Teresa Polias’ decade-long career has seen her play a FIFA World Cup, win a Grand Final, captain a major club, play an Asian Cup, be voted Player of the Year by her peers, as well as record the second-most number of appearances in the history of the W-League.
The Greek Australian midfielder was present at the inception of the W-League in Australia in 2008, and spent her first two seasons playing for the Central Coast Mariners. It was the move to her hometown club of Sydney FC that saw her career really take off.
Polias’ outstanding form in the 2011-12 campaign saw her awarded the Sky Blues Player of the Season, and the following term she played every minute of every game as Sydney FC won the 2012-13 W-League Grand Final.
With all this success and accolades, Polias isn’t a household name such as fellow Matildas stars Sam Kerr, Kyah Simon and Lisa De Vanna. Instead the 27-year-old prefers to shun the limelight. As a defensive-minded player, Polias’ name is rarely shouted loudly by commentators but that all changed last weekend with her 25-yard screamer against Melbourne City.
The highly skilled midfielder told Neos Kosmos she felt mixed emotions at scoring the first goal of her W-League career.
“It was a feeling of euphoria, I honestly haven’t really felt that before,” she says.
“It also kind of embarrasses me, that it was my first goal but it makes me feel proud at the same time if that’s possible. I am so proud I have something to show for the past 10 years in my career, and eight years at Sydney FC.
“As a defensive midfielder, sometimes you don’t have anything to show for your hard work. My position as a holding midfielder is quite conservative so I can’t be too risky in the game. I’ve got to get the ball and give and go. I’m kind of starting the attack. I’m not so much a game changer; I’m more of a stabiliser. That’s my role, to break things up on the other end defensively. Now that I have one goal, I am happy with that, but I’d also like to think that I’ve also stopped a few in my time.”
Polias’ goal may have been her first in 107 games but in the context of Sydney FC’s season it could be crucial to their championship hopes. The Sydney FC captain says the 3-2 comeback victory over last season’s W-League champions, and ending a three-game losing run were more important than the goal.
“While it was a great feeling, importantly it got us level again with a chance to win the game, and in the end, we did,” she says.
“I’m a pretty simple person; I couldn’t care less if I had scored or not as long as we had the win and got our season back on track, that is the main thing.”
Polias’ leadership attributes were first noticed by current Matildas coach Alen Stajcic, who made her club captain at the beginning of her fourth season with Sydney FC, and the 27-year-old says she relishes the duty.
“I became captain in 2014 during Stajcic’s last season as coach,” she says.
“When I took on the role I never imagined myself becoming captain. It’s a huge, huge honour to become captain of the club you love and to have the respect of your teammates as well.
“I’m not the most outspoken leader, I don’t talk a lot. What I do try and do is lead by example and there are a lot of ways you can lead. We are lucky at Sydney FC that we don’t just have one leader, we all bring something different to the leadership – I don’t lead alone so that is the best part of it.”
Sydney FC’s current W-League coach is former Socceroo and Sydney Olympic star Ante Juric and he says Polias possesses a different quality than most of her peers.
“She makes good decisions with good skills and high quality on the ball,” he tells Neos Kosmos.
“Her technical ability is her number one thing. She is a good link player for us and she helps us move the ball from the back to the front. She reads the game well and is also a tireless worker – overall she is a fantastic footballer. I really like her style as she has a good passing range and there is a lot she has got going for her.”
Polias’ form with Sydney earnt her an opportunity to be part of the Matildas squad that made history at the 2015 World Cup in Canada, and she says that opportunity was down to playing in the domestic competition.
“Playing in the W-League is a huge reason why I earnt more caps for Australia,” she says.
“I owe that to the W-League. That is what enabled me to get games and showcase myself as a player and improve.
“I was fit in the lead-up to the World Cup in 2015 in Canada but unfortunately I had some injury issues and even though I was at the World Cup, I wasn’t able to get some game time.
“Even though I had a hard year injury-wise, I’m not going to use that as a negative. I achieved something that was a major goal in my life when I went to my first World Cup.”
At night and on the weekends, Polias is all about football, but her weekdays are spent as a primary school teacher at McCallums Hill Public School and she says creating a career outside sport was important.
“At this point in time you can’t really live off playing football as a female player,” she says.
“I love teaching, at this point, I would never give it up. I am fortunate to be part of the journey that started the process of making football professional, maybe in my lifetime I might be able to experience that and become a professional player and not have to work separately.
“If I am not able to do that I’m okay because it’s the contribution that I’ve made to the game over 10 years that I’m privileged to be a part of.”
After a decade of experiencing the highs and lows of playing top-level football, Polias says she discovered a valuable lesson that only came to light recently.
“You know what? My enlightenment is that I will never take football for granted,” she says.
“I’ve been through patches where I’ve gone, ‘No, I’ve had enough’, and I say to myself ‘Oh, I’m only going to play for one more year’. Now I’m like, ‘No way! I want to play for as long as I can.’ I’ve learnt that football is part of my soul. I’ve been through euphoria and devastation from football and all those feelings in between and all I know is that at the end of the day, it’s part of me and I will try and keep it with me for as long as I can.”