One of the biggest names in the AFLW across its first four seasons, Sarah Perkins journey to the top tier is one filled with incredible highs and crushing lows.
Speaking with The Inner Sanctum, Perkins relives her story in this three-part series.
It has been an incredible journey for new Gold Coast Suns forward Sarah Perkins, who since the inception of the AFLW in 2017, has become one of the league’s cult heroes.
Whether it be her booming leg, gritted determination or energetic character on the field, she has proven herself to be one of the competition’s most exciting players.
However, when looking at Perkins’ career it is important to note the hard work and sacrifice it took for her to be able to play the sport she loves at the highest level.
Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, Perkins reflects on her journey as a footballer, which begins with a 16-year-old girl wrestling with the confines of a debilitating hip injury wanting to try herself at a new sport.
“I was told never to play a contact sport by a doctor due to having a disc in my hip,” Perkins told The Inner Sanctum.
“That lasted until I was about 16, with mum giving me the all clear to play footy and I really haven’t looked back since.
“My first game was a trial match in the south eastern suburbs of Melbourne playing for the Eastern Devils and I reckon we got smacked by over 200 points.
“It was definitely character building [playing as a junior], as although we got hammered pretty well every week it was just so fun to be out there with the girls and learning to play the game of footy.”
Perkins would continue to play at the Devils through the underage program, with the sense of community and togetherness associated to the club having a big impact on her budding football career.
“It was different [playing at the Devils], I was able to play with girls much older than me and others much younger so it gave me a lot of role models that I still look up to this day,” she said.
“The Devils gave me a real sense of family, and I think that is one thing about culture that has always come with me that wherever I go it’s that sense of always being home and making friends.
“The club taught me a lot about culture and gave me a chance to grow into the person I am today, so I am really thankful for the time I spent there.”
She eventually worked her way up to the top level of women’s football at the time, being the VFLW, which she believed would be the furthest point the game could take her.
“For a while there it looked like the VFL was just going to be our highest level,” she said.
“I didn’t think I’d spend my whole time playing in the VFL, I spent a couple of years playing in the reserves leagues as you do having to build yourself up to play with the big dogs.
“We’d hoped growing up, all the girls in my age group, that at some point we’d maybe have a professional competition.
“It’s exciting to think that ten year’s ago I was told a professional league might come about in 2018 or 2020, so for it to happen in 2017 and being apart of it is very humbling.”
Having showed signs of promise at VFLW level, the establishment of the AFLW in 2016 came at an opportune time for Perkins who despite some early hesitations and self doubt, leant on the support of her coaches to push to the next level and be recognised as a potential draftee.
“I [initially] didn’t really want to get recognised [by recruiters],” she said.
“It was my coach at the time Brendan Major who pushed me to work on my fitness and put together some good footy.
“His belief in me made me believe in myself, and the support of everybody at the Devils pushed me to be better.”
This extra belief and commitment to training would see her put together a career best 2016 season, as she finished third in the league’s goal kicking award with 52 majors.
The dream of a professional football career was looking like it could become a reality.
“The sense that it all might be coming true was really exciting,” she said.
“Like every lady playing footy in Victoria at the time, we all wanted to be apart of it [the AFLW], but I knew it was going to take a lot of work at the start of the that 2016 season.
“Thankfully I put together my best ever season at VFL level which I guess put me in great stead going into the draft and season one.”
Following this career best season, Perkins would be one of the lucky girls to be invited to the inaugural AFLW draft event with her draft stock seemingly at an all time high.
The following three hours would be as brutal as they come.
“I wasn’t really confident [heading into the draft],” she said.
“Then I got invited to the event and I was in the room with a lot of girls getting drafted around, so I started to think I’ve been invited maybe I’m a chance.
“From there it is pretty well known that I sat there and wasn’t drafted which was pretty disappointing and heart breaking.”
With her AFLW dreams dashed and football career at the crossroads following draft night, a call from the Adelaide Crows would change her life forever…