Eight years ago, on a scorching hot Saturday in Sydney, I witnessed something that I've never forgotten.
NOVEMBER 2009: A STAR IS BORN
I was sat outside Leichhardt Oval’s modest media box covering a W-League game between hosts Sydney FC and Perth Glory in front of a few hundred of the faithful.
An entertaining clash at the elite level of Australia’s domestic women’s game, it went 5-2 to the Sky Blues.
But the game was remembered by me because of an unknown 16-year-old playmaker/striker in the purple shirt of Perth.
After the game I spoke to a colleague and predicted, “Today, I saw the future of women’s football in Australia... potentially the greatest footballer in the world.”
Her name? Sam Kerr.
‘Picking up possession just inside the sky blues' half,' I wrote back then, 'the pint-sized playmaker wriggled clear of her markers and launched an audacious 35 yard shot into the top corner to light up Leichhardt Oval.'
She reminded me instantly of Maradona. It was voted goal of the season.
Kerr had another audacious effort from long-range a few minutes later just to remind Sydney she could do anything she wanted to.
Kerr was a natural. And she was doing it with a smile on her face.
That sort of natural talent, athleticism and confidence just can’t be coached (sport ran in the family, too, her brother is former AFL star Daniel Kerr).
The opposition coach that day was one Alen Stajcic – the man who’s engineered Australia’s rise as a women’s football power since 2014 and one of the most respected coaches in women’s football both here and globally.
“Staj” knew all about this kid from East Fremantle who'd played AFL til the age of 12 before switching to the world game, mentoring the youngster in national age teams.
"Linda [O’Neill] had a great game on her but Sam is fantastic," said Stajcic at the time. "I've watched her develop as a player since she was 12. Glory have three or four of the best attacking talent in the country in Sam, Lisa De Vanna, Kate Gill and Collette McCallum."
SAM SPEARHEADING AUSTRALIA'S RISE
By 2009, Kerr had already debuted as a Matilda aged just 15 – solid proof of Australia’s ability to plan for the future.The following year she was an Asian Cup winner.
And that future is reaping huge dividends right now – spearheaded by the fabulous Kerr, now 23 - and a clutch of experienced yet young Aussie teammates and established stars in leagues all over the world
It hasn’t been a straight line – injuries have stymied Kerr’s rise. She’s played club football in Australia and the US with success but not at the level her potential suggested back then.
But right now, aged 23, she’s where I thought she might be. She’s got it all – and is back playing with a smile on her face.
She’s learnt that to just enjoy herself – not to take her football too seriously – it is the default mindset that brings out the best in her.
Kerr’s a huge star in the US NSWL with Sky Blue FC, top scorer in the league, and Australia’s X-factor on the international stage after tormenting Japan at the Tournament of Nations on Monday.
She’s the star of her own goal-scoring virals from the W-League and NWSL (and now famous somersault goal celebrations, which have certainly improved since the Asian Cup of 2010) and has the look of a winner who can do anything.
Just like that day in 2009.
And the next four years, under Stajcic’s canny guidance, she’ll only get better.
Around 50 caps down, the next 50 should be something to behold.
I finished my report back in 2009 with this prediction... “Remember that name...Sam Kerr.”
SEE SAM LIVE IN OZ
Australia, your latest football superstar Sam Kerr is here.
See her in action on Aussie soil this September for the Matildas versus Brazil, and during Season 10 of the Westfield W-League.
My latest prediction? She’ll be deemed world’s best player by the time of the next World Cup.