Sarah D’Arcy found out she was a Collingwood player via text message. It was the culmination of years of toil, of setbacks, of the type of roadblocks female footy players are all too familiar with. Playing for one of the Victorian clubs had been her ambition from the moment she was running around at Auskick. Problem was, back then it was all a bit of a pipe dream. Up until Under 14s, she played with the boys. Bereft of options, she played soccer for several years. As a skinny 14-year-old at the Yarra Valley Cougars, she was playing against fully-grown women. Even at the inaugural AFLW draft in 2016, she wasn’t invited to the official draw and slipped surprisingly low. Perhaps she flew under the radar in Melbourne’s outer east. But she was an absolute steal.
D’Arcy had always been a player of immense talent and a highly driven young woman. “For me, ambition means working hard, having a strong drive and seeking to continually improve yourself,” she says. “Having this strong drive and being determined to set out and achieve what you want really rings true to me. However, I believe the journey in getting what you want is just as important as the end goal.”
Like all so many AFLW players, her journey has at times been fraught, one characterised by a constant juggling act. While studying to become a teacher, she worked as a traffic controller while endeavouring to fit in all her commitments at Collingwood. Indeed, the balancing act of work, study and life as a professional sportswoman is one familiar to all AFLW players. When it comes to time management and prioritising, they are exemplars. Many thrive on being constantly busy, on living on the razor’s edge. For D’Arcy, her hectic workload has presented challenges, particularly at the pointy end of the footy season and around exam time. Her five-week teaching placement in remote Northern Territory community Jilkminggan, near Katherine, despite being a seminal experience, also impacted her footy career.
“I worked hard for four years juggling full-time uni and close to full-time working hours,” she says. “For two of those years I also had to fit in my AFLW commitments. Now going into my third year of footy, I’ve completed my degree, I’m a qualified teacher and I’ve been appointed to the leadership group at Collingwood. It’s been hard enough juggling all my commitments. However there’s also the extra added stress that comes at the thought of letting people down – this I believe has been the greatest challenge for me.”
It’s a comment lament among high achievers. But suffice to say, she hasn’t let anyone down at Collingwood. Despite being their third selection at the draft, she hit the ground running, impressing all with her prodigious work-rate, her clean hands and her ability to rack up large possession numbers across half-forward. She shot to prominence in the famous Collingwood-Carlton clash that kicked off the AFLW competition. Not surprisingly, she was nominated for the All-Australian squad that year. From the get-go, it was obvious that she was one of those footballers with an innate grasp of the game, the sort of player who always runs to the right spots, who always manages to find space. To outsiders, she seemed like a natural. To D’Arcy, it all came down to work ethic. “I worked hard and proved to both my teammates and myself that I deserve to be here,” she says.
Let’s not tiptoe around this – 2019 has been a lean season for the Pies. They’ve been in winning possessions several times but just can’t crack it for the four points. But D’Arcy has once again excelled across half-forward, in the face of some close attention. Despite being well beaten by Fremantle in Perth, she was clearly the Pies’ best. Now a qualified teacher and a pivotal member of the Collingwood outfit, she remains excited about the future, both at her club and women’s football in general. And like so many of her fellow stars, the adulation of young girls in many ways presents a vision of the sporting future. “I’m excited about the next generation of girls coming through and all those aspiring to be AFLW players,” she says. “I’d love to see it become a full-time career option – taking the financial stress off players and allowing them to focus more on footy would be amazing.”
Sarah D’Arcy was one of four Collingwood AFLW players to have been immortalised in art on two new street murals commissioned by CGU Insurance. The artwork was created to celebrate the women's sport and shine the spotlight on the ambitious women that play professional AFL, many of whom also work second jobs