Canberra's Anna Flanagan is leading a new era of Hockeyroos. Photo: AP
Australian stalwart Casey Eastham is confident the Hockeyroos are on the verge of a special era, starting with their World Cup semi-final showdown with the US in The Hague.
But harsh memories of recent failed campaigns still linger in the minds of Australia's women's team – to the point where half the squad couldn't watch as their finals fate was decided in the clash between the Netherlands and South Korea on Monday. A loss by the Dutch would have elevated South Korea into second spot in group A, relegating Australia to an early exit.
''There was a bit of relief. A few of the girls chose to watch, a few chose not to,'' Eastham said ahead of Thursday's semi-final. ''We'd done enough probably compared to what we'd done in previous tournaments. But goal difference has gone against us before so you never know.''
At just 25, Eastham is a senior member of the team, filling in as skipper for the early group matches while Madonna Blyth recovered from injury. And she's been around the team long enough to draw on the heartache experienced in the past three years – missing the semi-finals at the London Olympics hurt, but perhaps not as much as being relegated from the Champions Trophy, down to the second tier Champions Challenge, in 2011.
She's seen enormous progression from the squad under Adam Commens, who took over as coach in 2011. ''At that stage we didn't have the depth in the squad in general,'' she said. ''When you see the men's team and the depth that they've got in their group it's something we've been striving for since then.
''There's been a significant shift post-Olympics. We did a lot of work physically and mentally to prepare ourselves. We've really worked hard on our culture. We've started setting standards and pillars and things that we really wanted to be looked at as a group – this is what the Hockeyroos represent.''
By reaching the semi-finals, Australia has already moved from fourth to third in the world rankings and is targeting higher honours, with the Commonwealth Games, where it is the two-time defending champion, to follow, all while keeping one eye on the 2016 Olympics.
But first it needs to overcome the US, which secured top spot in group B, with four wins and a draw. ''It would be awesome to be in that final match,'' Eastham adds.
''The best part now is that we know we're capable of achieving that. We know that if we play well we can definitely beat [the US], so for us it is a realistic goal to be in the gold medal match.''