In some ways, Jessica Matin’s arrival to the AFLW seemed to have happened overnight.
With Clara Fitzpatrick placed on the club's inactive list prior to Christmas, the 18-year-old from Beaconsfield – who was in the midst of completing her Year 12 exams – was given the call-up to replace the key defender just a few days later.
But for the decorated representative cricketer and footballer, it was a remarkable transition from dashed draftee to fresh-faced Saint almost a month-and-a-half in the works.
As the many pieces slowly fell into place behind the scenes, Matin also had to keep the news about her potentially landing on St Kilda's list a secret all the way up until late November.
Here's how Matin's incredible journey went down.
A nervous wait
In-between a suspended footy season, an entire winter spent in lockdown and an agonising build-up towards her Year 12 exams, there had been a lot of waiting around for the draft hopeful.
But the most protracted, agonisingly long hour of those past eight months came late in the piece on October 6: the night of the 2020 Women’s Draft.
Matin was one of 82 women invited to that year’s Draft Combine, with several clubs – including St Kilda – flagging an interest in three-time best-and-fairest for Beaconsfield.
“The day before the draft Peta called and wanted to ask a few of her own questions and that was about it. Nothing much else really happened (in the lead-up),” Matin told saints.com.au.
“I was just sitting in my room on FaceTime with a friend and watching the draft together.
“I had no idea if I got picked what round it would be, so I was kind of just sitting there and watching it not sure what to think, and then obviously I didn’t so I thought ‘oh well, that’s fine’.”
Fifty-seven players found homes ahead of the new year, and Matin appeared set to spend the upcoming summer in the whites.
Then the phone rang.
One door temporarily closes, another opens
“It was actually kind of quick,” Matin recalled.
“The draft ended and then 10 or 15 minutes after that Peta called again and just told me about coming to the Saints as a train-on player.”
Another call a few weeks later, this time from Head of Women’s Football Jamie Cox, presented an even greater opportunity.
With the Ireland-based Clara Fitzpatrick in doubt for Season 2021 due to ongoing Visa issues and delays through the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a very real chance a place on St Kilda’s list would open up.
“That was still a possibility. It hadn’t been confirmed that she wasn’t coming and they were just letting me know that it could be possible but nothing was confirmed yet,” Matin said.
“Not being able to tell anyone because I wasn’t confirmed yet – obviously I couldn’t tell anyone anyway – but having that in the back of my mind was exciting and scary at the same time.”
Sitting on a secret
It was just before her Physics exam – her last of Year 12 – when the news reached Matin: Fitzpatrick was set to be moved to the club's inactive list and a spot on the list was ready to open up.
All that needed to happen was for pen to go to paper and the 18-year-old would officially be a Saint for 2021.
Keeping the secret bottled up was trickier than she anticipated, especially considering one of her soon-to-be-official teammates was one of her closest friends, Tyanna Smith.
“T and I have played so much footy together through Beaconsfield and Stingrays, and it was just so funny not being able to tell her that I was going to join the Saints and we’d be teammates again,” Matin said.
“I actually didn’t end up telling her, everyone found out the day before I was going to come to my first training session and then she called me and asked ‘what is this?!’.
“I saw Alice Burke at school that day too because we both had the same exam. It was just so funny standing there and she had no idea that we were about to be teammates.”
Eyes on the new year
Now a month into her time at the Saints, the small forward – one of eight new faces for 2021 – is beginning to find her place in the line-up.
Building fitness has been a key focus for the youngster as Round 1 fast approaches, but with training four days a week and room left for weekly cricket matches and nets sessions for Dandenong, it won't be long until Matin is in full flight.
"It sounds like a lot, but I’ve actually managed it pretty well. I haven’t found extra worn-down or anything so it’s been good so far," Matin said.
“The Saints have been supportive of that too, but I’m definitely focussing on footy right now so I want to put all my time and energy into that and be the best I can.
“I do love footy a lot and it’s going to be good to put in the work and become a better footballer.”