“Does she have a piece of magic left in those boots?” was the question posed by commentator Russ Gibbs in injury time of Canberra United’s match against Perth Glory.
The answer was yes, Michelle Heyman did. She evaded a defender, passed the ball off and received it once again, shooting low across her body, the face of goal, and Lily Alfeld, with the ball tucking neatly into the far post corner.
This time last year Heyman wasn’t even playing. Now she is the Westfield W-League’s all-time leading goal scorer with 72. And she’s not done yet.
It started with a couple of social media posts in August.
Heyman posted a throwback picture of herself in a Canberra United kit and posed the question: should I make a comeback to the Westfield W-League?
“It was kind of a joke when I posted a photo on Instagram, just to see if I really should do the comeback.” Heyman told media at her Canberra United unveiling.
“I got so much positive feedback from it that I was like ‘oh, okay’. It was nice to hear from other people that they wanted to see me back out on the field. And then I really started to think about myself and was it something that I really wanted to do.”
It was and so the journey began. A stint with Sydney University in the NSW NPLW eventually led to another Instagram post. It simply read “I’m back!”
The break from playing football did wonders for Heyman and learning who she was off the pitch has improved her game on it.
“I go to every training session, I push myself for myself. It's the fittest I've been, I beat all my scores in my testing than what I've ever done in my entire life. So things have started to change. And I don't know why. But it's happening.” Heyman told the Westfield Matildas podcast.
“I think, because I'm not injured, I was always playing on something that was broken. So there's so many positive things that are coming out this year, which is just, again, inspiring myself to believe in myself to be like I can still do this.”
Happy and healthy, she was ready to play with joy for herself and for the club she’s synonymous with.
“Coming out to Canberra United for our first home game, it’s the best feeling walking on that field. They call my name and just listening to the crowd scream and be excited for me and for my return, it's everything.”
“That's why I love Canberra United, they've always supported me no matter what. I left and I've come back, and it's still the same love. And it's a very, very powerful feeling that they give me.”
After Covid-related delays and postponements, Canberra’s season got underway at Viking Park. Heyman took to the pitch that evening, 699 days after she last played in a Westfield W-League match, leading the line with that familiar badge on her chest.
And what a return it was. A second half hat trick helped propel Canberra to a 4-3 win over Adelaide United in a pulsating contest. She’s backed it up all season, closing the gap between her and Kerr.
But the aim was never to equal the record. It was to take back the mantle she had held for so long.
“I held it for all those years until not too long ago. So, of course, it's always in the back of my mind.” Heyman said.
“And it's something that I'm going to achieve this season. I believe in myself, and I believe it will happen.”
“You can't be a striker and not want to be the best.”
The Westfield W-League record now stands at 72 with a double against Perth Glory catapulting Heyman to be the outright leader.
She likes to keep things simple when it comes to the art of goal scoring.
“I want a hat trick every single game I play. So if I don't get it, then I feel very disappointed in myself. But I technically never look at a goalkeeper, I always place the ball in the side corners, I have little things that I say to myself before I get onto the field.”
“For myself, personally, it's zero pressure to make sure that you have that feeling inside yourself. Because if you feel the pressure, then you're never going to score. So I look at it as a bigger picture: without me doing my job, we can't win.”
If it looks like she’s having fun when she plays, that’s because she is. It’s an obvious, infectious happiness that comes from a better balance between life and football.
“I'm having the most fun. It's weird because there is life outside of football. And I found more joy in the life outside of football than I thought that I ever would. Football was my world. And I thought that's where all the happiness came from.”
“But now, knowing that I can get that same joy from my relationship and my family, it makes my life a lot easier. I don't have to just go searching for it on the football field anymore. And I think you can see that in my football when I'm playing now. It's a lot more fun.”
There’s no doubt fans will continue watching the smiling assassin as she looks to keep scoring and continue playing with joy and freedom.