A long-time understudy to some of Sydney FC's biggest stars, Taylor Ray is now making the most of her time in the sun.
A highly rated defensive midfielder, Ray suffered two ACL tears as a teenager, then had to bide her time behind decorated former skipper Teresa Polias and Chloe Logarzo, then Clare Wheeler.
But with Polias taking the year off and Logarzo and Wheeler overseas, 20-year-old Ray has played every minute in Sydney's unbeaten start to the A-League Women season.
Ray largely credits that to working alongside Polias at Sydney Olympic, with the former Matilda helping the youngster regain confidence defensively after her knee injuries while encouraging her to find her creative side.
"She was literally like a second coach to me. She helped me so much with my strengths and weaknesses and really made me feel confident about taking over her position," Ray told AAP.
"That was the whole aim of me staying at Sydney throughout the years was to build up, stay in that really competitive environment and learn from some of the greatest players we have in Australia, like herself and Chloe.
"It's been a long-time coming and now I'm finally here and I'm enjoying it so much, I feel like I'm ready now."
Ray went viral when she was left with whiplash and a sore neck after Western Sydney's Sheridan Gallagher pulled her down by her hair in Monday's 0-0 derby draw.
Gallagher, Ray's former schoolmate, apologised to Ray for the challenge which contentiously drew only a yellow card.
"Yes, it was a bad challenge. I do think it was a red card at the end of the day," Ray said.
"But emotions are very high in a derby and me and Sheridan actually went to school together, so we're actually great mates which is why I didn't react to it.
"I'm pretty much TikTok famous at the moment and getting a lot of messages but I'm okay and honestly it's a good laugh now that I look back at it."
Ray will next take on the "underrated" Wellington on Thursday, who Sydney beat 3-0 last time out.
Long term, the former Young Matilda has her eyes on a senior call-up.
"This is our time to prove ourselves because who wouldn't want to play in a World Cup at home?" she said.
"That is every person's dream, if you're an athlete who plays soccer. That's what you want, that's your biggest goal.
"I'm hoping I get that opportunity one day."
Australian Associated Press