot of sports by the time I reached high school. I did a lot of surfing with my dad as well as athletics and a little bit of rugby but football was always my main one that I liked."
That passion, mixed with a quickly developing talent, blossomed into firm ambition when Wilkinson worked her way into the Northern Region Women's Premier League with North Force as a teenager.
"When I started playing for the regional team North Force at the time, I started scoring a lot of goals and it seemed like something I really wanted to do. I had my sights set on playing for New Zealand and so by the time I moved to Auckland for university that all started happening.
"That" now includes a dramatic equaliser for the Football Ferns in last year's 1-1 draw with the world number one United States side, something Wilkinson treasures as her biggest achievement to date.
"It was amazing," Wilkinson said, "it's been the highlight so far of my career. I've had a lot of awesome times with the team but that personally for me was an awesome goal especially because it was against the best keeper in the world [Hope Solo] as well.
"I love playing the US, especially in the US just because women's football is so huge there, I'm playing college there and I want them all to watch and see me play."
Despite being thousands of kilometres away from her family the Football Ferns striker still maintains a close connection with those back home.
"I'm really appreciative of the technology these days and with things like Skype and Viber, I can keep in touch with my family while I'm away."
Who knows, on Monday night, you might be able to use the same technology to share a photo or a video with your family showing Wilkinson doing what she does best - in front of her loved ones - against Brazil.