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Profiles, fixtures, TV - Everything you need to know about the Irish stars lining out in the AFLW

14 players are involved, with seven counties represented across eight clubs.

WITH LIVE SPORT a saving grace through lockdown 3.0, many may start following the Australian Football League Women’s [AFLW] over the coming weeks.

aflw (1) Dublin trio Niamh McEvoy, Sinéad Goldrick and Lauren Magee, Mayo great Cora Staunton and Tipperary's history-maker Aisling McCarthy will all feature.

14 Irishwomen are on the books of Australian clubs, several of whom have made waves in the league over the past few seasons, with others set for debut campaigns. And thankfully, TG4 is providing weekly match coverage and highlights to keep us in the loop.

Since the AFLW’s inception in 2017, a total of 21 Irish players have been involved. Cavan native Laura Corrigan Duryea, who had been living Down Under, was the first to fly the flag in the league’s first season, before Mayo great Cora Staunton crossed codes.

Staunton added to Corrigan’s Irish representation in 2018, four others followed in the ladies football legend’s footsteps in ’19 when CrossCoders came on the scene, and the number soared to 18 in 2020.

14 — from seven counties represented across eight clubs — could feature in 2021, after a crazy few months through the pandemic.

With Australia pretty much Covid-free, teams will battle it out geographically, due to border restrictions, across 12 weekends before April’s Grand Final. 

It all starts this morning as Sarah Rowe and Aishling Sheridan’s Collingwood kick things off against Carlton — West Coast Eagles (Niamh and Grace Kelly, Aisling McCarthy) versus Adelaide Crows (Ailish Considine) is the TG4 game this weekend — but here’s a closer look at each and every Irish player contracted in the league before a ball is even kicked.

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Cora Staunton (GWS Giants / Mayo)

Someone who needs little to no introduction at this stage, Cora is one of the few people in Irish sport who we refer to on a first-name basis. 

aflw-giants-cats Staunton is gearing up for her fourth season at the Giants. Source: AAP/PA Images

This one comes as Staunton’s fourth season in the Australian league at the age of 39, her third probably her best one yet after quickly battling back from a career-threatening quadruple leg-break.

The Carnacon star has been a key player for the Giants, producing some incredible performances and kicking some outstanding goals since blazing a trail and crossing codes ahead of the 2018 season.

One of Ireland’s greatest-ever sportswomen, Staunton also enjoyed a colourful 24-year stint with Mayo, winning four All-Irelands and a record-equalling 11 All-Star awards.

Bríd Stack (GWS Giants / Cork)

Another ladies football great, Stack signed up for a major sporting career change and made the move to Sydney just before Christmas. It came as a dramatic development for the Cork legend, who retired from inter-county action in January 2019.

Having impressed at her new club through pre-season, a horror incident in a practice match saw her hospitalised, and a worrying few hours ensued.

tg4-ladies-football-all-star-tour-2018-friday-16th-march Injury has derailed Stack's debut season. Source: SPORTSFILE.

Those worries have since been alleviated, thankfully, and Stack is on the road to recovery after her neck injury. While it’s unlikely she’ll feature — though don’t write it off — she’s come in for plenty of praise from those at the club and it’s certain she’ll be ever-present on the sidelines.

The 34-year-old is an 11-time All-Ireland champion with seven All-Stars and the 2016 Footballer of the Year title to her name.

Sarah Rowe (Collingwood / Mayo)

Rowe is gearing up for her third season at Collingwood, her second certainly one to remember. After a disappointing 2019 for the Pies, the Mayo forward was central to their turn in fortunes as they reached the AFLW finals for the first time.

aflw-blues-magpies Rowe has impressed at Collingwood since joining in 2019. Source: AAP/PA Images

Collingwood’s best first-year player in ’19, 25-year-old Rowe has stepped up with numerous big performances and scored key goals through her time at the club. She’s done the same with Mayo year in, year out, leading their inside line and firing frees.

A multi-talented athlete and former Irish soccer international who played alongside the likes of Katie McCabe and Clare Shine, Mayo always comes first for Rowe, but all going to plan, she’ll play another key role for Collingwood this season.

Aishling Sheridan (Collingwood / Cavan)

Sheridan is another who made her impact felt at Collingwood last year, and the Cavan star is hoping to build on her glittering debut season in 2021.

aflw-magpies-demons Sheridan facing fellow Irishwoman Sinéad Goldrick. Source: AAP/PA Images

A graduate of the CrossCoders programme, the 24-year-old’s Aussie Rules journey began with a trial camp in Melbourne in 2018. She returned to home soil and put football and her athletic therapy career first, before heading backin May ’19 to chase a coveted contract with a Victorian Football League Women’s [VFL Women's] — the AFLW’s second-string — team in Darwin.

Sheridan’s efforts paid off, and like Rowe — a housemate, team-mate and friend since their college days in DCU — the physical inside forward has balanced her AFLW career with her inter-county one since.

Sheridan starts for Collingwood today [8.15am Irish time], with Rowe absent from the matchday squad.

Aileen Gilroy (North Melbourne / Mayo)

Likewise, Gilroy really hit the ground running in her first season last year. The Mayo midfielder announced her arrival on the scene in round one with a crunching tackle, starting as she meant to go on.

From there, the Killala native consistently gave strong running performances from half-back, her disposals and physicality key as she established herself as a fans’ favourite. With North among this season’s favourites for the flag, she could play a huge part.

That physicality and athleticism are two key components of her game on home soil too, Gilroy returning to play a key role for Mayo in the championship, having missed the precious season with a cruciate injury.

Like Rowe, Gilroy was an underage soccer international, starring alongside the likes of Denise O’Sullivan, Megan Campbell and Grace Moloney at the 2010 U17 World Cup.

Grace Kelly (West Coast Eagles / Mayo)

The eldest of Mayo and West Coast Eagle’s Sister Act, Grace is preparing for her second season with the Perth outfit. 

aflw-giants-eagles Kelly is back to her best after a knee injury. Source: AAP/PA Images

Both CrossCoders impressed for West Coast in their — and the club’s — debut season, playing central roles in their first-ever win in March as they stunned 2018 champions Western Bulldogs. Grace produced an all-round brilliant display and ultimately sealed the victory with her first AFLW goal.

In their next outing, she suffered a medial cruciate ligament [MCL] knee injury and was ruled out for the remainder of the season, which was later postponed due to Covid-19.

After undergoing surgery in Australia, her rehabilitation continued on home soil and the high-scoring Moy Davitts forward enjoyed a brilliant comeback for Mayo in the championship.

Niamh Kelly (West Coast Eagles / Mayo)

While Grace led the scoring charge for the Green and Red, Niamh watched on, with the injury roles reversed at the end of 2020.

aflw-magpies-eagles Kelly being tracked by Sarah Rowe last season. Source: AAP/PA Images

A hamstring setback meant she didn’t feature in the championship, but the younger of the Kelly sisters is raring to go now, and hoping to build on her breakthrough debut season.

After positional rotations, the 25-year-old is preparing to step up where needed for Gold Coast this year, her speed, agility and courage paramount to the side who hope to utilise her in midfield.

Niamh captained Mayo in 2019, when they reached the All-Ireland semi-final and she lit up Croke Park with a stunning individual goal. Herself, her sister and Rowe have all combined as key forwards for the Green and Red over the last few seasons.

Aisling McCarthy (West Coast Eagles / Tipperary)

“The third sister,” as she’s now being referred to by the Kellys on social media, McCarthy has joined the pair at West Coast Eagles after an historic switch.

aishmc McCarthy made history with a club switch. Source: Western Bulldogs.

The Tipperary ace became the become the first Irishwoman — and first non-Australian — to move AFLW clubs in the off-season, after joining from Western Bulldogs. 

2021 comes as McCarthy’s third season in Australia, having established herself as a standout player in the league since sealing a contract at the 2018 CrossCoders trial camp. “She’s played just 12 games of football in her life and is now being touted as one of the best midfielders in the league,” as her agent, Jason Hill, recently told The42.

Not only that, the Cahir dual star is one of the best back home, steering the Tipp fooballers to All-Ireland intermediate titles in 2017 and 2019, named Footballer of the Year in ’17 and scoring pivotal goals in both deciders.

Sinéad Goldrick (Melbourne FC / Dublin)

One of Melbourne’s Dublin trio, Goldrick is another who likely needs no introduction to fans of ladies football through the years.

melb Goldrick (centre) with Dublin and Melbourne team-mates Niamh McEvoy (left) and Lauren Magee. Source: Melbourne FC.

Another great of the game, she’s been a stalwart for the county, impressing more and more in each and every campaign. The teak-tough Foxrock-Cabinteely defender led the way to four-in-a-row, and was named Player of the Match in December’s decider.

With seven All-Star awards under her belt, Goldrick is preparing for her second season at Melbourne, where she has impressed in the half-back line through her direct running, physicality and tackling. 

Goldrick and her team-mate Niamh McEvoy feel they have “unfinished business,” after the abrupt end to the 2020 campaign.

Niamh McEvoy (Melbourne FC / Dublin)

Another four-in-a-row champion and five-time All-Ireland winner after her 2010 Celtic Cross, illness meant McEvoy was slow to start the 2020 AFLW season but she soon found her feet.

aflw-magpies-demons McEvoy is ready for her second season. Source: AAP/PA Images

Her high fielding and foot-passing are probably her best attributes in the Australian game, transferring skills where she’s strongest in Gaelic games action.

The 2019 All-Star, also a talented basketball player in her day, is eyeing redemption with the Dees this season, though its Dublin contingent could again be slow to start after only last week emerging from their 14-day mandatory hotel quarantine.

Lauren Magee (Melbourne FC / Dublin)

Magee says her first AFLW training session was “tough but good,” and she’s backed to really thrive in this, her new sport. It’s a steep learning curve, but no better person to succeed.

lauren-magee Magee has starred for Dublin and is tipped to make a splash in the AFLW. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“I just want to develop as a player and play at the highest standard I can for the team,” the Kilmacud Crokes All-Star said this week, outlining her plans to push her team-mates over the coming weeks and eventually break into the side.

Another physical, athletic player, the four-in-a-row All-Ireland champion has been seriously consistent for Dublin through the years, while she enjoyed a stellar 2020 alongside Jennifer Dunne in midfield.

Orla O’Dwyer (Brisbane Lions / Tipperary)

Having caught the eye last year, O’Dwyer is aiming to build on solid foundations laid with Brisbane. The Tipperary native racked up some impressive performances and chipped in with a few goals along the way, her debut an unforgettable one.

aflw-lions-crows O'Dwyer (left) enjoyed a dream debut last season. Source: AAP/PA Images

A well-known dual star on these shores, O’Dwyer has become a triple threat since signing a professional contract. Alongside McCarthy, she starred in those All-Ireland football wins, while she’s also captained the camogie side of late.

She outlined her intentions and lofty AFLW ambitions late last year, leaving for Australia before her inter-county commitments concluded. With a full, uninterrupted pre-season under her belt, we should certainly see the best O’Dwyer has to offer this season.

Ailish Considine (Adelaide Crows / Clare)

Another who has outlined her AFLW intentions of late by focusing solely on her adopted sport rather than trying to balance it with inter-county football, Considine won the Premiership with Adelaide Crows in her debut season of 2019.

aflw-crows-cats Considine is a Premiership champion with the Crows. Source: AAP/PA Images

The Clare native made history by becoming the first Irishwoman to do so, and she added the icing to the cake with a goal in the Grand Final against Carlton.

Another CrossCoders graduate, Considine — sister of Irish rugby international, Eimear — has played dual for Clare in the past, reaching the All-Ireland football final with the Banner in 2016 and winning a first senior county title with her club, Kilmihil, in 2019.

Áine Tighe (Fremantle Dockers / Leitrim) 

Another who’s likely miss out on the 2021 season due to injury, Tighe has endured torrid luck over the past few years.

aine-tighe Tighe is yet to fully get going in Australia. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

She bounced back from a cruciate injury to sign for Fremantle in May 2019 and impressed through pre-season, but a replicate injury sustained in her final outing before the 2020 campaign saw her sidelined for another extended period after going under the knife.

She stayed in Australia to rehabilitate, driven to eventually make her mark in 2021. Again, Tighe had been catching the eye in pre-season and was backed to lead Freo’s ruck division, but another knee setback has crushed her progress.

Probably Leitrim’s best-ever ladies footballer, it’s a crying shame to see the towering high-scoring forward injured once again, but she’ll certainly make waves once her opportunity arrives for the 2020 champions elect.

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ROUND 1 2021 AFLW FIXTURES

Thursday 28 January

  • Carlton v Collingwood, Ikon Park (7:15pm / 8.15am Irish time)*

Friday 29 January

  • St Kilda v Western Bulldogs, RSEA Park (7:10pm / 8.10am Irish time )

Saturday 30 January

  • Gold Coast Suns v Melbourne, Metricon Stadium (2:10pm /4.10am Irish time)*
  • West Coast Eagles v Adelaide Crows, Mineral Resources Park (2:10pm / 6.10am Irish time)* — deferred coverage on TG4 at 5.10pm

Sunday 31 January

  • Geelong v North Melbourne, GMHBA Stadium (12:10pm / 1.10am)*
  • Richmond v Brisbane Lions, Swinburne Centre (2:10pm / 3.10am)*
  • Fremantle v GWS Giants, Fremantle Oval (1:10pm / 5.10am)*

* Denotes Irish involvement.

Further fixture details here >

TV

Alongside TG4′s coverage, You can stream games live on the AFL Women’s official app and the AFL Live app. womens.afl and AFL.com.au will livestream every game, with coverage also available on the Telstra TV AFLW app. 

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Emma Duffy

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