Adelaide United defender Jenna McCormick. (Picture: Jenna McCormick/Twitter; Design: Will Cuckson)

With over 100 A-League Women’s games and two AFLW premierships headlining her career, Jenna McCormick has become one of the most accomplished and experienced current cross-code athletes.

Growing up in Mount Gambier in South Australia, Adelaide United and Matildas superstar Jenna McCormick has had a career packed full of experiences, resilience, and growth.

Playing cricket, football, and Australian rules football as a child, she was always destined to play elite-level sport in one way or another. Making her A-League Women’s debut for Adelaide United in 2012, it was football that won out before her love of the Sherrin took hold when the pathway opened up.

McCormick spoke exclusively to The Inner Sanctum about her sporting career as a whole, with it coming full circle with a return to Adelaide United this season.

“Growing up, I probably played every sport under the sun up until I was about 15-16 [years old] and then I dropped cricket competitively because it was obviously getting a bit too much,” McCormick told The Inner Sanctum.

“When I moved up to Adelaide from Mount Gambier for my last two years of schooling, I was involved in [the] local footy competition with Morphettville Park when they got their under-18 programs running. [I] have also played state footy and interstate tournaments and soccer for clubs as well.

“With footy, it probably wasn’t until I was 17 or 18 [years old that I stopped, although] I didn’t drop it but there wasn’t anything more I could play because there were no pathways and I’d kind of grown out of the underage state teams.

“I continued to play soccer in the NPL (National Premier League) in Adelaide and obviously picked up AFLW (AFL Women’s) when the league came in just sort of because of my history as a junior and just knowing that I loved the sport and wanted to play at that level now that the pathway had been established.”

Having played football professionally since 2012, McCormick has loved the game since she was very young. As the football pathway was more established in comparison to other women’s sporting codes, she found it easy to continue down that pathway.

“I grew up watching my dad play soccer every Sunday which is where I think I got my love for the sport and footy as well,” she said.

“In primary school and middle school, [I used to] just play with the boys in my grade [and I] was more of a natural talent so I guess if you are good at things you do tend to enjoy them more as well in that sense.

“I grew up just enjoying both of them because I was pretty good at them. I continued with soccer because there was more of a pathway, more of an established route that I could continue to play at the time at a competitive level.”

Having played with nine different football clubs in domestic leagues in Australia and overseas as well as internationally for the Matildas, McCormick has learned a lot about herself as a person.

She explained how playing in these environments has taught her “a lot of things” on and off the field.

“I’ve had good times and I’ve really hard times, they are challenging environments to go into especially if you want to be at the top level. [To] be putting yourself in environments that challenge you every day and every game, you are around better players and an overall general better environment,” McCormick said.

“You want to test yourself at that level and hopefully rise to that level and be in form and be available for selection for your national team so those were the intentions for going away to different leagues overseas.

“[It also depends on what] the culture and the environment is in those countries, you don’t always know how it’s going to be but you go over there with the intention of improving your football and playing for your country.

“It is a matter of riding the highs and the lows and learning as you go through. [It’s bout] challenging cultures and speaking different languages and just learning how the different countries work and how to live there.

“It’s all a hugely challenging experience so I’ve come out of it a better person and I’ve learnt a lot and I’ve got money can’t buy experiences that I’ve had in my life which is amazing and I have no regrets.”

More Crossing Codes

    Having made her debut in the A-League Women’s competition over a decade ago, McCormick has seen a vast array of change, with the goal of adding to the professionalism of the league.

    “I started out not earning a dollar and now we have minimum wages which is fantastic,” she said.

    “We’ve still got a way to go but it’s improved out of sight and having the PFA (Professional Footballers Australia) at least they’re helping us with getting environments with better standards and to hold clubs accountable. [That] is helping the league grow as well, so we’ve seen it grow with little to no standards to no money to staff, which are there all the time to help us out all the time.

    “[We’ve also got] minimum standard hotels and [the fact that we] fly the day before games so it’s great to see it improving but we still certainly have a long journey ahead and we are just happy to be paving the way for the girls who are born now to experience a fully professional league in ten years or so.”

    Having an extended career in sport isn’t just down to the individual, it takes a dedicated support team to help ride the highs and lows. For McCormick that has certainly been the case as she described the impact, her mother Lisa has had on her life.

    “Probably one person I’ve leaned on my entire life has been my mum, she’s always given me that guidance and support,” McCormick said.

    “Specifically in the football world, I feel like I’ve paved my own path and learnt from coaches that I’ve had throughout the years and taken little bits from each person and each experience and applied that to my life and my game.

    “That’s helped me I suppose walk my own path in football, as it is but my number one is definitely and undoubtedly my mum and my family.”

    McCormick’s life changed the moment that she was recruited in 2016 by the Adelaide Crows. As arguably the best AFLW team in the competition’s short history, winning three premierships, she reflected on her time in the program but also how the club was set up for success in the beginning.

    “It was really amazing to get picked up by the Crows, it was a bit of a whirlwind experience,” she said.

    “I’d gone from being only soccer orientated in my mind and life, to now having a competitive league in AFL as well which I’d always loved to play in so it was a really exciting journey that I knew that I was about to embark on.

    “The club is an amazingly resourced organisation to be in for an elite athlete. It was a really great environment, training-wise and facilities-wise [and] you really felt like a professional going into that league.

    “I think they set it up well from the get-go and from the beginning, obviously with the help from the AFL, it was a fantastic place to be and I know that it still is a really great place to be in that league.”

    Going into her first season in the AFLW, McCormick had not played much Aussie rules football having committed to Adelaide United during that period. Playing for the Crows from 2017 to the end of the 2019 season, she was a part of the first two premierships won under Bec Goddard and Matthew Clarke respectively.

    “I hadn’t played much footy going into that [year] so I was relying on sort of natural talent and natural ability to play sport at an elite level,” she said.

    “I know now it’s certainly more [focused] on skill and ability absolutely compared to the first season which is great to see.

    “I hope that one day I’ll be able to come back and play but it was a really cool place to be and certainly if you want to live and play and be an athlete at the elite level, they undoubtedly allow you to be that and give you sort of everything you need.”

    After being named in the Matildas squad in 2019 as part of the campaign on home soil against Chile, McCormick was able to play in front of her family and friends at Hindmarsh Stadium. Having managed four caps for the Australian national team, McCormick reflected on what that opportunity meant to her.

    “Being in the Matildas set-up is an incredible environment to be in, everything is sort of as you’ve dreamed of,” McCormick explained.

    “Ante Milicic was the coach at the time that gave me my opportunity and he was fantastic in his support and showing confidence in me. That’s all you sort of need as a player is to go out there and play like you know that you are good enough.

    “The group made my debut experience and my first international trip very special, so I can only thank and hold those girls in high regard for that experience and I will obviously never forget [it], but just being in that environment, you go up another level, it’s 150 per cent being strong mentally and physically all the time.

    “Once you are in that environment you do want to be back there and you don’t sort of want to let it go. As an athlete with aspirations to pursue that level, you want to be at that level all the time so it’s a great place to be.

    “It allows you to succeed and play how you know how to and the stakes are higher as well so the pressure is [higher] and there’s more pressure on you, more pressure on the team.

    “It’s important to have an established support network as well, psychologists are accessible and of course, my family are there to support [me] as well so that was really important and I’m really glad I had them to lean on during my experience in the national team.”

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