Michelle Heyman and the Matildas recall that almost didn't happen

Is Michelle Heyman the Matildas' answer against Uzbekistan? (0:54)

The Far Post Podcast say the Matildas need Michelle Heyman to help breakdown Uzbekistan and qualify for the Olympics in Sam Kerr's absence. (0:54)

Michelle Heyman's last game for the Matildas was unremarkable. She was an 86th minute substitute, replacing Sam Kerr, at the back end of a 5-0 friendly win over Chile to round out 2018.

No fanfare, no goals, just a handful of minutes in Newcastle.

She would return to her club, Adelaide United, and complete what was a down season by her standards with a single goal to her name.

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Just six months later, in May 2019, Heyman called time on her international career after failing to make the cut for the Matildas 2019 World Cup squad.

The 61-cap striker cited niggling injuries and a seeming inability on her body's part to recover as the reason for her decision. Her mental health was also suffering with Heyman speaking candidly about the anxiety and panic attacks she suffered while she was part of the national team. The forward, known for her infectious grin and zest for football, couldn't muster up the love she needed to play the game anymore.

Heyman didn't just shut the door on her national team career, either, choosing to sit out the 2019-20 domestic season. It appeared that the last page of what had been an excellent football career had been written.

However, Heyman's time away from football proved restorative. Her body was able to rest and recover fully and properly. She was able to look after her mental health. She found love.

Elite athletes don't just give up sport. To make it at that level, you need to have an almost insatiable desire to compete and win. Like many athletes before her, Heyman missed the camaraderie of team sport, the feeling of contributing to a bigger goal, of knowing there was a team of people who would do anything to help you and who you would do anything to help in return.

Heyman scratched that itch with social touch football and eventually the idea of kicking a football again entered her mind and slowly grew from kicking against a wall to down at a local park, to eventually leading to wanting to return to the A-League Women.

A stint with Sydney University in the NPL NSW turned into a full-blown comeback, not just to the A-League Women but to her beloved Canberra United.

"If you were to ask me a year ago if this was something that could happen, to be honest, this comeback was something I didn't think was going to happen," Heyman said upon her re-unveiling as Canberra player.

"Now that I've had a year off with no football, I feel better than ever -- both mentally and physically strong and I have found the love of the game again."

As if to ram home the point, Heyman scored a hat trick in a 4-3 win over her former club Adelaide in her first game back.

Her story in the A-League Women since has been one of constant goals and tumbling records. First, she reclaimed her all-time leading goal scorer mark from Kerr, a goal she made no secrets about wanting to achieve. She brought up 100 games for Canberra United, the club she is synonymous with, and 150 A-League Women appearances, an exclusive but slowly expanding club.

But arguably her crowning achievement is the one she never should have reached: becoming the first player to score 100 goals in the A-League Women.

It wasn't just that she spent a whole season away and looked, for all intents and purposes, like she would not return. The league as a whole has not been set up for longevity. Almost all of Heyman's career has existed in an era of semi-professionalism. She has chipped away at this goal in increments of 12 games or 14 games over a span of 16 years.

It is a joy and a miracle that she has been allowed to return, to experience the growth of the game, to set the foundations as well as the records. Heyman's 100 goals will stand for a long time but won't stand forever, but doing it in this era under these conditions makes her the stuff of legend.

But perhaps the more important part of her 100-goal milestone is that it existed for about a minute. No sooner had she scored No. 100 had she banged in No. 101.

That's why her recall as a 35-year-old back into the Matildas squad is most deserved. Heyman the footballer, at her core, is a goal-scorer.

In a sense, there's a neat parallel that Heyman is once again replacing Kerr, who will miss most of the year of football after rupturing her ACL while in camp with Chelsea, just as she did in her last international game, but in wildly different circumstances.

This isn't a call up based on warm fuzzy feelings and a good narrative, though it does include those things. Heyman deserves to be there and Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson emphasised the point when discussing his selections.

"The way Michelle played she deserves to be selected, it's purely performance," he said. "I've said that a lot of times throughout these three years that for me, it's not about age in a Matilda. It's about the quality you have as a footballer, whether you're 17, or 35, doesn't matter if you have the quality, you deserve to be selected.

"Heyman has played herself into this team, the way she plays, she's in tremendous form. She is scoring for fun.

"And we also feel playing this type of qualifiers, when we think we're going to play against a very, very well organized Uzbekistan is going to be difficult to get in behind. We need an in-and-out pure No. 9 in the box that needs half a chance to score. And that's Michelle, the form she's playing with right now. So I'm really happy for her because she had pushed herself back into this team by her performance."

And so 1,912 days after her last appearance for the Matildas, Heyman is once again back in green-and-gold.

Her story is one of persistence and resilience, of knowing the importance of a break, of infectious joy and deadly aim.

And, wonderfully, it's not quite finished yet.