And with that, it was over. The clock finally running out on “Timmy Time”.
Arguably Australia’s most important player in its footballing history signed off an international career that has featured 107 games, four World Cup Finals and a record 50 goals, with a last public engagement that contained laughter, tears and a leisurely meander down memory lane.
And what memories they are.
His favourite goal? Cahill’s and Australia’s first at a World Cup finals, in 2006, a double in fact against Japan to secure a famous 3-1 win. But with a hat tip to “that goal” against the Dutch in Brazil eight years later. Oh, and the scissor kick against China in the Asian Cup, of course.
His most influential coach? Almost too many to mention: Guus Hiddink, Frank Farina, but special thanks to Ange Postecoglou, who convinced him to play on in to his late 30s, the pair rewarded with that shared continental victory on home soil in 2015.
His chief motivation during his stellar career? Representing his family, who had sacrificed so much to allow him to express his talents.
It was that last heartfelt admission that drew the tears.
“It wasn’t an easy decision, and I don’t want it to be a sad moment,” said Cahill with clearer eyes.
“I want it to be a celebration.
“Physically I feel fantastic. It’s a big decision to retire when you can still kick a ball, but it’s the right time.”
Life after international retirement
And so to the future.
What becomes of Cahill after severing his association with the green and gold — in a playing capacity at least — after 14 years of exemplary service? A period in which he became the face, commercial driver and primary route to goal of the side, even as his role necessarily evolved with age.
He left open the possibility of extending his playing time in the club game. But not in the A-League.
He will be open to offers, he said, after he has spent some time with his young family and completed a UEFA B coaching course he begins later this week, with an eye on a possible management career in the not too distant future.
“I’ve heard a lot of whispers about the A-League,” he said of reports linking him to several clubs this week (the second most unlikely A-League transfer story of the week).
“My A-League experience was fantastic, to win a trophy with Melbourne City, to score some awesome goals. My debut is something I won’t forget.”
“To live in America and play in the A-League [however] would be impossible.”
At 38 years old, offers might not be plentiful, regardless of an incredible commitment to his own physical wellbeing that has extended his top-level career in to its Indian summer.
Even last year, at an age most professional footballers have called time, his last meaningful action in a Socceroos shirt was to score twice against Syria in a qualifying play-off that rescued Australia from World Cup elimination.
It was an act of the extraordinary that had become almost routine. When he was called on in clutch moments he more often than not answered that call.
For new Socceroos coach Graham Arnold, present for Cahill’s farewell address, the loss of such match-winning savvy, the game intelligence and X-factor so thin on the ground in the current squad, filling the hole he leaves will be problematic.
The face of Australian football
Some soccer fans turned their nose up when Cahill’s name was used in a sponsor’s advertising stunt when his position in the squad for Russia 2018 was yet to be confirmed. And further still when some sections of the wider media loudly demanded his inclusion in group games in Russia.
But all the fuss told a story of him being emblematic of the game to the broader Australian public. For many casual observers he was the Socceroos. He was Australian football.
Can he be replaced? The man himself thinks so.
“Will there be another Tim Cahill. Will there be another goalscorer? Sure there will,” Cahill said.
“But that’s up to them. We’ve got some good players. And I’m sure Arnie has a plan.”
Those plans look likely to have input from Cahill himself.
While his impact in Russia was limited on the field, Cahill’s teammates universally hailed his leadership within the squad. The sight of him with his arm around Daniel Arzani after Australia were eliminated after just three group matches was one of few positive abiding memories of the tournament just ended.
“Mentoring’s important,” said Cahill of his relationship with Australia’s teenage sensation.
“I know how difficult it is to come in to a camp. There were moments in the World Cup when I wanted Arzani to be pressure-free. He plays his best football when he’s relaxed.”
From star turn to team player
For all that Cahill played a role in the change rooms and training fields in Russia, his lack of playing involvement has to have been a frustration on a personal level.
Though by his own account Cahill felt the pain only as part of the collective.
“It was an honour to be a part of a fourth World Cup campaign. A player has to think a lot bigger than himself, regardless of his personal situation,” he said.
“We had a massive chance this last World Cup, there’s no doubt in my mind. The football we played against France was fantastic. But we fell short.”
Can that change in his absence? The man himself is cautiously optimistic. But pleaded for realistic expectations.
“[Just qualifying for a World Cup is] the toughest thing for any country. The last World Cup Holland wasn’t there, Italy wasn’t there. Australia was there.
“You have to put in to perspective how big that was for our country.”
It is difficult to overstate how big Cahill’s own contribution was to his nation. His moment has now passed. Time, then, for others to follow where he lead.