SARAH Perkins has already played for two different AFLW clubs, but Tuesday marked the first time her name had been read out on NAB AFLW Draft night.
It's been a long journey to get to this point, with Perkins' self-confidence taking a hit, but her selection by Gold Coast marks a new beginning.
Perkins was signed as an undrafted free agent to Adelaide at the end of 2016, playing 17 games (including a premiership) until her delisting in 2019, and was an instant fan favourite with her exuberant celebrations and skill.
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Missing out in 2020, Perkins became a train-on player for Melbourne, eventually playing three matches when the club's injury woes depleted their list.
But as a train-on player, the 27-year-old was unable to be automatically re-signed by the Dees, and had to go through the draft.
And as of Tuesday night, she is now a Sun, preparing to move north in less than two weeks.
WITH PICK 23, GOLD COAST SELECTS SARAH PERKINS
"My manager had spoken to a lot of clubs before last year's draft, and the Suns were one of them," Perkins told womens.afl.
"They reached out to him not long after the (2020) season finished to see if I was interested in having a chat. They were hoping to get me up at some point to have a look at the club, but with a global pandemic, that's not the case."
Perkins nominated for the Queensland portion of the state-based draft, and the Gold Coast hierarchy had told the key forward she would be taken with pick No.23, but some internal doubts still lingered.
"It was very different to the last one I'd been to (in 2016), where there was a roomful of people with names read out over a microphone and everyone there. I was just at home with my Mum and my sister and a close friend, and we just hung out, really," she said.
"I kept (pick 23) a secret from my family and just told two of my mates. I didn't want to share it because there was a chance it may not happen, or something changed and they went with someone else, which would have been completely fine.
"I started to feel a bit sick at about pick 16, because I knew it was coming close, but I wasn't sure if it was going to happen.
"The one thing the Suns said to me the whole time was that they'd be true to their word, which they've done from the start. It was reassuring to hear that, then to hear my name read out, it was really special."
FIGHTING HER WAY BACK TO THE TOP
There's no doubt Perkins knows how to play the game. She's a smart and natural player, who reads the play and knows how to bring her teammates into a match.
But as the AFLW has progressed, and coaches have become better accustomed to the style of play which has developed, some sides have lent towards a shorter forward line to deal with the ball being played on the ground rather than overhead.
A homesick Perkins was delisted from Adelaide at the end of the 2019 season in March, having not been in the Crows' 21 for their second flag.
She played for Hawthorn in the VFLW but was passed over in the 2020 draft and somewhat lost her way.
"I've come to terms with the fact my footy journey is not supposed to be easy, and it's supposed to be a rollercoaster," Perkins said.
"I'd be lying if I said the last 18 months hadn't been mentally tough. I thankfully reached out, got some help, and was able to deal with the low self-confidence and was able to start enjoying footy again."
A late season VFLW game against Melbourne Uni – where Perkins booted three goals from 16 disposals – saw a brief return to enjoying her footy once again, but it was the weekly run arounds at Gosch's Paddock as a Melbourne train-on player at the start of this year which got her back on track.
"I don't think I've ever really turned around and said I'd played a good game of footy. I'm pretty hard on myself, which doesn't help at time.
"That game against Melbourne Uni was the best I'd played in 18 months, going back to the game against Collingwood (round seven, 2017), so quite a long time.
"For me, it was just running around at the Dees training, getting to know those girls and having a laugh and enjoying footy with them. Learning off 'Paxy' (Karen Paxman), who can be quite a larrikin at times, really helped me enjoy my footy."
TIME IN THE SUN
Perkins is looking forward to lining up with the Suns and working with fellow forwards Britt Perry and All Australian Kalinda Howarth.
She is also keen to train alongside – and no longer have to play against – Leah Kaslar, the pair having shared a few battles at the peak of the Adelaide-Brisbane rivalry in the early days of AFLW.
But first, a two-week quarantine period in a hotel awaits, as it does for anyone moving to Queensland from Victoria under COVID-19 restrictions.
"A long time ago I bought one of those paint-by-numbers to get me through that six-week lockdown, so I might finally give that a crack," Perkins said.
"If I can get my hands on an exercise bike, I'll just pedal away on that. It's a really good chance for me to work on my mental health, focusing my mind and meditating, so they're probably the things that will get me through, as well as facetiming with my friends."