ABC Pod: How Heyman refreshed her mind and body to become a new ‘monster’ in comeback season

Canberra United star Michelle Heyman says she was filled with sadness, frustration and anger as she called time on her playing career in 2019.

But a year is a long time in football, and life itself. After taking a one-season sabbatical from the game the Westfield Matildas legend made a triumphant return through the Westfield W-League in the 2020/21 campaign.

She’s scored six goals to date this season, and most importantly is loving the game once again.

Speaking to Daniel Garb and Robbie Cornthwaite on the ABC Grandstand Football Podcast, Heyman revealed the key factors behind her decision to return to the game after leaving it behind, as she relishes her new-found affection for football and the club she calls home.

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Heyman back to her best after rediscovering love for the game

 “Just imagine if she could get into that Matildas side now for the Olympics, having retired a couple of years ago. What a tale that would be.

“It would be huge wouldn’t it – probably one of the greatest comebacks in football, if not in Australian sport, if she’s able to get herself back into that squad.”

Michelle Heyman’s return to Canberra United has proven one of the feel-good stories of the Westfield W-League campaign.

But the Westfield Matildas legend has proven she hasn’t returned for a farewell tour – six goals to date in the 2020/21 campaign attests to that.

Heyman is producing an impressive body of work as Canberra contest for a place in the top four – a feat they haven’t achieved since finishing in top spot in the 2016/17 Westfield W-League season.

The uplift in club form is mirroring the rejuvenated Heyman’s return to her brilliant best.

“I literally feel like it’s my first season back in the W-League,” Heyman told Cornthwaite and Garb.

“It’s a fun feeling, it’s nice to be a part of that team again. 

“I missed it with my year off, I think that was one of the hardest things that I had to kind of overcome, was not having so many friends around me every single day. 

“To be back in this position, to be able to play with my teammates and just enjoy the thing we all love again, I’m blessed.” 

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Heyman retired at the end of a season spent at Adelaide United in 2018/19, with 115 Westfield W-League appearances and 61 international caps to her name.

The two-time Westfield W-League Champion and 2009 Julie Dolan Medallist scored just one goal in 12 appearances for the Reds.

The difference since her return has been emphatic. Six goals in eight games to date in the 2020/21 campaign have taken Heyman just one goal short of Sam Kerr’s all-time scoring record of 70 in the Westfield W-League; a record she’s hell-bent on wrestling back before the season’s end.

The motivation, energy and fresh approach to football helping Heyman shine on her return developed in a reflective year spent away from the game in which she found time to grow.

“I was trying to do anything possible,” she said.

“I figured out I didn’t want to work in an office, so I thought I was going to have my next big career and be this business woman but it turns out I hate sitting down and hate being in an office. So I thought, what am I good at?

“I love being around children and love being able to give back everything that I’ve learned over my career, so  I thought I’d just start coaching.

“I got a job at Kincoppal-Rose Bay catching in their girls school, and it just changed my life. It changed the way I felt about the game as well at that time. 

I was quite tired, I was quite angry, I was frustrated and upset with how my career ended. 

I wanted to love the game again, it was something I was missing so to go into coaching and find that love with giving back to the girls, being part of at team in a different way… it gave me that second wind.”

Heyman is engulfed by teammates after scoring against Adelaide United

As Heyman’s comeback has rolled on in the 2020/21 campaign, the 32-year-old has found the idea of a recall to the Westfield Matildas setup becoming a greater possibility.

The chance to build on her 20 goals scored in 61 international caps seemed impossible for Heyman to imagine in pre-season, before she realised as every training session and game passed by what a year spent on the sidelines had done for her worn-out body and mind.

“I think at that time I was pretty much broken, and I thought retiring was the only thing that was going to make me feel better.

“I think at that time (retiring) was the right thing to do.

“If you asked me before pre-season if I thought I would be playing for the Matildas again, it would have been definitely no, just because of the workload and how hard and strenuous it is on your body.

“But now throughout this season and throughout our pre-season I noticed that taking some time off healed my body, healed my mind, and it’s created a monster.

I’m having so much more fun on the field, I’m physically fit, I’m healthy, my body feels good so potentially yes, I would love to be back in the mix of things with the Matildas.

“I think the way I retired and ended my career wasn’t the best way I wanted to go out as well, so it’s something I would definitely love to push myself for.”

Heyman's dream return to action has her dreaming of a return to the Westfield Matildas

In the aftermath of Heyman’s in-depth and honest chat, Garb and Cornthwaite marvelled at her journey back from the brink and into the spotlight.

As the electric attacker leads the Green Machine back to heights not reached in years, the pair of Australian football pundits placed Heyman’s comeback story alongside the greats of Australian sports.

“Just imagine if she could get into that Matildas side now for the Olympics, having retired a couple of years ago. What a tale that would be,” Garb said.

“It would be huge, wouldn’t it?” Cornthwaite replied.

Probably one of the greatest comebacks in football, if not in Australian sport, if she’s able to get herself back into that squad.”