There was hardly a dry eye in the change rooms during Emily Bonser’s pre-game jumper presentation at Blacktown International Sportspark.
While other players have received their debut guernseys from former players or senior club officials, AFLW head physiotherapist Christine Goonewardene was bestowed the honour on Sunday.
You might be thinking that’s an odd choice, but Goonewardene and Bonser are not just colleagues - they are best of friends.
In fact, it was Goonewardene who helped Bonser bounce back from the toughest time in her football journey.
Not long after undergoing a double knee reconstruction in 2017, Bonser attended an international football camp, where she was a mentor to some of Western Australia’s most promising up-and-coming female football talents.
That’s where she met Goonewardene, who served as the camp’s senior physiotherapist.
Bonser said they hit it off immediately.
“It was a football trip called Aussie Sparks where a team of 18-20 girls go over to America and play a couple games in their big international comps,” Bonser said.
“They have all the states bring a team and play an AFL comp over the weekend. I was a mentor helping out the players and Chris was a physio and one of the tour managers. We got to know each other there.
“We just had a lot of good banter and a lot of fun. Not long after that she moved to Claremont Football Club to be the physio there and became a close friend of mine.
“She’s also been a big support in terms of my journey and getting back to where I am as a footballer.
“She put me in touch with (West Coast Eagles sports physiotherapist) Mark Finucane and (West Coast Eagles strength and conditioning assistant) Jordan Stares, which really kick-started my return back to playing.
“That was the turning point in my career in terms of getting back.”
The 24-year-old said she was overcome by emotion during the presentation and struggled to fight back the tears when she received her jumper from her close mate.
“I was actually pretty emotional; I’m a pretty emotional being,” Bonser admitted.
“I guess the fact that it has been coming for a pretty long time and that I’ve had a lot of challenges and adversity over the last four years made it emotional.
“Having one of my best friends and someone who has been such an important part of my journey present my jumper and say some really beautiful words was awesome.
“It was pretty emotional and I definitely cried, I won’t deny that.”
Bonser’s debut was a baptism of fire.
Greater Western Sydney got the jump on West Coast early and were never headed en route to recording a 28-point-victory at their home ground.
But the result hardly disheartened the Northam product, who said she learned plenty from the experience.
“It was fast and they were really hard at it,” Bonser said.
“Debuting in a game like that is tough, but I’ve got some really good points to take away and improve on.
“I’m already looking forward to our clash with the Bulldogs and improving as a squad and an individual.”