FOOTY in the winter, cricket in the summer.

It's a year-round rhythm that has shaped sporting careers in Australia for generations, but the demands of the professional era mean the days of footy stars wielding the willow in the summer months are long gone.

Still, that doesn't mean that some of our most talented prospects haven't excelled at both sports in their junior days.

Inspired by the ascent of former GWS captain Alex Carey to the Australian Test team ahead of the 2021-22 Ashes series, we look back at stars - both old and recent - who could light up a cricket ground as well as a footy oval.

Alex Carey

Australia's newest Test wicketkeeper was famously a part of Greater Western Sydney's inaugural squad alongside future stars Dylan Shiel and Jeremy Cameron. He was the club's first captain, leading the side's under-18 team in 2010 and then skippering the NEAFL squad in 2011, winning the best-and-fairest that season. But the influx of draft talent ahead of the Giants' 2012 AFL debut meant the self-confessed "slow midfielder" missed his shot at an AFL career. The rest is history, as Carey returned to South Australia and flourished with the bat and gloves en route to his debut against England at the Gabba.

GWS' Alex Carey in action against Sydney in the 2011 NAB Cup. Picture: AFL Photos

Alex Keath

Keath turned down an offer to join Gold Coast as a priority 17-year-old selection after a promising season with the Murray Bushrangers in 2009, preferring to ink a Cricket Victoria contract in 2010. The bowling all-rounder made his first-class debut against a touring England side later that year but struggled to cement himself at either first-class or limited-overs level. He moved to Adelaide at the end of 2015 and was promptly signed as a Category B AFL rookie by the Crows, who had never forgotten his footballing potential. After failing to earn a first-class cricket contract with South Australia, his focus returned to footy ahead of 2016 and he developed at SANFL level before debuting for the Crows in 2017. A move to the Western Bulldogs followed at the end of 2019 and he was part of the club's Grand Final team in 2021.

Alex Keath bowling for the Bushrangers during a Sheffield Shield match between Victoria and Western Australia in 2012. Picture: Getty Images

Will Sutherland

The son of former first-class spinner and Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland had a decision to make in the middle of 2017. The captain of the Australian under-19 cricket team had rocketed up potential draft boards after shining as a tall midfielder and key forward for his school, Scotch College. He was rated a potential top-five AFL prospect but put the issue to bed when he signed with Cricket Victoria. It's been a fine decision from Sutherland, who has impressed as a bowling all-rounder for the Vics, and was voted the Bradman Young Cricketer of the Year in 2021.

Vic Metro's Will Sutherland in action against the Allies in the 2017 NAB AFL Under-18 Championships. Picture: AFL Photos

Mitch Marsh

Like Sutherland, the family ties proved too hard to break for the son of champion batter and former Australia coach Geoff Marsh. Mitch, a strapping all-rounder and powerful key forward, represented Western Australian in the 2008 NAB AFL Under-18 championships in the same squad as Nic Naitanui, Daniel Rich and Stephen Hill. He even booted four goals in one game against Tasmania but the lure of following older brother Shaun in the WA cricket setup was too great. Marsh has since starred at all levels for Australia, and played a crucial role in the T20 World Cup victory in October this year.

Mitch Marsh in action for WA during the 2007 NAB AFL Under-16 Championships. Picture: AFL Photos

Brett Deledio and Marc Murphy

These two aren't just bracketed together because they were No.1 picks at the NAB AFL Draft in successive years. Before they were selected by Richmond and Carlton, respectively, Deledio and Murphy were part of the same Victorian under-17 cricket side that won the 2004 national championships. The pair took the field alongside Australia's current T20 captain Aaron Finch, and claimed the trophy against a NSW side that featured future Test players David Warner and Jackson Bird – who incidentally combined to dismiss Murphy for just three in Victoria's innings.

Marc Murphy and Brett Deledio were both outstanding junior cricketers before embarking on AFL careers. Pictures: AFL Photos

Shannon Hurn

In the same year that Murphy was taken No.1, another multi-sport talent opted for footy ahead of cricket. Hurn, a powerful batter, signed a rookie cricket contract with South Australia in 2004 but declined the same deal the following season, having represented his state at under-17 level. Football was clearly the right choice for the future West Coast captain and games record-holder, who led the Eagles to the 2018 premiership and will go down as one of the club's greatest players.

Shannon Hurn in action for West Coast in 2006. Picture: AFL Photos

Stephen Coniglio

The Giants captain was always likely to go at the pointy end of his draft year in 2011 but after winning successive under-17 national cricket titles with WA as a top-order bat - including facing off against new Australian Test captain Pat Cummins - there was genuine debate about which sport the star youngster would choose. Ahead of his under-18 season, Coniglio conceded it was a close-run thing between the two sports but, having booted four goals for Swan Districts in the WAFL Grand Final as a 16-year-old in 2010, it was evident that footy provided a surer path to sporting success. The decision was made final in September 2011 and he joined the Giants two months later as the No.2 pick at the NAB AFL Draft.

Australian cricketer Pat Cummins and GWS' Stephen Coniglio after a training session at the SCG in September 2018. Picture: Getty Images

Before the professional era made it impossible to combine careers in both sports, it was not uncommon to see familiar footy names resurfacing in cricket headlines during the summer months.

Victor Richardson, whose name adorns entrance gates at Adelaide Oval, played 19 Test matches for Australia and captained the side during the 1935-36 tour to South Africa. He was a champion footballer with Sturt before his Test exploits for Australia, playing 114 games in a career interrupted by the First World War, winning the Magarey Medal in 1920 and captaining SA in 1923.

Hall of Famer Laurie Nash played in the Swans' 1933 premiership team, captained the side in 1937 and, as a fast bowler and strong lower-order batter, played two Test matches for Australia (his debut Test was in 1932). He is considered to be one of the first professional club cricketers and professional Australian Rules footballers. His father, Robert, was also an all-rounder, captaining Collingwood, coaching Footscray, and once opened the bowling for Hamilton in a match against a touring English side in the early 1920s.

Brilliant all-rounder Keith Miller is entrenched in Australia's sporting history as one of our greatest cricketers, having played 55 Test matches and been a key part of Don Bradman's legendary Invincibles squad that toured England in 1948. But before his Test debut, Miller was a talented key-position star who played 50 games for St Kilda between 1940-46, booting eight goals in a game in 1941, and represented Victoria in 1946 after serving with the RAAF in the Second World War.

All-rounder Keith Miller played cricket for Australia on 55 occasions and also played 50 games for St Kilda between 1940-46. Picture: Getty Images

AFL Hall of Fame Legends Darrel Baldock (Tasmania) and Barrie Robran (South Australia) were both good enough to play first-class cricket for their state, while South Melbourne's 1970 Brownlow medallist Peter Bedford was a cricketing stalwart, playing 39 first-class matches for the Vics from 1966-73. 

Darrel Baldock (centre) and Bob Skilton chase the ball while representing Victoria. Picture: AFL Photos

Bedford's cricketing teammate at Victoria and the MCC, Max Walker, played almost 100 games for the Demons before rising to the Test team, where he starred as a swing bowler in a 34-match career.

The 1980s marked a decline in the number of players able to combine both sports at a high level. The greatest leg-spinner of all time, Shane Warne, had enough footballing talent to kick seven goals in an under-19 game for St Kilda in 1988. Alas, the step up to reserves footy was a bridge too far for Warne, who turned his attention to cricket at the end of that season (and just as well).

Cricket legend Shane Warne in action during a Legends game in 2012. Picture: AFL Photos

Simon O'Donnell played two seasons with the Saints as a young forward, booting 18 goals in 24 games from 1982-83, but switched his focus on to cricket thereafter. He managed six Test matches but found stardom as a big-hitting all-rounder in one-day cricket's golden era, playing 87 ODIs including Australia's watershed ICC World Cup win in 1987.

Perhaps the last player to combine cricket and footy at a high level was Port Adelaide and Carlton great Craig Bradley, who made a ton for Australia U19s against Pakistan before his footy career took off. He played two first-class games for SA in 1983-84, and then suited up for Victoria in 1989-90 after moving to Victoria to play for Carlton after 98 SANFL games for Port Adelaide. Bradley continued to play district cricket for the MCC until retiring from the game in 1992.

Carlton great Craig Bradley in 1980 with his Gray Nicolls scoop and cricket kit. Picture: AFL Photos