Maddy Roberts’ story is one of perseverance.
After years of being overlooked for a spot on an AFLW list, she’s finally found a home at the Gold Coast SUNS, just an hour from the town of Pottsville she grew up in.
Roberts played 17 years of soccer before giving football a go, and only because a friend begged her to fill in for a team.
After that she couldn’t stop.
She even wore the same boots she used with the round ball.
Along the way she volunteered as a firefighter in her teenage years and was a foundation player at the Coolangatta Bluebirds.
This is her story.
Sheep, potatoes and chin wags:
Maddy Roberts was born in a small town called Armidale and grew up in a nearby town called Guyra.
Located in New South Wales, Armidale is level with Coffs Harbour but about a two-and-a-half-hour drive inland.
“There’s not too much to it, it’s just a cute little country town,” Roberts told SUNS Media.
“It’s pretty much just sheep, potatoes, farmers and chin wags to your neighbours over the fence.
“Everyone practically knows everyone and a lot of the people there are the Roberts’.”
As a kid her family relocated to Pottsville.
She was always an active child, so it was no surprise Roberts couldn’t wait to get involved in sport.
She signed up for soccer at her local club, but as she got older turned to playing senior women’s soccer at Kingscliff.
But she wouldn’t play the sport much longer, eventually trading it out for her new love of football.
In Roberts’ last two years of high school, and first two years out of school, she volunteered at her local fire station in Pottsville.
The minimum age to volunteer is 16, so Roberts and one of her school friends would go down after school and answer call-outs with the crew in the local area.
“I did it for four years and absolutely loved it and could see myself doing it long-term,” Roberts said.
“We went out to massive house fires - it was pretty surreal.
“There was one time I jumped on the school bus, said goodbye to mum then my pager went off.
“I ended up jumping off the bus, going back to the station and went back past my family home in the fire truck waving to mum and dad in the kitchen as we went past.”
She said while it was something she enjoyed doing, there were moments where the severity of the job opened her eyes.
“I remember just having goosebumps the first housefire I went to,” she said.
“It was a family home and you don’t know if anyone’s in there.
“That was a sickening feeling only being young and new to it.
“That was the biggest thing I went to, but the rest is normally little rugrats stealing cars and setting them on fire.
“That’s just your standard, that happened more than I ever thought it would.”
Roberts has only been playing football for about five years.
After helping her friend out as a fill-in, she was hooked and went along to sign up for Coolangatta in the club’s inaugural women’s team.
She was obviously still quite raw, and found it challenging to break the mould of 17 years of soccer.
“When you kick a soccer ball it obviously goes across your body so to get the straight-legged AFL kick was pretty hard to break out of,” she explained.
“When I get fatigued it starts coming out a little bit because you get exhausted and that leg just wants to swing back over.
“Other than that it wasn’t too hard to cross over.
“I do still miss soccer to a degree but not enough to want to go back to it.”
After playing the majority of her soccer career as a midfielder, Roberts was naturally suited to running and found the conditioning to be quite similar in AFL.
“I’ve always been a little runner so the roles I got on the field were mostly the positions where you need to cover a lot of distance.
“It was good that I didn’t have to start from scratch with the endurance (when switching to AFL).
“My mum said I never sat in the pram when I was little, I’d just run to pre-school and she’d push the pram with no one in it.
“I never wanted to sit down.”
But the most challenging part of taking up a new sport was adapting to a new set of rules.
“The first year I played there was a lot of whistle-blowing and I learnt really quickly what you should and shouldn’t do,” Roberts said.
“Sometimes I still feel like I’m learning because that whistle blows a lot in AFL compared to soccer and there are no offsides so that was challenging to adapt to initially.
“Once you get the rules down pat it’s a really exciting sport.”
Things started to pick up quickly from there.
Within 12 months, Roberts’ natural flair was identified and she was picked to represent Queensland.
She found herself on a plane to Tasmania to play for her state, still trying to get a grasp of the nuances of Australian football.
But after that experience, her confidence grew and so did her capabilities.
In 2017, after a few solid season with Coolangatta, Roberts was selected as a train-on player with the Brisbane Lions’ AFLW squad.
It was the inaugural season of the AFLW, and Roberts was now training at the highest level, fuelling her to know she was close to taking the next step.
But the Lions stayed healthy that season, which meant Roberts wasn’t required.
She went back to clubland with the goal of making 2018 the year she became an AFLW player.
But things took a turn for the worst.
She was overlooked completely at the draft and as a train-on player that season, left questioning whether she should still pursue her goal.
“There wasn’t much difference to what I was doing (as a train-on player) so it made me hungry to know that I was close,” Roberts said.
“Obviously I had a bit of developing to do and there were reasons why I wasn’t selected so it was just a matter of taking that setback and progressing from it.
“If you go the right way about things and genuinely want it bad enough, you’ll end up achieving your goals if you keep at it.
“That was a tough few years being so close but so far.”
When it was announced the Gold Coast SUNS would be entering the competition in 2020, Roberts’ mind was made up.
Path to AFLW:
Roberts only had eyes for the SUNS.
“As soon as I heard the SUNS were coming about, that was my focus,” she said.
“I was ready to put everything else behind me and I had eyes for nothing else but the SUNS.
“I was just charging straight for the red and gold.
“There was no question in my mind what I wanted - that’s what I wanted to achieve.”
She trained harder. And smarter.
“It was easier to work towards a goal you can chase so training became easier because the motivation was lifted to succeed,” Roberts said.
“Being in the reserve squad was just a teaser and I knew I couldn’t give up.
“There was just something in my blood where I knew I was close and I just trusted my gut feeling that if I tried hard enough I could reach it.”
Her first test came in mid-2018 when she was selected by the SUNS in the Winter Series.
She can still remember the feeling of pulling on the SUNS guernsey for the first time.
“You can’t help picturing yourself in this long-term,” she said.
“You put pressure on yourself to some degree because all you want to do is play great and end up playing for the SUNS.
“It felt good and it just made the dream even more tastier.”
She was overlooked at the draft again in late 2018, but instead held out for the second instalment of the Winter Series in 2019.
That was another step up from what she was used to, but she did enough.
Midway through the Series, she was announced as Gold Coast’s first priority signing for the 2020 AFLW season.
“When I was announced signed that was the most surreal moment of my life because I had never chased a dream for that long and actually got there,” she said.
“I’m someone who can overthink things, so I think because of so many years of doubting whether I was good enough, when it becomes a reality it’s not that easy just to click your fingers and break the doubt.
“Everyone was chasing the same dream but I was so happy that I got there and finally achieved mine.”
Now, all eyes are on the 2020 AFLW season.
“Just being a part of the SUNS in the first year is going to be a wicked experience,” Roberts said.
“I’m so grateful for the location I live in.
“I love representing this place. I love where I live. This is my home and it’s what makes me happy.”
“I’m eager to see how we go. I’ve got a good feeling about our team.”