Jess Duffin is committing to full seasons with both North Melbourne and the Melbourne Renegades. (Photos: North Melbourne; Melbourne Renegades)

The earlier start of the AFLW season is causing headaches for the dual sport athletes of the competition, but at 32, Jess Duffin is embracing the challenge of playing full seasons for North Melbourne and the Melbourne Renegades.

In May, the AFL Commission announced that the AFL Women’s competition would be moving to a December start for its sixth season.

While this comes with a string of positives including more fixtured matches and less cross-over with the men’s competition, it also holds its detriments for the league’s cross-coders.

With some splitting time between netball, basketball, gaelic football and more, some of the league’s most prominent may have to soon start making the choice between their two loves.

Recently in her regular column on RTE Ireland, Adelaide AFLW midfielder/forward Ailish Considine penned her thoughts on whether expansion and the earlier September pre-season would deter Irish players from continuing to make the journey.

“The season will now start in September at a time when the Ladies football and camogie championships will be coming to an end, so a crossover will be there,” Considine wrote.

“There will be a point where you will have to make a decision on where you want to play.”

Other players including Richmond’s Monique Conti and Tessa Lavey will be keeping a close eye on the announcement of the WNBL season start, which typically begins early to mid October. This is obviously smack in the middle of the now re-jigged AFLW pre-season.

Collingwood’s Ash Brazill, meanwhile, will have her hands full representing Australia in netball with her fellow Diamonds. They’re set to take on New Zealand in the Constellation Cup in October as well.

Brazill (second right, bottom row) and the Diamonds with the 2019 Constellaton Cup. (Photo: Collingwood Magpies)

North Melbourne defensive stalwart and Melbourne Renegades star batswoman Jess Duffin is keen to buck the trend, however, and rise to the challenge of playing a full season of both Aussie rules and cricket.

The Renegades announced Duffin’s return to the club in July after she missed WBBL06 for the birth of daughter Georgie.

Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, Duffin confirmed the plan which would see her, at 32, complete a full season of both WBBL and AFLW back to back.

“The Renegades and North Melbourne have been really good at making sure my workloads aren’t getting out of control or anything like that,” she said.

“The two strength and conditioning guys come together and make sure they’re both across what I’m doing.

“What basically happens is North Melbourne do my programming in terms of strength and conditioning, and while I’m with the Renegades they kind of look after me in terms of just making sure I get that done. Definitely helps when the two clubs are communicating together and I don’t have much to do with it.

“The AFLW [pre-season] starts in September, so I’ll already kind of be underway with Renegades stuff.

“It’s probably ideal for me to be honest… because I’m not too involved in either. It kind of keeps my head very clear in terms of what I’m doing. I think it’ll work well for me, personally.”

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The WBBL season is set to begin on October 14, when the Sydney Sixers host the Melbourne Stars at North Sydney Oval. Duffin’s first game will follow on October 17, as the Renegades take on the Hobart Hurricanes.

Should the Renegades make it as far the Grand Final on November 27 (pending no fixturing changes due to COVID interruptions), Duffin could have as little as a week between cricket and footy.

It’s a challenge she’s ready to embrace, backing her body in.

“[I’d] definitely [back myself in]. They’ve got the program, so as long I’m following the program and they’re happy with my progress, I can’t see why I’d have to sit out [AFLW] Round 1,” Duffin said.

“It’s pretty unique. I just make sure I listen to the strength and conditioning guys. If they have a reasoning as to why I need to sit out and I agree with it I’ll do it, otherwise it’ll be getting through both seasons.”

Jess Duffin | Melbourne Renegades - BBL
Duffin at the crease for the Renegades. (Photo: Melbourne Renegades)

Re-joining the Renegade crew

Coming back to the Renegades for her first game in red since December 2019 (where she hit 44 runs off 35 balls), the feel will be a little bit different for Duffin.

Veteran bowler Molly Strano has returned to her home state to play for the Hobart Hurricanes, while Kiwi Amy Satterthwaite’s re-signing is still up in the air.

It might leave Duffin as one of the only players over 30 left in the Renegades squad.

“It’s all the young kids now!,” she laughed.

“It’ll be all the young kids having to put up with me being probably one of the older ones. I just look forward to it because they’re all so young and youthful, and really look forward to getting out there every time. They don’t find too much wrong with the world, which is a good thing.

“They’ll probably really enjoy the fact that Georgie’s going to be around a bit more, so I’m sure they’ll have a bit of fun with her.”

To add further to that, returning coach Simon Helmot (who coached the men’s side from 2011 to 2015) is another new name and face for Duffin to adapt to.

“I’ve obviously caught up with him a fair few times between January and now,” she said.

“The conversations I’ve had with him, I’m really looking forward to the season. He’s obviously got a wealth of knowledge, so I think all the girls are just looking forward to a fresh start.”

More important than anything else to Duffin is just the opportunity to get to play cricket again. While it’s part of her profession, there’s not many things that she finds more enjoyment from.

“[I’ve probably] just missed being able to play with my mates.

“I find the Big Bash to be a good kind of fun for me. I don’t play any other cricket, 50 over cricket, I don’t do anything like that. To me, T20 cricket is all about fun. If I’m not having fun I’m probably not playing my best cricket.

“It was always going to be the Renegades. They’ve been super good to me for four seasons now, so I didn’t have any interest in moving or anything like that.

“My key focus was to make sure that I got back and when I got back I was going to be playing for the Renegades.”

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