What injury? Kerr proves her class – and fitness – again on the big stage

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And… breathe.

Any fears that Sam Kerr’s Women’s World Cup dream might have been derailed by injury have been eased in the most emphatic – and predictable – way. With a backflip. And a cartwheel, for good measure.

For the third consecutive year, Kerr has won the FA Cup with Chelsea. She plundered the winner in Sunday night’s final against Manchester United, because of course she did. She’s now scored in six domestic cup finals in a row.

Kerr’s contemporaries have been dropping like flies lately. Her usual strike partner Fran Kirby. England captain Leah Williamson. Dutch star Vivianne Miedema. They are among more than 25 of the world’s best women’s footballers to have suffered long-term injuries in the past 15 months. We don’t know why; researchers are trying to understand the reasons female athletes seem more susceptible to injury, particularly ACLs, than men. This close to the World Cup, it’s hard not to be scared stiff whenever a player falls to the ground in pain, clutching something. Especially one of world-class calibre, one so pivotal to her nation’s grand ambitions.

So when Kerr was taken off after 32 minutes last Monday, landing awkwardly on her foot after scoring in the Women’s Super League, Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson must have reached for his nearest set of rosary beads – if they weren’t already in hand after recent scares for Caitlin Foord and Steph Catley.

It was just cramp, Chelsea coach Emma Hayes told us, but she has a reputation for publicly underplaying the severity of injuries. Australia’s collective concerns were not yet allayed.

Sam Kerr started and ended her week draped in the Australian flag.Credit: Getty

That Kerr was an unused substitute for Chelsea’s last Women’s Super League clash, against Leicester City in midweek, was an encouraging sign, but not as encouraging as it could have been.

As it turns out, there was nothing to worry about. The 29-year-old was just being rested before the game that mattered the most. To be fair, it had been a busy week, which began with her role as Australia’s flagbearer in the coronation of Charles III – and ended with the Aussie flag in her grasp, this time in celebration of her 12th career trophy in club football, after again exchanging pleasantries with Prince William as he handed it to her.

Manchester United have been the dominant team in the WSL this season but have failed to beat Chelsea in three attempts across all competitions. Their hopes once more rested on their ability to keep Kerr quiet, which is a deceptively difficult challenge because – like the best strikers in the game – she can be quiet until she’s not. She needs only a single second to make the difference. Less than that, sometimes.

Royalty meets royalty – again – as Prince William hands the FA Cup to Chelsea captain Sam Kerr.Credit: Getty

Inevitably, it came. Marked out of the game in the first half, the decisive passage of play unfolded in the 68th minute, when teammate Pernille Harder surged down the right flank. Kerr sensed her opportunity, ghosted into space, and was at the back post to prod home the cross. “Backflip incoming,” Kerr had texted a friend before the match. And there it was.

She grabbed the badge on her chest and hammed it up in front of a crowd of 77,390 at Wembley Stadium – the largest attendance for a women’s domestic match.

“F—ing Chelsea!” she screamed.

There is one more trophy on offer for Kerr before she switches royal blue for green and gold, and turns her attention to the biggest month of her life with the Matildas. Chelsea are second on the WSL table, one point behind United with a game in hand – perfect striking distance for their third league title in a row.

Each of her three remaining outings before the World Cup comes with the risk of injury, so it’s going to be difficult for Matildas fans to enjoy her run home without those dark thoughts in the back of the mind.

Champions, however, think differently.

“I only think about the good things, the celebration,” Kerr told English media before the match.

“Once you start thinking negative thoughts, that’s the only way you’re going to go. I visualise scoring a goal, the celebrations, seeing my family after the game, all the things that make me play football and be a footballer.

“I love the pressure, I love the big games, I love being able to have a moment in the palm of your hands and be able to do something great.”

And there are plenty more of those waiting around the corner.

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