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How do you train for AFLW while working on an oil rig?

It's lucky Jacinda Barclay is used to taking on challenges

IT'S JANUARY, the AFLW season is on the horizon and Jacinda Barclay is diligently honing her skills like every other footballer in the country. 

There's just one difference.

Greater Western Sydney's Barclay is standing on the helipad of an oil rig in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Jacinda Barclay on board the rig

A rubber cord connects a football to her body. Ross Faulkner's 'One Touch' creation, endorsed by Geelong champion Joel Selwood, enables AFL footballers in training to perfect their kicking, handball and marking technique, and improve hand-eye co-ordination.

The tethered contraption has another obvious benefit in Barclay's situation, given she could fit just one football in her 10kg of luggage.

"If the ball goes overboard, it's gone. Long lost," she tells womens.afl with a grin.

If the footy clears the edge, it's gone

Barclay, a multi-sport athlete who also made it to the top in baseball and gridiron, is an assistant life-support technician who works off-shore for two-to-five weeks at a time – and at short notice.

Aboard the oil rig, she is responsible for piping the supply gases in and out of the deep-sea divers' high-pressured living chambers, as they descend as far as 200m underwater.

Athlete, life-saver ... diver?

It's one of three off-field jobs Barclay juggles to make ends meet in her hectic life. She's also a labourer and a ward clerk at a private hospital.

As the 28-year-old puts it: "Any mature female athlete who wants to pursue sport has to juggle her career as well, so it's nothing unusual for me, or that category."

I was proud to be an advocate for females ... a voice for them to showcase what they were worth.

Jacinda Barclay

Barclay has never let any roadblocks, and certainly not a lack of pay, prevent her from being a global sports star.

Barclay, left, in AFLW action for the Giants. Picture: AFL Photos

Australian Football was Barclay's first love. She played it from age 12 before quitting to focus on baseball, because with no elite women's competition, a Sherrin wasn't going to take her to professional ranks.

"In hindsight, football was what I enjoyed more than anything else, but football wasn't going anywhere when it was my age and I wanted to pursue the highest levels," she says.

"So that's why I jumped to continue with baseball. It was whichever sport provided me with the most in the meantime."

Picture: Instagram

Barclay went on to pitch Australia to a World Cup silver medal and a pair of bronze medals in baseball. She then starred as quarterback for the Chicago Bliss as they won the Legends Football League gridiron title in 2016.

The same competition was infamously known as the Lingerie Football League until 2013. Players wore the skimpiest of outfits, and little changed despite the name tweak.

Fighting for a fair go

Barclay is now one of the Giants' best players in the fledgling AFL Women's competition, and for the first time is being paid for her sporting deeds.

That's something any athlete is seeking, that monetary respect.

Jacinda Barclay

Her football wage isn't making much difference to her bank account, but the principle of it provides a "beautiful giveback" to an athlete who has longed for this moment.

It is both a landmark milestone, and a reminder of how far women's sport in general still has to go.

"It's a huge achievement. That's something any athlete is seeking, that monetary respect, so it's nice to have the funds to assist with pursuing your athletic prowess," she says.

"It can be a huge strain financially and it has been over the last 10 years of my athletic (pursuits) at the highest level, so it's just nice to get something as an income.

"I feel like I've come from the total opposite scale of trying to seek that out, so it's really nice."

The AFL Women's comp is a huge achievement, says Barclay (with ball). Picture: AFL Photos

Barclay isn't kidding.

She paid her own way to represent Australia in baseball. In the US she led a vocal campaign for Legends Football League players to be paid, and for her troubles was suspended then effectively railroaded out of the competition.

Barclay remains friends with many people from that time, but retains a tinge of sadness about how it all ended and the lack of progress in that cause.

More than two years after she departed, LFL players are still not remunerated.

"I was really trying to fight for change over there in that institution," Barclay says. 

"Although the protest didn't really result in anything; I was proud to be an advocate for females over there and be a bit of a voice for them to just showcase what they were worth.

"They were worth a lot more than they were getting."

As for baseball, the sport remains a "dear love" for Barclay and she is open to being involved in a sixth World Cup in 2020.

How do you train for elite sport while working on an oil rig?

Barclay didn't play in round one of 2019's AFLW season. Thanks in part to her work on the oil rig, she arrived back on home soil only shortly beforehand.

Her deep sea diving commitments can take her away for at least two weeks and often longer.

"It's done in a very militant fashion, so the off-shore, on-board crew are called out with very little notice throughout the year at times," Barclay says.

"It does pay well, and we're up there for two weeks or a month or five weeks at a time. It depends on the job.

"It's very high risk and high intensity and there is expert maintenance required. There's a lot involved."

Barclay in training. Pic: supplied

Barclay's football preparation on her latest trip went beyond her kicking contraption.

She also had to remain in top physical shape, remaining ready to compete with the best in a sport which demands peak aerobic fitness.

"The pre-pre-season is very important, but it's also about having a good relationship with the strength and conditioning coach," she says.

"You have to have an awareness of what facilities you do have off shore, and that usually consists of a small gym, with one or two treadmills and a little squat machine – if you're lucky.

"There might be some dumbbells and a rowing machine, too, but you just make it work within the parameters you have."

'A rowing machine if you're lucky'

'You may never play professional sport again'

Barclay grew up in Perth, with her New Zealand-born parents, playing a cavalcade of sports alongside boys and often beating them, including her "Crusty Demons"-type motorbiking brother, Zane.

Competitiveness is in the blood, she says. High standards, too, are part of the Barclay package.

She seriously considered following her father, Michael, and mother, Debbie into the army and took the aptitude test three times, but on each occasion fate got in the way.

Sport was one factor which kept her from the army. Then there was the time in 2010, when Barclay tried to emulate Zane's motorbike heroics and broke both her legs.

"He's a bit harder than me," she says of her sibling.

Barclay was wheelchair-bound for three months after the accident, which came only days before she was due to fly out to trial for the world's only professional women's baseball league in Japan.

Medical staff doubted she could play professional sport again.

I'm loving that I can have a real impact on people's lives. I'm part of that collective and it's a big movement.

Jacinda Barclay

Her brother and parents, like almost everyone familiar with Barclay's story, admire not just her sporting achievements but her resilience in continuing to achieve.

That go-getter attitude was evident in 2016, when she learned an elite national AFL Women's competition was going ahead and decided to rekindle her Australian Football dream.

Barclay didn't wait for Giants' recruiting staff to come to her.

Instead, while still in the US, she hunted down then-GWS coach Tim Schmidt's email address and made contact to flag her interest.

The rest is history.

Barclay defied the odds and medical expectations to make it to AFLW. Picture: AFL Photos

"I'm absolutely ecstatic with what I'm getting from AFL at so many levels, in terms of the development as an athlete, on and off the field," Barclay says.

"But, also, I'm loving being a role model to a lot of young females coming up and through. That's something I've always held close to my heart.

"I'm loving that I can have a real impact on people's lives, in a more positive manner. I'm part of that collective and it's a big movement."