Jeff Hopkins’ first memories of Casey Dumont are of a tall teenager who was delightful off the field but breathed fire on it.
When Hopkins scouted the 15-year-old from the Gold Coast, Dumont stood 185cm tall, was one of the most talented young goalkeepers in the country and was full steam ahead on becoming the best.
Hopkins knew it, too, backing Dumont as his first-choice goalkeeper, at 16, as the then-Queensland Roar claimed the premiership-championship double in 2008-09, then another championship in 2010-11.
More than a decade later, they aim to share in another title as coach and player when their Melbourne Victory team meet Sydney FC in Sunday’s grand final.
“I owe him so much because he is the coach that scouted me for my very first season,” Dumont told AAP.
“I was a young 15-and-a-half when I first signed that contract with Roar so he was the coach that went ‘I’m going to take a bet on you’.
“He knows I’m good enough so if I ever have that little bit of doubt I can have a chat with him but he knows that if I need to be pulled in line he can do that direct approach.
“Obviously it’s been many years now and we’re friends as well, so it’s good to have that relationship too.”
Now 30, Dumont isn’t any less competitive.
But her journey has made her more relaxed, albeit with a steely edge.
As a youth international under Hopkins and part of a group of young goalkeepers, including Mackenzie Arnold, Brianna Davey and Lydia Williams, Dumont was, for some, the pick of the bunch.
Nobody was standing in Dumont’s way.
Then her own body did.
Dumont is matter-of-fact when she lists the various rare and not-so-rare serious setbacks that have plagued her career.
“2012 was the big hip injury. 2014 was the lacerated liver. 2015 was left ACL. 2020 was the achilles.”
Despite that, she keeps on coming back for more.
“The first injury it took me a long time to come back from it mentally and physically and it was just knowing that I am good enough to be playing and enjoying that top level,” she said.
“That was the biggest thing at the beginning. But now it’s purely just the desire and the love for it.
“There’s also the opportunities that come up from it, the people you meet, the team spirit and the passion. It’s all worth it in the end.”
Nobody is more impressed than Hopkins.
“Casey is a real special, special player,” Hopkins told AAP.
“I’ve seen and been through a lot with her in terms of her injuries. Her toughness is just amazing.
“She’s probably the toughest player I’ve ever coached and played with either – and I’ve played with a few tough ones.
“Some of the stuff she’s had to deal with, it just amazes me how she gets through it.”
Hopkins was charged with hauling Melbourne Victory out of the doldrums in 2016, and a year later, called on Dumont.
Their reunion helped Victory climb from cellar dwellars to premiers and dual semi-finalists between 2017 and 2019.
Then Dumont’s body got in the way again.
An achilles injury ruined 2020-21 before it even started.
Gabi Garton stepped in with a brilliant season in goal and Dumont watched from the sidelines, feeling “bittersweet” as Hopkins led Victory to their first championship since 2013-14.
As a coach, Hopkins is already in rare air, with his three W-League/A-League Women championships more than any other coach.
He sits equal with Alen Stajcic and Mike Mulvey for national league championships, on three apiece, and can go outright top if Victory beat Sydney FC in Sunday’s grand final at Kogarah.
Much like Dumont, Hopkins’ gentle giant persona belies a fierce career as a former hard-nosed central defender for Fulham, Reading and Crystal Palace, along with the Welsh national team.
“He knows what players are needed and what strengths and personalities make winning teams. He’s able to read that from the beginning,” Dumont said.
“But the biggest thing is he’s a really good coach on and off the pitch.
“He looks after the players on the pitch but he also looks after you off the pitch because he knows that life also impacts how you perform.”
When Garton stepped away ahead of this season, pregnant with her first child, Hopkins didn’t have to look too far.
There was Dumont, once again.
Post-achilles injury, the goalkeeper is in the “best shape” she’s ever been and has enjoyed an excellent return season, despite overcoming a bout of COVID-19.
Sometimes two journeys are just meant to intertwine.
On Sunday, they could come full circle, as Dumont attempts to claim her first championship in 11 years.
“Casey’s going to be really important to us this weekend with her voice behind the team,” Hopkins said.
“She keeps the team accountable, makes sure that everyone’s on their toes and she’s in absolutely cracking form as well.
“There’s some really strong individuals in the group. Physically, mentally as well. They’ve got an incredible resilience, incredible will to win.
“But also they’re very, very close as a group, they look after each other. Nobody messes with us out on the field. We get around each other. We look after each other.
“You add good individuals into a real good team culture and team environment and you’ve got a team that’s very, very hard to beat.”