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Matildas star Sally Shipard calls time on her magnificent football career

Sally Shipard with Ellie Brush during  her Canberra United career.

Sally Shipard with Ellie Brush during her Canberra United career. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

She leaves a legacy as one of Australia's greatest female footballers, but even Sally Shipard admits she's a "pretty complicated soul".

An Olympian at age 16, retired with an eating disorder at 21, a successful comeback to feature in two World Cups and a W-League championship, then retired again - this time for good - at 26.

Shipard relives the rollercoaster ride, telling her story from Washington DC, in the US, where she is on a "six-month sabbatical" supporting her partner and former Canberra United teammate, Lori Lindsey. Lindsey, 34, is playing with the Washington Spirit in the US Women's National Soccer League.

Sally Shipard and her partner Lori Lindsey.

Sally Shipard and her partner Lori Lindsey. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

"She was the first teammate I have ever fallen for,'' Shipard said.

"I have this thing with my football where I want it to remain professional and I don't want to go over that line, but with Lori I had no choice.

"It was going against my moral fibre in a sense with that professional barrier, but in the team situation it was quite easy just to be us and have respect for the team and from the team. It was pretty smooth sailing."

Sally Shipard was dogged by injuries throughout her career.

Sally Shipard was dogged by injuries throughout her career.

The latter part of Shipard's career hasn't been so smooth.

She retires with 62 appearances for the national team, including two World Cups, being part of the first Australian team to win an Asian Cup in 2011 and the Julie Dolan Medal as the best player in the W-League in the 2011-12 season to lead Canberra United to its maiden championship.

But a degenerative knee injury which limited her to a handful of games in the past two seasons forced Shipard's decision.

Shipard began her Matildas career at just 16.

Shipard began her Matildas career at just 16. Photo: Vince Caligiuri

After a couple of aborted attempts, Shipard made her much-awaited comeback in a match with the Newcastle Jets in February.

She scored a rare goal within the opening 15 minutes.

"I was advised [to retire] by our national team doctor about a year-and-a-half ago based on the fact my knees were degenerative,'' Shipard said.

''I feel like my knees could probably handle a hugely modified program, but it's too much of a mental battle for me.

''Some people are capable of it, but I knew it was my time to step away.''

Shipard is the perfect case case study for the opportunities football can provide.

At 15, she moved from her home in Wagga Wagga to study at The Hill Sports High in Sydney.

One of her teachers was Alen Stajcic, the now interim coach of the Australian Matildas.

"I was walking down the stairs as he was walking up, and he stopped me in my stride, and says, 'you're going to the Olympics','' Shipard said.

"It was such a huge achievement, but one I probably didn't expect to happen so quickly.

"Beyond that it's been a bit of a rollercoaster.''

In 2011, she bravely went public with her battle with bulimia in the hope her story would inspire others to get help after fighting her inner demons during her career.

Her year away from the sport, when she was 21, provided her the time to figure out if football was the influence for her sexuality.

"It turns out it was the way I felt,'' she said.

"When I returned home I was able to share that with my family.

''My family are amazing with anything I've thrown at them in my life.''

Retiring wasn't a decision Shipard made lightly.

Messages from current Matildas players Clare Polkinghorne and Elise Kellond-Knight and memories of that amazing Asian Cup triumph make Shipard wish for one last hurrah.

But ultimately, she is satisfied she has squeezed everything possible out of her power-packed career.

Shipard wants to remain involved in football and is passionate about her Chasing Leather project, which aims to pass on the lessons she has learnt into everyday life.

"I would love to run Chasing Leather clinics in Canberra and head back down to Wagga and give back to the community that helped me grow and prosper,'' Shipard said.

"I'm really excited about this fear of not feeling passionate about something beyond football and not feeling that natural high.

"I  know I can achieve it through what I can see Chasing Leather becoming.''

"Not that I'm the first person to have degenerative knees

"I went to Queensland and rehabbed to return for the W-League season as my last go at it to get my knees in shape.

"I got a few minutes in the W-League and that was about it.

"My knees swelled and didn't enjoy the load so I guess it was almost a decision made for me, but I guess I'm also I'm in a space willing to accept it.

"It would have been nice if it happened in a couple of years time.

"I get a little bit sad thinking about it.

"I still feel like I'm dreaming, too. I'm hearing from (Clare Polkinghorne), who is in camp (with the Matildas) at the moment and she's talking about the Asian Cup and the memories that we've had and Elloise Kellond-Knight about how we want to win the Cup again. It would have been wonderful to have been part of that squad again - to be part of a World Cup and Olympic Games. To be honest, if I wanted that, then 

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