After giving up pursuing cycling due to financial constraints, Jessica Sedunary took some time to work out how she could still participate in sport. For her, the chance as an injury replacement in a local football team presented itself and from there she was hooked on the game.
As a young child, Jessica Sedunary was similar to most elite athletes, she played every sport that she could. While having played an array of sports, Aussie Rules Football was not one of them. Growing up in Minlaton in South Australia, her parents were highly supportive of her sporting aspirations, doing all they could to help her live out her dream of playing elite sport.
Speaking exclusively to The Inner Sanctum, Jessica Sedunary talks through her journey through cycling as well as how she adopted Australian Rules Football playing for the Adelaide Crows, St Kilda Saints and West Coast Eagles.
“I was born down on the Yorke Peninsula so sport was pretty big down there, but my main sport when I was younger was hockey. I [played] state and was in SASI (South Australian Sports Institute) for that and dabbled in a bit of basketball and netball when I was younger,” Sedunary told The Inner Sanctum.
Moving closer to the city with her family, Sedunary was able to pursue cycling after being found in a talent search, this was a sport that she was naturally good at, leading to her participating in the youth olympics.
This ended when the financial demands were too much for her and her family, this left Sedunary feeling disillusioned with the world of women’s sports.
“Because we were living in the country, my parents were driving up for me to play hockey [which was] 200km [each way] sometimes 2-3 times a week, so mum and dad decided to move the family to the city as that would help with my dad’s work but also with all the travelling we were doing for my sport at the time,” she said.
“I did endurance and track endurance cycling, and pursued that [for a while], that got to a point where that became too expensive to pursue any longer so I actually took some time off of sport [in general]. I was pretty flat about women’s sport and the lack of opportunities due to financial constraints.”
After giving cycling away, Sedunary found her new sport by chance after playing mixed netball for a work colleague’s team. Not having much knowledge about the game of Aussie Rules Football prior to playing, Sedunary says she watched the AFL but didn’t “pay that much attention to the positioning and stuff like that.”
“I was [playing netball] with an old school mate and she asked if I wanted to come out and fill in for their [football] team because they were down on numbers and so I just decided to go out and go to a training session and I wasn’t very good at all,” Sedunary explained.
Being “one of the worst” in the team initially, she kept going out to play with her dad’s love of the game spurring her on, but one day she got her debut coming off the bench as an injury replacement during a game.
“[During the game] someone got injured and they said ‘Sedge’, you are on last minute’ and they said ‘you are on the ball’ and I didn’t even know what ‘on the ball’ meant, obviously in other sports you don’t really have an on-baller or a rover.
“[Overall] the training [sessions] were fun but I struggled a little bit with the skill execution of kicking and handballing but once I actually went out and played and realised the level of physicality and the level of effort required to play a game of footy, that was the part of footy that I fell in love with.
“Just being able to tackle and run hard, and then obviously being surrounded by a huge team, they were some of the reasons I fell in love with it.”
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Having grown up in South Australia, Sedunary nominated for the SA draft pool in late 2016. Despite this, she was not hopeful that she would be selected by Adelaide given the local talent that existed at the time considering her late move to footy.
Being selected with pick 119 overall by the Adelaide Crows in the first AFLW draft, Sedunary’s dream of playing elite Australian Rules Football was closer to coming true. She spoke about what it felt like to be apart of that inaugural side at the Crows and how it felt to realise her dream at the draft.
“I put my name in the draft and I just had my fingers crossed that I would get an opportunity. The best thing about footy was that I was literally playing because I loved it, it wasn’t to try and get to a national level or anything like that, whereas every sport I played in the past was about trying to be the best,” Sedunary said.
“When the draft came around I put my name in and got selected, that was a pretty special moment in itself because of all the effort and the work I put in and all the money that my parents had spent on trying to get me playing for Australia in hockey and cycling and stuff. It was nice to get that reward in the end and to feel like I kind of made it to the highest level in the sport that I was playing.”Embed from Getty Images
Playing for the Crows in the 2017 premiership, Sedunary and her teammates wrote themselves into the history books with the first ever AFLW premiership and the first of three for the club so far.
Sedunary reflects on what the premiership meant to the team considering the doubts that surrounded the team in regards to the lack of talent available in South Australia’s talent pool.
“To go on and win the premiership, you can’t get much better than that [and] it’s basically a dream come true,” she said.
“It was a bit of a shock because initially there was a lot of paper articles going around questioning whether Adelaide deserved a license and whether we had enough talent for a team, so it was one of those dream come true stories from start to finish. The bond that I have with those girls is really special and it’s good to see some of those young players are now some of the best players in the comp.”
After 15 games with Adelaide from 2017 through to the end of the 2018 season, Sedunary didn’t play a game in the Crows’ 2019 premiership season due to injury.
Leaving to head to St Kilda for the 2020 season, she managed only four games due to consistent injuries while at the Saints. Following this was a short stint at back at Adelaide in 2021, where she played only two games before taking up an opportunity to train with the Australian Cycling Team.
Throughout late 2021 and early 2022, Sedunary trained with the hope of making a career for herself in elite cycling before walking away in March 2022.
Speaking very candidly about her decision to walk away from cycling for the second time, Sedunary is content with following her heart back to the AFLW competition, when she joined the West Coast Eagles for season seven.
“I was given the opportunity to train with the Australian squad and live in that [cycling] world for a little while, [it was] such a massive experience for me and it was something that I was chasing prior to footy. [I got] the chance to come back to that and [this time] I came into the sprint world whereas when I did it when I was younger I was an endurance athlete,” she explained.
“I always wanted to be a sprinter so having my body develop and tested as a sprinter and getting into that program was exciting, but going back to an individual sport and competing at the highest level as an individual competing at the highest level, I found that very isolating.
“Having had the [previous] experiences of playing in a team and winning a premiership and how that team becomes your family and growing together and getting better together and working together, I found that cycling is very serious and the culture of cycling is very different compared to footy.
“Footy is very serious but it’s also lots of laughs especially in the female space I’ve found, so I just really missed the connections that I got and just how much a footy team works really hard together to create a good culture and a good team environment.”
Coming back to playing Australian Rules Football at the highest level was not smooth-sailing for Sedunary but playing at SANFLW level for Woodville-West Torrens was the logical first step in her comeback.
She describes how she transformed her cycling body slowly back into one that was ready for the rigours of footy in season seven.
“I really missed the endurance training that comes with footy, I love doing sprint [cycling] but I hadn’t done any cardio for eight months so I was kind of missing that as well,” Sedunary said.
“The SANFLW season was coming around and I was speaking to my cycling coaches about whether I could still juggle both and I could for a while, then I took the year off of the AFLW [however] then the season got moved forward so I didn’t have as long a time in the cycling world.
“I went to a few training sessions before I’d made up my mind and running back out at training I just thought this is exactly where I’m meant to be. I really enjoy being a leader and inspiring younger players and helping motivate them and getting them to come through and get the best out of themselves and footy was just a better fit for me, both on and off the field.
Having played with and against some of the best talent in the AFLW’s short history as well as some of the best athletes in women’s sport, Sedunary spoke about someone that inspired her along the way.
Unsurprisingly to those who are supporters, players or coaches in the league, her former Crows teammate Chelsea Randall sprung to mind with her mindset something that Sedunary hopes to emulate in her own way.
“Chelsea Randall has just been someone that I really admire, the way she goes about things as a leader and as a footy player [is inspiring but] obviously she’s been voted as the most courageous player on a number of occasions [too],” she explained.
“She was that kind of player where if the team needs to lift, she would just lift for us, she always puts the team first. That first year I learnt so much from her, and the way that she would guide players and myself in a really positive way.
“She puts everything into everyone else around her and then can still perform on the field, [that] is something that I’m still aspiring to bring into my game and to the people around me. She’s been a good friend of mine as well, she’s just been someone that’s been really solid in the area and someone I’m grateful to be able to model myself on.”
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