You could call it Natalie Tobin’s “sliding doors” moment, except in this case the doors were slammed shut in her face as she prepared to turn her life upside down.
Among the many consequences of Covid-19, this has been a bizarrely positive one for a footballer who planned to try a new way of life but ended up a Premiership-winning captain. “It’s been,” she says with a shake of the head, “really, really strange.”
On the surface, the decision of Sydney coach Ante Juric to make Tobin his captain after Teresa Polias took a year off was an obvious one. Part of the club for a decade, her first appearance came in the 2013 Grand Final and she has featured in another three since; she was an ever-present in the side that won the Premiership last year.
But she wasn’t actually meant to be at Sydney to receive the captaincy. In May last year it was revealed that Tobin, an occupational therapist off the pitch, had decided to move to Perth to pursue her non-footballing career plans, as well as try “a different pace of life” with her partner.
Then Covid’s ugly head reappeared, specifically the Omicrom variant that exploded across Sydney in the middle of last year. By late June the border with WA was more or less closed for those in NSW; by July it was sealed. Suddenly Tobin’s best-laid plans were no longer possible, and Jukic was happy to bring her straight back into the Sky Blue fold.
Tobin will admit now that she was ambivalent about the prospects of a very young Sydney team at the start of the year; in the event, along unbeaten run was the foundation for coming top of the league.
“I guess the Perth decision came from a personal point of view of wanting to try something new but it all fell through with COVID,” Tobin tells KEEPUP. “And, you know, staying in Sydney has been one of the best things I’ve done and my partner’s done. It’s opened a lot of doors for us both and I’m just really glad I’ve stayed here.
“I’m so happy to be given the captaincy like that was quite a shock. But I suppose I have been the longest-standing player at the club, and it’s been really nice to have that recognized.
“I’m just so grateful for the season that we’ve had. I thought at the start of the season, it could have gone either way – just because of the age of our team, with the average age being 22. You know, I wasn’t sure how it was going to go.
“We lost a lot of experience through ‘T’ (Polias) and Claire Wheeler leaving. But I think we’ve gone above and beyond this season, and really, really beat those expectations that we had at the start of the season.”
Polias’s career hiatus while she starts a family left a sizeable hole in the heart of Sydney’s team; not just her efficiency as a midfielder, but the Sky Blue-etched leadership that Tobin has endeavored to cover.
“We’re quite good friends so I guess I got to know how she captained and I just learned a lot from ‘T’,” she said. “You can never replace someone like that but I think I picked up a lot from how she captained and a lot of that was leading by example on the field.
“I just made sure I put everything into every single game. I wouldn’t say I’m a big talker, I don’t give inspirational speeches, I don’t really take myself too seriously in that regard. But whenever I’m on the field, I’m always giving 100%.
“I always take that aspect of my football very, very seriously. You try never to never have an off game. That’s my attitude.”