Ellyse Perry has had the sporting world fall at her feet recently and will continue to pull double duty while she can.
When Ellyse Perry became the youngest dual international in history at 16 years of age, the question was immediately raised as to how long she could maintain a commitment to both football and cricket at an elite level before being forced to choose between the two.
So, after six years of juggling training, teams and tournaments, is it time for one sport to make way?
Perry experienced her first major scheduling clash recently, during a three way tug-of-war between W-League finals, domestic cricket finals and a cricket World Cup.
“Choosing which matches to play, was not a decision I took lightly. It was made in conjunction with many people. Ultimately I-ve always gone with my gut feeling, what I feel most comfortable with, and what is best for the teams and people I-m involved with,” Perry said.
In a happy twist of fate, every one of her teams won and Perry has started the year with a W-League title, two domestic cricket titles and a World Cup cricket trophy.
While those decisions were difficult, the talented multi-tasker has no wish to give up either sport but admits that being forced into a decision could only be a good thing.
“I think if in the future I am forced to make a choice between the two then that is great. It means that one or both of these sports have progressed to a point professionally and technically, where players are doing it for a living and fulltime commitment is a necessity. And that would be a positive development in women-s sport”.
Unfortunately, it-s unlikely that women-s sport in this country will reach that financial milestone in the near future. Development of pathways and programs across all sports continues to improve, but only a handful of females can make their living solely through sport, and for them, that usually means competing for overseas clubs.
For female footballers the financial side still has a long way to go, but the professional approach of the sport has certainly advanced.
For Perry, the first indication of this brave new world for women-s sport, came when Jitka Klimkova, coach of Perry-s W-League club side at the time, laid down the ground rules for her players ahead of the 2012/2013 season. One stipulation was that if the players wanted to be with Canberra United, then they had to be available in Canberra for all training sessions.
With her club cricket and university commitments (a double degree in Economics/Social Science) based in Sydney, Perry found herself at an impasse and linked up with Sydney FC for the new season.
That brought her football career full circle and back to Alen Stajcic, the coach who handed her, her first Matildas cap in 2007 (for an Olympic Qualifying match in Hong Kong). Perry scored in the 8-1 win, just two weeks after her debut as a cricket international.
Stajcic has been aware of Perry-s unique situation since she was a junior in his NSWIS program, and so had a back-up plan in place for the weeks she was unavailable.
“We agreed on a plan before the season, and the team understood the way it would work. Unfortunately Ellyse had a couple of injury concerns, but in most games was an influential part of our team. She is very focussed and has a fantastic work ethic - at the end of training or matches, she is always the one packing up the equipment and helping out”.
The perception of special treatment is something that has potential to cause a rift within teams, but Stajcic said that was not a problem at Sydney. “She keeps it all very low key and any players who had concerns before her arrival have now become completely supportive of her career. They-ll watch the cricket matches she plays in and are proud of her achievements”.
Head of the W-League at FFA, Damien de Bohun (who was previously at Cricket Australia), says having such a talented athlete who can excel at both sports is a real asset.
“We are proud of Ellyse-s achievements and will continue to support her in her career. We want to look after players as individuals, while acting in the best interest of the W-league. Ellyse is a fantastic advertisement for what females are capable of, and it-s great for both Football and Cricket”.
With the W-League in hiatus, the focus of Women-s football is now on the Matildas as they gear up for the Asian Cup and World Cup qualification.
It-s a new beginning for the national team and Perry, who is undergoing treatment for bone impingement in her ankle, missed the first training camp held by Hesterine de Reus. But the new coach is certainly not ruling anyone out as she assesses the women and puts plans in place for the coming months.
She is however, adamant, that all players must give their football top priority as the team begins its quest for international glory.
“We will require the players to be highly committed to the program if we are to be competitive. There are sometimes difficult choices to be made and it is not always black and white, but commitment to football has to come very high on the list”.
So, while the decision to play for the Matildas is ultimately up to the coach and selectors, if Perry makes it into de Reus- squad, there may be more difficult choices ahead. For now though the status quo remains.
University lectures will continue to be sandwiched between training sessions and tournaments, but that-s just how one of Australia-s best known and most talented athletes likes it.
“It keeps me busy. In sport there is a limited lifetime, so I-m enjoying the moment. I feel very fortunate to be in this situation and am hugely grateful for the opportunities and support that I get from both sports”.