In the lead up to any World Cup, there are points along the way which make the impending tournament seem that little bit more real. With the 2023 edition now only 14 months away, women's football has made it to a unique point in time where any major injury suddenly feels bigger and more traumatising than usual.
It's the point where time starts to feel a little less friendly.
Welcome to the Extreme Injury Awareness Point.
When Ellie Carpenter went down in the early stages of the UEFA Women's Champions League final, a sight that is never typically pleasant in the first place, the instant fear that the Lyon and Matildas defender had ruptured a ligament in her knee was felt. With scans confirming the worst -- an anterior cruciate ligament tear -- the 22-year-old will be unavailable for a minimum of six months. If her recovery goes to the conventional schedule she'll return a few months before the 2023 World Cup.
While it is personally devastating and a first major, long-term injury for the kid from Cowra, it appears that the continental showpiece and Carpenter are always on slightly different wavelengths.
In her first season in Lyon, her first Champions League winner's medal came as an unused sub on the bench. This time around she was the first-choice right-back who'd contributed heavily to Lyon's return to the summit of Europe. She wouldn't just be getting a medal, she'd be earning it.
Carpenter, to her immense credit, did not show any disappointment as she hobbled around Juventus Stadium. She'd seemingly lost none of her speed on one leg, while the other was wrapped in a knee brace, crutches in tow. When hopping became too much, Damaris Egurrola carried her teammate on her back, the piggy back forever immortalised in Lyon's trophy lift photos.
There was hope that Carpenter would be okay when she attempted to re-enter the fray after the initial incident. There was a collective glass-shattering feeling when she fell in a heap upon re-entry.
The invincible wunderkind who had made herself into one of the best defenders in the world and an all but guaranteed name on the starting team sheet for any Matildas match wasn't going to be available. The illusion of her invincibility -- which in itself had only been realised now that an alternative had to be considered -- had been broken.
The Matildas are used to injuries, chopping and changing and square pegs in round holes across the defensive line, but Carpenter has been a constant. Ever reliable and supremely talented. Even if nothing else made sense, Carpenter's presence was grounding.
And in among the squad depth discussions, Carpenter and the position of right-back never really factored into the conversation and with good reason.
It was a future that didn't need to be contemplated because Carpenter was the future. At only 22 and with more than 50 caps already to her name, the right-back was a pillar that could be counted on in both the present and future.
Beyond her youth, the thought of one of the fittest players in the team, with an engine that could just as easily work in a luxury sports car, not being available didn't just seem unlikely, it felt downright impossible.
But injuries don't discriminate. They don't care about running capacities or defensive depth issues. So now, like Matildas teammates Holly McNamara and Chloe Logarzo in the last nine months, Carpenter has joined one of the worst clubs in football. The only hope is that her recovery will be speedy and smooth.
While Carpenter contemplates surgery and rehab, undoubtedly with the support of the national team setup as well as her club and teammates across the board, Australia will need to contemplate a replacement.
But replacing Carpenter is no easy feat. The Lyon full-back provides not only defensive strength but a very necessary injection of speed down back -- that fabled running ability -- as well as the hunger, desire, and execution to push forward and create attacking opportunities.
With friendlies against Spain and Portugal the immediate obstacles, Charli Grant presents herself as the most obvious replacement for the Matildas having spent plenty of time in camps of late. The former Adelaide United full-back has been in Sweden playing for Rosengard alongside Teagan Micah, but not getting as many minutes as her Matildas teammate.
Beattie Goad, who made her Matildas debut in early 2021, has been plying her trade in Spain and is a natural right-back. Other defenders who could play a role include Karly Roestbakken and Angie Beard.
There is also the option of repositioning players who have technically played as wing-back or full-back previously. Aston Villa's Emily Gielnik and Manchester City's Hayley Raso have been utilised in this type of position but both appear much more comfortable further up the field.
Caitlin Foord has also been bandied about as an option after she began her career as a right-back and a very successful one at that. The Foord suggestion has been made previously but fails to acknowledge she hasn't played the role in close to a decade and, if her Arsenal form is anything to go off, will be needed further up the pitch to bring some more goals to the Matildas attack.
Whatever option is exercised, the secondary discovery will be proof of just how valuable and important Carpenter is to the Australian women's national team. That's not to suggest this wasn't already known, but rather that her absence will prove how big her presence actually is.