Melbourne Victory's Maja ready to continue proud Markovski tradition

In several ways, new Melbourne Victory signing Maja Markovski is emblematic of the changing face of the W-League: Weaving together hope and promise for the future with a grounding in Australian football's proud history.

For while worries of a total exodus of recognisable talent have been somewhat allayed -- thanks to the return of seasoned Matildas such as Emily Gielnik, Jenna McCormick and Tameka Yallop for this W-League season -- Markovski, 18, is part of an undeniable demographic shift in Australia's top-flight women's league: There are fewer internationals, and teams are getting younger.

As both the league and women's football -- in Australia and the world -- matures, it was inevitable that the W-League would have to face this challenge at some point; arriving at a crossroads where it will have to decide exactly what type of identity it wants to have going forward.

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But, although these conversations are of critical importance, the maturation doesn't have to mean that deep, existential questions of the future are the only topics up for discussion.

As it begins its 13th season, the W-League's coming of age means that the fruits born out of its foundation are increasingly on display -- every new young player that makes it their home walking on paths beaten by veterans that made it what it is today.

For the prospects whose opportunities this season have been so celebrated, their growth as footballers has come in the shadow of the competition; drawing inspiration from the likes of Kate Gill, Leena Khamis and Melissa Barbieri.

In the case of Markovski, her idol was Matildas and W-League icon -- and fellow new Victory signing -- Lisa De Vanna.

"[De Vanna] was the first player to get her name on my back," the teenager told ESPN. "There's a photo of us from about 2013 when she was first at Victory and we're standing back-to-back with each other.

"And now I'm playing with her. That's unreal."

Admittedly, while the league's greater discourse is one of youth promotion, Markovski will have to fight hard to earn every single minute she gets a chance to play this campaign.

An attacker by trade, the youngster finds herself vying for minutes against her hero De Vanna, as well as American import Catherine Zimmerman, and veterans Melina Ayres and Lia Privitelli -- a daunting prospect for anyone.

Nevertheless, despite perhaps some level of tempered expectations, Markovski's place in the W-League still carries with it a number of notable features that make her stand out from the pack.

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Per Australian football stats doyen Andy Howe, she will become the second-tallest player in the competition's history the first time she steps out onto the park this season and, given that she's still growing, it's almost certain she'll own that title sooner rather than later.

And fittingly, given the current direction of the sport, her arrival will take one of the most celebrated names in Australian football and write a new chapter in its history: this time centred on the women's game.

Though not to sleep on her father, Tom, who was a handy player in his own right and recorded over 200 games in both the NSL and the Victorian top flight, Markovski's uncle John is a bonafide legend of the Australian game.

Across almost two decades in the NSL with Sunshine, Preston Makedonia, Melbourne Croatia/Knights, Marconi, Morwell Falcons, Canberra Cosmos, Carlton SC, Perth Glory and the Football Kingz, "Jonesy" became a cult hero amongst fans as he scored 112 goals across 319 appearances. A member of the Olyroos famous squad at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, he also represented the Socceroos on 19 occasions.

"They're the reason why I started football," she said. "Both of them coached me and mentored me and it's really good to have them by my side.

"My uncle has told me to never get ahead of yourself, to always be setting goals for yourself, never be comfortable, keep working hard and not let anyone tell you that you can't do anything. That's probably the biggest thing that he's told me that's stuck with me."

Of course, Melbourne Victory coach Jeff Hopkins isn't in the habit of signing players based upon who they're related to or how tall they are, and Markovski -- like a number of players looking to break through this season -- will also bring bounds of exciting potential to the league.

An unused substitute for a short-handed Melbourne City in their round one draw with Newcastle Jets in 2019-20, Markovski was the recipient of the 2019 NPLW Victoria Rising Star award after a strong season with Box Hill United, which featured nine goals in league play and a visit to the final of the Nike FC Cup.

Taking an unorthodox path to the W-League, she played in a boys side at Spring Hills FC until the under-12s and, after a short stint in the Victorian NTC program, then started playing against grown women in the senior ranks of the Victorian state leagues as a 14-year-old, first with Heidelberg United and then at Pythagoras.

"She's a goalscorer," Hopkins told ESPN. "She reminds me a bit of [Natasha] Dowie as well -- her attitude.

"She wants to be in and around the goal all the time, she wants to be shooting and she is a really good finisher. We brought her into our preseason last year and were looking at her, but probably with the team we had we couldn't offer her a contract and she went over to City.

"She's got a great frame for a striker, she can be a target player but for a big player she's also mobile -- not one-dimensional -- she can get in the channels and get in behind or come short. But really what interests me about her is her ability to finish in and around the box. I really like that, I think we can see a lot more of her over the next few years."