Flexibility helps Giant Stephenson keep the footy fire burning

GWS DEFENDER Louise Stephenson is extinguishing threats on and off the AFLW field, having spent her pre-season studying to be a firefighter.

Stephenson's dad was a firey and she wanted to follow in his footsteps, but growing up did not believe it was an option for women.

The foundation Giant's eyes were opened when she moved to Sydney.

Having completed a 14-week intensive course at Fire and Rescue NSW's academy, Stephenson is now working in the CBD fire station alongside rugby league and rugby union international Ruan Sims.

The 25-year-old's work roster is unusual but has the flexibility required for her to prepare for Sunday's crunch clash with West Coast at Blacktown International Sportspark.

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"It's 24 hours on, then a day off, then 24 hours on again," Stephenson said. "Then five days off.

"So in terms of being a part-time athlete, it's great. If you've got a shift, you can swap with someone, and they really value my role as a footballer. I'm extremely lucky."

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The key defender knows several AFLW players are not as fortunate, highlighting work-sport balance as a major challenge for growing the women's game.

It has been a topic of conversation with trailblazer Sims, who has represented Australia at rugby and rugby league world cups.

"We lose a lot of female athletes because of the part-time nature of it," Stephenson said.

"It's the same with NRLW and other sports.

"We have spoken about that, how for many people they just can't have the sort of flexible career.

"It'd make it a lot more appealing for young female athletes to pursue AFLW or NRLW careers if they knew there is a full-time career - or more of a financial incentive."

Giants defender Louise Stephenson in action against North Melbourne in round two, 2020. Picture: AFL Photos

Border closures - and the imminent prospect of AFLW hubs - is set to make the work-football balance even more precarious.

The Giants have already done their bit, shifting their pre-season base to Albury then Adelaide to ensure the competition started as scheduled.

GWS then had to self-isolate after their round one loss in Perth overlapped with that city's lightning lockdown that began at the end of January.

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"Some people just can't commit to an extended period away from home," Stephenson said.

"A lot of teams may struggle to do a long-term hub.

"It's a really hard one. This is what we train for every year, but a lot of the girls are already sacrificing a little bit.

"The players' association are doing a great job. The AFL are doing a great job, asking our opinions before decisions are made.

"They're getting a gauge on what we can commit to. What's viable for everyone - financially and emotionally."

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