A lot can happen in a year. In February of 2021, Sarah Hunter was getting her first taste of senior football. Just 10 months on, she is in the starting eleven for the reigning premiers.
“It’s been really good,” says the midfielder of her move to Sydney FC.
“It’s quite a young squad so it’s quite an easy transition. I know quite a lot of the girls from before as well, so it’s been quite easy.
“All the coaches and off the field staff have been quite welcoming.”
Hunter burst onto the national scene with the Western Sydney Wanderers last season. She was a valuable contributor as the club made a late but unsuccessful surge for the finals. A memorable brace instantly made her a player to watch.
When Sydney FC came calling, she decided to make the move.
“Sydney FC has been so successful for so many years now and they’ve produced so many Matildas. They’ve always developed young players into stars.
“I think it’s the best club in Australia to push myself to that next level.
“At Sydney, that’s probably the best place for me to do that whether I’m starting or not.”
Sydney FC were propelled to success last season by a dominant midfield of Theresa Polias and Clare Wheeler.
This season, both departed the club but the team has not missed a beat. They have won their first two matches convincingly, with Hunter starting both games in central midfield alongside Taylor Ray.
Despite the departure of a club legend and a senior Matilda, the new recruit has not felt under pressure.
“Listening to the girls from last year, they’ve obviously left a massive hole,” she says of her predecessors.
“Coming into it I wasn’t really stressed about it. No-ones been putting any added pressure on me and Taylor Ray who’ve stepped into that role.
“No-ones really made comparisons or measured us against those girls that have left, we’ve been able to play our individual ways.
“I don’t have pressure on myself to fill those shoes, im just playing my own way, its been only two games but hopefully I help the team positively like those two girls did last year as well.”
Hunter is an attacking midfielder with ball-winning ability to compliment her passing ability and scoring potential.
She admires players who have played in similar roles. Creative, technical players who can help out in the attack.
“I love Chloe Logarzo, her workrate…she’s always tenacious and winning balls in the midfield so I always try and implement that side as well.”
As a Chelsea supporter, football fanatic and fellow midfielder she is an avid fan of Frank Lampard.
“I love watching old games of them playing…he was a scoring midfielder as well. I take inspiration from those guys, playmakers joining in the attack.
She displayed her full array of talents in the two-goal game against Adelaide United last season and was awarded player of the match.
“I wasn’t even thinking about scoring,“ she says of her first goal.
“It was my second starting game, scoring wasn’t really on my mind but when it happened it was like a blur, honestly it was so good.
“All my friends were at that game so it was the first game in Sydney that I had played so I had all family and friends coming to watch.
“It was such a great moment just to share that with the girls on the pitch and obviously everyone watching me as well.”
“I don’t know how I did it”
To the general football public outside NSW, she appeared to be an overnight sensation. But Hunter did not have an easy route to the top level.
“I had lots of injuries as a junior… pretty much from under-12’s I had injuries almost every year until last year.
“I’d been getting selected in institute programs, but I never really got to the levels I wanted in my juniors. I never got to play junior matildas because I’d done my ACL.
“I think last year at Wanderers was the first time I thought, ‘Yeah I’m good enough.’”
When the opportunity did arrive, it came with new challenges. Hunter was embarking on her first year as a professional footballer while simultaneously completing High School.
“Now looking back, I don’t actually know how I did it,” she reflects.
“I was waking up to be training in the morning at Wanderers, and I live in north Sydney so I was travelling 45 minutes to an hour every morning for training.
“Then driving an hour back to school and getting back to school on a lot of days after recess.”
Her hectic yet disciplined schedule also had to include interstate flights for away trips as she balanced her emerging career with completing Year 12.
“Term one and two were really tough but I had lots of support at school.
“My school was brilliant with it. It was challenging but I had lots of support around me.
“School maybe got pushed to the back while I was in the season. I think it was good I could just enjoy it… I definitely made up for it in the later terms, I think.”
COVID-19 famously played havoc on the football calendar last season but also the academic one. For young players like Hunter that meant sitting HSC exams during pre-season.
It was a challenge that she met and she can now focus on football.
“Now that it’s done it is a massive relief to be able to recover and take the time after training to get your body right instead of going to school and spending the rest of the day there.”
Occasionally, the two worlds overlapped. Hunter is rightly admired by A-league supporters but when Sydney FC signed her, they also acquired a group of new fans
Last season, she was raucously cheered on by school friends and family. An enthusiastic entourage celebrating every touch of the ball. They were interviewed for the broadcast in one of last season’s best off field moments
“I got a lot of them tickets and I have a big family as well, so it becomes a big group,” She says of the Sarah Hunter Fan Club.
“They were very loud, obviously with teenage girls screaming it’s going to be quite loud. It was really fun to have them there.
“Everyone enjoyed it I think, maybe not the people sitting right next to them, but it added to the atmosphere.
“Getting interviewed, they loved it as well. Everyone was just having a good time really so that’s what it’s all about.”
So far, they have already had plenty to cheer about. Sydney FC are aiming for trophies this season and Hunter is eager to continue contributing for the club.
“It was a bit of a surreal moment (last year) but coming into my second season, seeing a few of my friends get called up to the Matildas it obviously something I want to achieve…. I’m focussed on performing well week in week out.
“I want to help the team, score some goals as well and just be a consistent player in the squad.”