FROM playing fewer than 15 games of footy before being drafted to the AFLW, to becoming Gold Coast's first player to celebrate 50 games, Jamie Stanton's road to the milestone hasn't been an easy one.
Coming from a soccer background, including time as a Young Matilda, Stanton was taken by Brisbane with pick No.127 in the inaugural AFLW draft. Since then, she has played in two Grand Finals, moved clubs twice, won a club Best and Fairest, and missed a season with an ACL injury.
"To think of when I came into AFLW back in season one I'd played less than 15 games of AFL footy previously to that," Stanton told womens.afl.
"Brisbane took a pretty big risk on me to draft me and to then grind out a career around some really good players, but also still cement myself in the competition, it's been a hell of a journey to come from not really playing footy to then all of a sudden being in the top flight and making sure that I make every opportunity count.
Excited to reach the 50-game mark, Stanton admits it is something she'll look back upon fondly at the end of her career, particularly given the unknown nature and short seasons of AFLW.
"I think the concept is you just want to play as many games as possible based around that short season, so the numbers may be a bit different in relation to how we see the men's competition," Stanton said.
"It's just how many seasons will we play and how long can you hang on a list for, and with how I started (reaching 50 games) wasn't something that I was thinking about ever. It was just how do I keep staying on a list and how do I keep getting better."
But get better she has. After two seasons with Brisbane, Stanton was head-hunted by North Melbourne during the AFLW's first round of expansion. She spent a year in Victoria playing every possible game for the highly talented Kangaroos in 2019, before being drawn back to Queensland when Gold Coast joined the competition the following year.
Along that journey, Stanton has played under four different head coaches, each seemingly coming into her life at the right moment.
"I couldn't have had a better first coach in terms of 'Starce' (Craig Starcevich)," Stanton said.
"His ability to make you feel comfortable and confident when I wasn't at all, and to make me feel really connected to the group when I was super new to the sport was just something that he's very good at. He puts a lot of trust and a lot of confidence in his players, and I think that's why he gets the best outcomes."
Two seasons in and established within the AFLW, Stanton's move to the Kangaroos meant working with now-Sydney coach Scott Gowans, who allowed the midfielder to challenge herself strategically.
"He's very game smart, he loves his numbers … and that really intrigued me in terms of the way I operate. I am very much a footy head so listening to 'Scotty' talk about the numbers was interesting to me," Stanton said.
Happy at North Melbourne, the appointment of former-Brisbane midfield coach David Lake as Gold Coast's inaugural head coach was the driving force behind her move back north.
"I was actually quite happy in Melbourne at the time and wasn't looking at coming home when Gold Coast got their license, but (Lake) influenced me at Brisbane as my direct line coach, and then him getting the job at Gold Coast definitely sealed the deal, it really convinced me to even look in the first place," Stanton said.
And now the SUNS are led by Cameron Joyce, a quietly-spoken former administrator at North Melbourne who Stanton notes is a combination of her previous three coaches.
"He's dealing with a really young group and trying to bring us all along at the same time," Stanton said.
That guidance has also helped Stanton work through recent tough periods when injury has kept her on the sidelines. In 2021 she missed the last month of the season with a fractured ankle, and last season it was a dreaded ACL rupture in round two that kept her off the field.
Before those injuries Stanton admits she was always chasing more, nothing was ever enough. But now she's got a little more perspective.
"Post two injuries, and especially off the back of the ACL, things can always be worse. Both (injuries) have definitely helped me become a better athlete, yes, but more importantly, a better person through the resilience concepts that you need to show and even just understanding yourself," Stanton said.
But game 50 will mean playing against West Coast at Heritage Bank Stadium, the same opponent and same venue where she injured her knee a year ago.
"I've definitely thought about it. As soon as the draw came out it was definitely something that crossed my mind," Stanton said with a laugh.
"I did think bloody hell AFL thanks for that one, but it was one of those unique ones where sometimes you never get to play that opponent again, especially in AFLW, sometimes we don't play teams for years … it's definitely been one where the mental battle for that has been quite strong."
For now, however, it's getting back to the week-by-week process, preparing for the coming games accordingly. It just so happens that it will be the first time a SUN reaches game 50.