Sam Virgo – Part 2: Time in the Sun

Sam Virgo became the captain of the first ever Gold Coast Suns women's side, alongside fellow former Lion Leah Kaslar, in 2020. Photo: goldcoastfc.com.au

You can read part one of our interview series with 2021 retiree Sam Virgo here.

Moving to the Gold Coast Suns at the end of the 2019 season provided Virgo with even more career opportunities.

Having been in the leadership group at the Lions, and acting as team manager for the 2018 season, she was ready to take the next step.

Virgo was awarded the captaincy alongside fellow former Lion Leah Kaslar, sharing the honours and leading their young team to finals in its first ever year.

Leadership was something that took a lot of learning and personal growth, Virgo quickly learned.

“My leadership style has certainly evolved over the years,” she said.

“At the start, I thought it was sort of about standing up in front of the group and yelling at people and making people do the right thing. That might have been alright for that group, or the stage that I was in, I’m sure it helped some people.

“I found that leadership for me is about giving people space to be themselves and I think my strength, certainly in the last few years at the Suns, was creating room for people and then supporting them to get in there and fill that space.”

Virgo leaves the club in what was a tough year on field.

The year began with the news of star young midfielder Jacqui Yorston tearing her ACL, and ended with coach David Lake stepping down from his role.

The Suns would finish the year winless, including three games where they scored a goal or less.

Despite all this, Virgo is incredibly optimistic on the direction the young side is heading.

“The kids, jeez they’re so good,” she says with a sense of almost disbelief.

“It’s exciting to see where the competition is going and I don’t want to leave the game hanging on by my fingernails, I want to walk away from it really proud of what I’ve been able to achieve and know that it’s the right time.

“The kids are unreal, and not just for us but across the competition, the talent pathways are really healthy and in great shape across the country.

“The kids will take the game to places quickly that we never dreamed of. They are going to be unreal.

“Particularly at our club, they are outstanding humans and they’ve got plenty of talent, we just need to work out how to unlock it and how to help them be their best.”

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With a young crop of players including Daisy D’Arcy, Lucy Single, Bess Keaney, Lauren Bella and Maddi Levi all finishing in the top 10 of the Suns’ best and fairest award, the excitement is certainly founded.

The next step for the Suns is how they develop and harness that talent.

Coaching and developing young players is something Virgo found a passion for throughout her career.

“I’m really passionate about helping others be really good at footy,” she said.

“I’m probably better at that than playing myself, I’ve been coaching alongside playing across the entirety of my journey in the Queensland state program and the underage girls’ talent pathway.

“I’ve been really fortunate to have some input there. It’ll probably take a little bit of time but no doubt that’s ahead of me.

“My passion for coaching is really clear and thriving. I’m looking forward to doing that in some in capacity in the future.”

Virgo is currently the midfield coach at the Coorparoo men’s division one team in the QAFL.

Being a woman coaching in a predominantly male environment would pose its challenges, thought Virgo feels the club has made a strong effort to be nothing but welcoming.

“I’ve been welcomed with open arms and the doors have been flung open to help me share my experiences and my footy knowledge,” she said.

“In that sense, the guys have been really great in not having my gender as a barrier for me helping them get better. I encourage more clubs to do it and more women to get into coaching.

“I think diversity in any space is only there for the betterment of all the stakeholders. My view is different to a male coach’s view, but not because of my gender, but just because we see things differently.

“I’m having a great experience so far, and I have no doubts that will continue.

“There’s [now] a dedicated national female pathway for coaches to speed up the development of female coaches who are interested and passionate about the game, and that’s only a good thing.

“We do need funding and resources and commitment from the AFL and big organisations to commit to the training and accelerating the development of people who want to be developed.

“Until you’re ready, the token gestures aren’t going to get us anywhere, it’s got to be the right person for the job. It’s a bit of a balancing act between ‘are you the right person for the role?’ and ‘how can we help you to get to be the right person for the role?’.

“The two things go hand-in-hand I think. We’re heading in the right direction, but it’d be great to see things go a bit bigger.”

As for what the future holds, Virgo certainly still has her hands full.

Her 2021 is set to be a balancing act between working at a sports apparel company, coaching with Coorparoo, and still adjusting to life as a parent with two year old Harriet and four-month-old Robbie alongside partner Jenna.

While parenting has been a completely different challenge to footy, Virgo says she wouldn’t change it for the world.

“They fill your world up with love, and terror, poo and all the delightful things you never knew you had to deal with,” she said laughing.

“It is the best thing that’s ever happened to us but it’s bumpy, and it’s hard.

“We’re loving our life as a family of four, and it just adds another element to your life.”

Virgo (R) with partner Jenna, daughter Harriet and son Robbie. Photo: @sam.virgo87 on Instagram.

Reflecting on how it all started puts retirement from the game into perspective for Virgo.

From attending a social session at a local club after moving to Queensland to leading both top level teams in the state, the journey has been one of both serendipitous circumstance and incredible determination.

“I’ve made great lifelong friends out of the game, and I leave the game with great friendships,” Virgo said.

“It’s a really cool thing to come in wanting friendships and to leave with a life full of great people.”

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About Alex Catalano 80 Articles
Alex is a studying journalist from Melbourne with an obsession for all things Aussie rules. From the elite level to the local leagues, you can find him either attending, writing or speaking about the sport seven days a week. Alex also writes about football, basketball and esports. You can hear him on the Sanctum's own AFL podcast, The Checkside.

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