Inaugural AFLW Lion and Sun Sam Virgo announced her retirement from the game on Sunday.
She leaves the game with 29 matches to her name, and as an All-Australian defender.
Ever reliable and ever humble, Virgo’s leadership was taken notice of from day one, named in the Lions inaugural leadership group.
She would then go on to co-captain the Suns, alongside both Leah Kaslar (in 2020) and Hannah Dunn (in 2021).
Speaking to The Inner Sanctum in this two-part series, Virgo reflects on the ups and downs of her short, yet no less impactful, career in the AFLW.
The decision to retire was one that Virgo had all but made at the start of the 2021 season.
“In the week leading up to the season I was discussing it with my close-knit circle, my parents and my partner and a couple of really close mates,” she told The Inner Sanctum.
“I wouldn’t say it was weighing on me, it was certainly in the background.
“It’s pretty clear to see that the competition is evolving and it’s getting quicker and I’m certainly not getting any quicker. Not that it was going past me, but it was certainly a consideration at the start of the season.
“As we were going along I was still probably considering it in the background, ‘am I capable of going again?’
“In the end, once I made the decision and said it out loud, I felt really free, and I felt like a big weight had been lifted off my shoulders. That probably tells me it was right.”
Leaving the game as an inaugural player, Virgo is counting her blessings.
Being part of the foundation of two clubs, and the league as a whole, is something she holds close to her heart.
“My overwhelming feeling is that I feel so lucky to have been playing in the right place at the right time, playing the right sport,” Virgo said.
“It’s a little bit of serendipity. It’s pretty easy in hindsight and in retrospect to look back at all the good things, but that’s how it feels at the moment, it’s very fresh.
“I feel very lucky to have experienced what I have.
“I just feel really proud to have had the opportunity to influence programs, not just people.
“People are the number one thing but to try and set something up that’s going to be an environment where people and players are going to flourish and be their best, I’m really proud that I was able to influence in that way.
“Hopefully it’s a lasting influence. It seems like both clubs are in a great position right now, and that’s not got anything to do with me, but I’m really proud that I’ve had a chance to influence in some way in both experiences.”
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The Lions were, of course, Virgo’s first love. She was taken at pick 66 in the 2016 AFLW draft.
With the 2021 Grand Final between Adelaide and Brisbane quickly approaching, memories of her own grand final days come to the surface.
Virgo was one of the 42 lucky players to be involved in the first ever AFLW Grand Final.
While the Lions would barely not quite find the ultimate glory, it’s a cherished memory both for Virgo and all of her teammates.
“I look back on that day and I just think that was one of the best days of my whole life,” she said.
“I felt that at the time, and I still feel that thinking back to the day. I know we didn’t quite get the result. We weren’t flying going into that game, we had the draw against Carlton, so we were dipping.
“My feelings around that day were we were just a little bit scared in that first half, and we ran out of time. The last quarter we were coming, and we just ran out of minutes.
“We were nearly there, and you just can’t afford to do that in games like that on the big stage against quality opposition.
“I’ve got my retirement hat on and I really hope the Lions don’t go into the game feeling the same thing; fearful.
“It’s a different game but I know those eight players from year one will be better from the experience and will take their playing group bravely into what’s ahead.”
“I don’t want to jump on their week too much, I know it’s a big week.
“I’ll probably just admire them from afar and hope they’re doing everything they can to prepare themselves for a tilt on Saturday.”
Following the grand final loss, footy only got harder for Virgo.
Playing for Yeronga South Brisbane in the QWAFL Grand Final after the end of the AFLW season, she would tear her ACL.
A long recovery time lay ahead of her, and with how quickly the AFLW season flies past, this meant a whole year on the sidelines.
A new role and adapting to life on the other side of the paint only made Virgo stronger, resilient, and full of humility.
“That was a really formative year in how I’ve become the person I’ve become today,” she said.
“I was really lucky in my life, I haven’t had too many things I’ve had to work through or adversity, and that was the first time that I had to face something where I couldn’t just get my own way. It taught me resilience, I was really well supported by the club.
“I was kept busy, I was the team manager for the year so I was able to support my teammates that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do had I not been given that role.
“It was pretty tricky on grand final day being the interchange person and watching it all unfold and not being able to do anything.
“2018 was certainly a year that helped me to understand what resilience is and what it means to have to work for something you really want.”
Having lost back-to-back grand finals in 2017 and 2018, the Lions now face the ultimate test in a rematch against the Crows.
Virgo believes her former teammates have demonstrated their maturity in the lead-up to the match.
Their first and foremost concerns have been congratulating Virgo on her remarkable career at the top level.
“I’ve had some overwhelming response to my retirement,” she said.
“They’re coming to me, I’ve sort of wished them luck in response to them coming to me and congratulating me on my career.
“That probably shows the character and level of people they’ve got in that organisation.”
Continued in part two.
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