Jenna McCormick juggling AFLW and W-League careers with Matildas aspirations

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Updated

February 10, 2019 11:05:54

The AFLW competition is littered with so many dual-code athletes that their existence has almost become commonplace.

In fact, the ephemeral nature of the AFLW has made it essential for players to have other pursuits away from the code, sporting or otherwise.

However, the majority of those with the skill to excel in more than one sport have been forced to choose, or at least prioritise one over the other.

Not so Jenna McCormick.

After playing a full W-League season with the Brisbane Roar, last weekend McCormick jumped straight into the fold for the Adelaide Crows in the AFLW season opener at Norwood Oval — having taken part in just two pre-season sessions in the week.

On Sunday, she will be back in orange, playing at centre back for the Brisbane Roar in a W-League semi-final against Sydney FC.

Playing two completely different sports in the space of eight days at a high level shows off McCormick’s remarkable versatility, leading to her being referred to as “queen of the juggling act” by her Crows teammates, but how can an elite athlete manage to play two different sports on alternate weekends at an elite level?

World Cup aspirations

McCormick is in a unique position.

An inaugural premiership player with the Crows in the AFLW, the 24-year-old has risen to become a key member of the Brisbane Roar’s W-League championship tilt.

Originally, the plan was for McCormick to play half a season with the Brisbane Roar before returning to Adelaide at the start of 2019 to focus on preparing for the AFLW season.

However, McCormick’s impressive performances at the heart of the Roar’s defence prompted a slight change of plan.

Playing alongside Matildas defensive stalwart Clare Polkinghorne, who McCormick describes as “an outstanding footballer”, in a defence that has conceded just 12 goals all season — the second best in the competition — it was only natural McCormick began to enter the conversation over who should be a part of the Matildas World Cup squad for France this coming June/July.

With an opportunity to play for her country in a World Cup seemingly a possibility, McCormick began to assess her options, and decided to stay with the Roar for the rest of the season.

However, as the Roar had already made the finals, McCormick was permitted to miss the final game of the regular season and travel down to Adelaide to play in the season opener against the Western Bulldogs.

‘Split my brain in half’

The reintroduction was a tough one for McCormick and the Crows, losing a nail-biter against the Bulldogs 1.11 (17) to 2.6 (18), with McCormick registering seven disposals and kicking a minor score.

“It was a little bit tricky to go straight in,” McCormick said, after being involved in just two sessions with her Crows teammates as she focused on her Roar commitments.

“I did blow out a few cobwebs and I tried to get as much help, and talk to the coaches as much as possible to just get some game reminders and stuff like that, but I tried my best and went in there and gave it my all and I just appreciate them backing me, even though I haven’t really been involved as much.”

Missing out on pre-season is not an ideal situation for any club, but of any club in the AFLW, Adelaide is perhaps best suited to cope with the inconvenience, with the playing staff split between Adelaide and Darwin.

In fact, the year the Crows won the title, the split was almost 50:50, and although that has skewed in favour of Adelaide over the past two seasons, that split still exists, although, as McCormick points out, the girls in Darwin are still focused on football, not a different sport entirely.

“It’s a unique situation verses the Darwin girls because they are still up there training and playing footy and are footy-focused, whereas I am having to split my brain in half,” she said.

“The tactical side of it is probably where I need to just fine tune and keep thinking about when I’m preparing to go back in, but it’s been difficult not being there and running out a full-field drill.”

Adelaide for footy, Brisbane for soccer

Living and playing in two separate cities might sound complicated, but in McCormick’s mind, it has actually helped compartmentalise the two different sides of her sporting career.

“Going back to Adelaide just for last week, it did allow me to say, ‘Ok, I’m in Adelaide, I know why I’m in Adelaide: playing footy’,” she said.

“That’s got to be what I focus on instead of having a bit of a blend of two like last year when I was playing with Adelaide United.

“I managed, but it was really, much more difficult because I was in Adelaide for both the sports, training one day, bouncing to footy the next, even some in one day, so it kind of did jumble my head a little bit more.

“Whereas this year, I found it a little bit easier to do it because I’m in Brisbane and I know I’m here to play soccer.”

Despite showing remarkable maturity in dealing with playing two different sports in two different cities, the routine is still tough on McCormick, but she credits the support of her teammates at both clubs in helping her manage the dual commitments.

“It was the toughest conversation that I had to have,” McCormick said.

“Talking to the girls [in Adelaide] about my decision and about wanting to stay and chase my dream, that was really tough, but I knew that those were the girls that were going to have my back.

“As soon as I told them they all got around me and gave me a hug and said, ‘No matter what you decide to do, we will support you’.

“Those girls really make my life easy and I feel like I have their blessing, because I do and I know they support me and what I want to do.

“They have been incredible in the support they have given me.”

Tipping point

Last season, McCormick had reached tipping point.

The 24-year-old had been playing in the W-League since 2012, first with Adelaide United, then Canberra United before nominating, and being selected in the inaugural AFLW draft by the Adelaide Crows.

After winning the 2017 flag with the Crows, McCormick ventured overseas to Norwegian top-tier soccer team Medkila, but did not enjoy the experience.

The following W-League season didn’t go to plan either, after Adelaide disappointed in finishing dead last with just three wins all year.

A return to Adelaide to be closer to the AFLW side for pre-season in theory made sense, but in reality, left the then 23-year-old feeling jaded and confused, and read to give up on soccer all together.

“Eight months ago, I actually had decided that I wasn’t going to play W-league this year,” McCormick said.

“I didn’t like it, I hated the sport.

“I had come off two bad seasons, team-wise. Personal-wise, it was just not a great experience, so I was sort of down in the dumps there.

“Having AFL there to bounce back to and play with the NT Thunder during the winter, it brought me back up and made me love that sport and that was the kind of direction I wanted to go.”

Then, Roar coach Mel Andreatta called, asking if McCormick would consider joining the team for half a year before her AFLW commitments.

Unwilling to completely give away the sport she had played for so long, she accepted the offer and hasn’t looked back.

“I’m so glad that I made that decision, because I do have the passion back and I want to go places with it,” McCormick said.

“I think it’s been the best season that I’ve played throughout my career, and I am in a really good mental space and this move up to Brisbane has paid off and I’ve really enjoyed my soccer.”

Stats back up Matildas claim

It has certainly been a phenomenal season for the youngster, one that has put McCormick firmly in contention for a spot in the Matildas squad ahead of the Cup of Nations tournament next month.

That is certainly the view of coach Andreatta.

“With a central defender, you want them to be able to win the ball and protect the goal at all costs, and she’s shown she can do that,” Andreatta said.

“In a system that really values build-up and controlling the game with the ball but also looking to win it back as soon as possible at the right moment, she’s been key for us.

“Having that experience of Polks beside her and Macca behind her and the midfield in front of her, it just lets her shine and focus on herself a bit more, so it’s been pleasing to see.”

With the Matildas traditionally playing a similar brand of football to the Roar, Andreatta believes McCormick will fit into the national team set-up, regardless of who the new coach is.

“The Australian way is to play a proactive brand of football that values possession, and she’s shown that she has the attributes to do that and I think if she’s given that opportunity, she’ll take it with two hands and see where it goes.”

Andreatta confessed to checking the stats before signing McCormick, and pleasingly for the Roar coach, the numbers backed up her initial observations, and continue to do so.

According to Opta statistics, McCormick has a passing success rate of 83.5 per cent this season, one of the best of any central defender in the competition.

She also has the highest tackle percentages of any centre back in the W-League, particularly when measured against some of the players expected to be in contention for a spot in the Australian team.

Statistics from selection of W-League centre backs

Played Pass % Total Passes Clearances Blocks Interceptions Tackle %
Jenna McCormick 11 83.5 546 54 4 17 78.6
Clare Polkinghorne 12 74.0 547 74 10 28 55.2
Laura Alleway 11 74.0 480 69 4 11 75.0
Hannah Brewer 11 70.6 415 51 7 15 77.3
Alanna Kennedy 10 75.5 392 54 4 19 58.3

Statistics from Opta

Where to now?

“Look, if both the sports were summer and winter it would make my life easier,” McCormick said with a wry smile.

“I would just play all year round, but unfortunately because they are both in the season I am trying to do it the best I can, because I do love footy and I love the Adelaide Crows.

“They treat me so well and have always been a really big supporter of me and I never want to leave that club and I want to stay and try and do both for as long as I can.

“If situations change and I get opportunities in soccer elsewhere … I might have to consider what I do from there, but, at the end of the day, for me, representing my country, that’s the number-one priority and they are fully aware of that and if I was to get an opportunity then I would have their full blessing.”

“In terms of anything internationally that will come up with the Matildas, I’m trying not to focus on it,” McCormick said.

“I’m trying to just go ahead and keep playing and really just having fun. That’s been my motto all year, just have fun, enjoy myself, playing with the like of [Polkinghorne] and [Matildas goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold], it’s easy to have fun.

“I’m just hoping that I finish the season well and if something comes of it then I’ll be extremely proud and grab it with both arms.”

Topics:

sport,

australian-football-league,

soccer,

australia,

qld,

brisbane-4000

First posted

February 10, 2019 11:02:18



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