"Pretty average" are two words seldom used to describe Michelle Heyman, but that's how former Matilda Caitlin Munoz felt about her first training session with Canberra United.
This was the W-League's reigning Golden Boot winner and Julie Dolan medalist, yet Munoz had her doubts about Heyman's Canberra coming. Doubts that vanished in round one.
"I've never told her this but when she first came to Canberra she had a pretty average session, and we were like 'oh... who have we signed? What's happening?'" Munoz recalled.
"And then the first match she played for Canberra, she literally scored a hat trick against Perth. And we thought, 'perfect, she's brilliant.'"
Indeed, Heyman struck home three times in United's 4-1 win over Perth Glory on her club debut in 2010. Little did anyone know it was merely a prelude of what was to come.
The prolific striker is on the verge of playing her 100th match for Canberra in their must-win clash with the Newcastle Jets on Saturday night.
She's the third player to become a club centurion in United's history, following Ash Sykes (113 caps) and Ellie Brush (101).
It marks her second milestone of her comeback season, having eclipsed Sam Kerr as the W-League's all-time leading scorer last week. Although don't bet on that being the only accolade she claims this year.
Success seems to follow Heyman in clubland. At 22, she came to Canberra from the now-defunct Central Coast Mariners team - where she claimed the Golden Boot and Julie Dolan medal double in 2009.
With United, Heyman has won two championships, three premierships and another two Golden Boot awards.
And now in the Vicki Linton era, Canberra is in finals contention once more.
"Anyone who has played for Canberra knows how much of a family club it is. We've got great support and I know supporters that may not have been there for all the years, they're definitely back on board," Munoz said.
"I think Michelle just has this ability to bring people in, and that's teammates, staff and the community.
"She is such a bubbly person and everyone loves her for that, she means so much to the club. The club means a lot for her, it helped set her football path and now she's back on track with that. Any club would be lucky to have her as a person involved, and as a footballer."
Heyman returned to Canberra last year with an air of the unknown, having seemingly hung up her boots only 17 months prior.
In mid-2019, Heyman was mentally drained and physically broken. A string of injuries took its toll and cost her a spot in Australia's squad for the World Cup in France.
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She walked away from international football and the W-League, and in that sabbatical she found a new life balance.
As Heyman's body healed, her love for football blossomed again. She returned to the sport via Sydney University in the NSW Premier League, and since launched a football academy Heyman FC.
She also found love with her new partner Christine Aldridge, a Canadian-born artist and photographer.
Ex-Matilda Sally Shipard described Heyman's second coming in the W-League as a rebirth, saying she's always admired her approach to having a healthy football-life balance.
"She just has this incredible natural talent, but also recognises the importance of life outside of sport - she has always maintained a good balance," Shipard said.
"Her best football is played when she has a really good life away from football, which I've always admired.
"She's always put a lot of importance on having a healthy balance, as an athlete you can easily lose that.
"Canberra has done quite well this season, they've certainly benefited from Michelle's contribution. She's got a good balance, with her loving partner Christine and all her side gigs. I'm excited for her and her coaching academy, I'll be looking forward to seeing how that evolves.
"It's really cool to see her rebirth in the footballing world, I think Australian football has missed her."
And for beyond 100? Whether Heyman continues her domestic career or contends Matildas honours, former Canberra midfielder and now W-League commentator Grace Gill said she'll do whatever she wants if given the opportunity.
"Where she wants to go is something Michelle needs to consider mindfully, asking herself the question whether she wants to get back into the national team and play international football again. Only she knows the answer to that," Gill said.
"Could she? Yes, of course she could. She's got the physical attributes, the performance and everything. To my mind it's a no brainer, she could.
"It's something she needs to go away and think about it at the end of the season. With international football comes a whole new lifestyle, it changes your day to day considerably.
"There's also those strains, both physically and mentally, that goes into an international football career.
"If it's something she's driven to do, then absolutely she could. And if she doesn't, she'll come to her own conclusion on her next step."
W-LEAGUE ROUND 13
Saturday: Newcastle Jets v Canberra United at Newcastle West No.2 Sportsground, 6.35pm
Newcastle Jets squad: 2. Hannah Brewer, 3. Jemma House, 4. Chloe O'Brien, 5. Alisha Bass, 6. Cassidy Davis, 7. Gema Simon (C), 8. Evelyn Chronis, 10. Pana Petratos, 11. Rhianna Pollicina, 12. Tessa Tamplin, 13. Laura Allan, 14. Tiana Jaber, 15. Sophie Harding, 16. Sunny Franco, 18. Taren King, 20. Claire Coelho (GK), 30. Nicole Simonsen (GK). *one to be omitted.
Canberra United squad: 1. Keeley Richards (GK), 2. Emma Ilijoski, 4. Kendall Fletcher (C), 5. Lauren Keir, 6. Bianca Galic, 7. Rachael Goldstein, 8. Laura Hughes, 9. Demi Koulizakis, 10. Grace Maher, 12. Hayley Taylor-Young, 13. Paige Satchell, 14. Jessie Rasschaert, 15. Jessika Nash, 18. Isabella Foletta, 19. Nicki Flannery, 20. Sasha Grove, 22. Sally James (GK), 23. Michelle Heyman. *two to be omitted.
Lucie Bertoldo is a sports reporter for the Canberra Times.
Lucie Bertoldo is a sports reporter for the Canberra Times.
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