Hawthorn veteran Jess Duffin celebrates a goal against the West Coast Eagles (Picture: AFL; Design: Will Cuckson)

Jess Duffin has done it all.

Taken the field for three AFLW clubs, three state cricket teams as well as donning the green and gold for the Australian Women’s Cricket Team. After deciding to hang up the boots at the end of AFLW season seven, she looks back at her cross-coding journey.

Retiring from the AFLW league, Duffin finishes with 42 games played over seven seasons for Collingwood, North Melbourne, and Hawthorn as well as All-Australian honours in 2019 season. She also finishes with a VFLW Lambert Pearce Medal (2018) won while playing for Williamstown.

Ahead of her final match in the brown and gold, Duffin spoke exclusively to The Inner Sanctum about her journey through cricket and Aussie Rules football.

Starting out

Starting out following in her brother’s footsteps, Duffin was drawn to cricket at a local level. Her dad and brother fostered this love along with her love of football, and it seemed like she was destined to play professional sport.

Playing Auskick until the age of twelve for Werribee, she looked to cricket to play elite sport as a young adult.

“I was pretty lucky, I grew up with two sisters and a brother so my brother was very competitive. My dad took us both out into the backyard and I got to do everything that my brother did,” Duffin explained.

“I’m very lucky that my parents both gave me the opportunity of doing both and I had such a competitive brother to keep the juices flowing in the backyard.”

Chasing cricket opportunities

Progressing through the pathways as a cricketer, Duffin attended a cricket training camp at under-12 level which saw her selected at state level for Victoria. She played from 2006/07 to 2016/17 for Victoria as well as stints for Western Australia (2015/16) and Queensland Fire (2018/19).

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Playing Australian rules football wasn’t an option for girls growing up, with pathways only truly coming to fruition with the establishment of the AFLW competition. This led Duffin to pursue cricket, where she got the chance to debut for Australia in all three formats.

Initially, she was selected in the 2006/07 youth national team that played against New Zealand A more as a leg-spinner than a batter. She took figures of 6/28 in the final match of this series against India.

Her one day international debut came on February 1 in 2009 against New Zealand at Cobham Oval, and two weeks later she made her T20 debut against the same opposition. She would go on to notch up 50 ODI games and 64 T20 appearances.

Following this, she was selected for the 2009 Women’s Cricket World Cup team, where she featured in six out of seven matches, scoring 81 runs.

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She speaks very highly of her time in the Australian set-up, and explains that even though she wasn’t able to play football, the silver lining was being able to delve into the cricketing world.

“My pathway’s a little bit different, there wasn’t really a football pathway when I was growing up and that really sort of stopped in terms of choosing,” Duffin explained.

“It wasn’t really a hard decision for me considering there was no kind of pathway in football, so if I was an 18-year-old now I’d certainly find it very difficult to choose a pathway. I guess I’m pretty lucky in terms of being able to play both sports at the highest level.”

Receiving baggy green 159 for the Australian Women’s Cricket Team, Duffin made her Test debut against England on the 22nd of January 2011 at Bankstown Oval.

She scored 30 runs from 71 balls in the second innings of that Test, where Australia took out the win by seven wickets.

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Duffin played three Tests for Australia, featuring in the 2011, 2013, and 2014 Ashes series, scoring 109 runs total over five innings.

When looking at her career in cricket, there isn’t much that she hasn’t done. Taking out the Player of the Final award in the 2012 ICC Women’s World T20 and 2013 Women’s Cricket World Cup as well as winning the Belinda Clark Medal for being the best Australian female cricketer, she has been simply exceptional.

She reflects on the best parts of her cricketing career out of a storied career.

“I was kind of reflecting on this the other day, asking me now I’ve done some really good things in cricket, obviously winning World Cups and winning the Belinda Clark Award, that’s probably two significant parts of my career,” she said.

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She speaks with fondness about her cricket career, particularly the days involved in the Australian team. Despite her accomplishments, she is incredibly humble and grateful for her opportunities.

“I was very honoured [to debut for Australia], I was 19 [years old] when I got first picked and never ever thought anything like that would happen,” Duffin said.

“As I said I’m very lucky, very grateful to have those opportunities that I had playing for Australia.”

Switching back

When speaking about what brought her to the AFLW program and how the league has grown, Duffin reflects on the state of professionalism in each league.

“I think it’s more to do with longevity I guess, in terms of how long we can play each sport for or kind of what the league is doing to keep us in the sport,” she said.

“[This is] in terms of are we professionally paid or are we part-time, so I think that’s why it was harder for me to make decisions as well in the early days… sports were part-time but you couldn’t really make a living off just one.

“Now that girls can make a living off both sports and really invest in that, I think we will find that the league continues to grow.”

Jess Duffin took total control in the second quarter against West Coast with three goals. (Image; @7AFL – Twitter).

A mentor in sport, a mentor for life

Coming into elite sport at a young age, Duffin has had many mentors in cricket and AFLW. When speaking about who’s helped her on her journey, she mentions another great Australian cricketer.

“I’ve obviously been really lucky to be around some really good athletes, Kristen Beams is probably one that I used to fall on when I was playing cricket,” Duffin said.

“She just had a really good cricket brain, but also just as really grounded in sport and life, she was a really good one that I fell back on.

“I’ve still got some really good friends from cricket and footy, and any time you kind of get stuck or are struggling a little bit you certainly find yourself sending them a message or seeing what they are up to.

“I’ve been very lucky that I’ve had such good people around me.”

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