From the middle of the outback to Punt Road: D'Arcy's epic journey

SARAH D'Arcy pounded up and down the empty airstrip in Minyerri, about 600km south-east of Darwin. 

She'd run the 1.3km length of it, turn around, and do it all again.

Sometimes, to mix things up, she'd ride her bike instead, and on "rest days", she'd walk alongside her teaching colleagues from the local school.

All the while she was tossing over various options in her head, which ultimately boiled down to – do I stay at Collingwood, who gave me my first AFLW opportunity back in 2017, or do I move to Richmond, a club with family connections?

Sarah D'Arcy celebrates a goal against Geelong in round one, 2019. Picture: AFL Photos

Why the Tigers?

D'Arcy's grandfather's cousin was Jack Titus, a champion forward for the Tigers during the 1920s and '30s, and an Australian Football Hall of Fame member who booted 970 goals over 294 matches.

"I'd had conversations with Richmond in 2019, and I knew what their program had. Speaking to them even back then, and then again leading into the trade, it has a different feeling," D'Arcy told womens.afl.

"I felt genuine care and the investment from everyone around.

"They sold it to me last year, but I'm a very loyal person and it took a lot for me to make that decision to move.

"There were a lot of other things which came into play, like needing a fresh start, I'd lost my enjoyment of the game a little bit, and that played into it as well."

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While she kept her deliberations over the potential move to Punt Road a secret from all but her NT colleagues, Tiger blood runs in the family, so it's no surprise the lifelong fan will be donning the number 12 worn by fellow forwards Titus and D'Arcy's idol, Matthew Richardson.

"It wasn't written into my contract, but it was definitely put on the table," D'Arcy said with a laugh.

"I grew up in love with 'Richo' and the way he played, he's my absolute favourite, so it'll be pretty cool to pull that on.

"I saw 'Dimma' (AFL coach Damien Hardwick) for the first time the other day, and that made my day, nothing will top that. It's like a dream, being at Richmond, I still have to get used it."

Richmond recruit Sarah D'Arcy poses at Punt Road Oval. Picture: AFL Photos

The NT connection

D'Arcy is a school teacher by trade, and has spent the past two "off-seasons" (or terms two and three of the school year) teaching at Minyerri.

She had previously spent a month teaching in another remote community as part of her uni placement, and that school's outgoing principal encouraged her to also cross to Minyerri.

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"Last year, I taught PE across the whole school, from pre-school through to year 12. There's about 170 enrolments, but on any given day, you get about 60 per cent attendance, maybe less," she said.

"This year I had my own grade 3/4 class, which was great, I loved having my own group and getting to know the kids a little bit better.

"It's quite intense up there, school can be a really big challenge. But then the lifestyle outside of school, hanging out with the kids and having a kick of the footy or going fishing, it makes it all worth it."

Sarah D'Arcy poses for a 'team photo' with students in Minyerri. Picture: Supplied

Keeping fit up north

Having played 24 of a possible 28 games over four seasons for Collingwood (missing only through suspension and injury), D'Arcy knows well what work is required to compete at the top level.

"For skills work, I'd kick the footy every day with the kids before school and at recess and lunch," she said.

"But for the running side of it, there's an airstrip I was running on three times a week, and running along a dirt road as well, watching out for bulls and making sure I didn't get charged.

"I had to run quite late in the afternoon to avoid the heat, but even so, especially building up towards wet season, it was quite hot. I didn't know if it was doing me any favours, running in that heat, but I kept up my fitness that way.

"There were other teachers that would be walking while I was running or riding, we'd do it every afternoon. If I didn't have any running to do, I'd walk with them, and it would just be a good way to talk about the day and debrief. It was something I always looked forward to."

The empty 1.3km-long airstrip at Minyerri. Picture: Supplied

Back to Melbourne

It's been quite the jolt back to Melbourne for D'Arcy, having to adjust from living in a town of 400 people to a city emerging from COVID-19 lockdown, a new club and a new job teaching maths at Yea High School, 130km north of Melbourne.

Her dad is an assistant principal at the school, and they were "desperate" for someone to help out for term four, but it's at least a 90 minute drive out into the country from D'Arcy's Box Hill home.

"I'm leaving quite early in the morning, and then having to get to training was difficult, so the school was really good in helping me change my days, so I wasn't driving on a training day," she said.

"As weird as it is for me, coming back and training with other people, everyone else is coming out of isolation and getting used to being around people as well.

"It does take a little bit of adjustment. I wouldn't have thought it would have affected me, but it did. I was just used to doing my own thing, and now I've got 30 people around me."