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Everything you need to know about the Irish stars lining out in the AFLW Finals Series

Mayo, Galway, Cavan, Louth, Tipperary and Fermanagh will be represented Down Under this weekend.

WHILE MOST OF the rest of the sporting world is at a standstill, the Australian Football League Women’s [AFLW] is heading into finals this weekend. 

The last two rounds of regular season games have been scrapped amid the Covid-19 crisis, with a new three-week, six-team finals series in place.

aflw Kate Flood, Sarah Rowe and Orla O'Dwyer will all be in action.

Eight Irish players are in line to feature as things stand — two more are ruled out through injury — after it was announced earlier that Dublin and Melbourne duo Sinéad Goldrick and Niamh McEvoy would miss out after heading home to Ireland.

So below is some background all the Irish players you can keep an eye out for, and everything else you need including fixture details and TV coverage (You can stream every game 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.)

All finals are elimination affairs, and will be played behind closed doors. 

North Melbourne v Collingwood (Saturday, 21 March, Ikon Park, 1.40am Irish time)

North Melbourne

Have won five of their six games, finished top of Conference A.

Aileen Gilroy (Mayo)

The Mayo midfielder has taken the AFLW by storm in her first season. She well and truly announced her arrival on the scene in round one with this crunching tackle, and hasn’t slowed down since. 

Week in, week out, Gilroy has consistently given strong running performances from half-back and racked up disposals, while her physicality has been key. 

It’s the same back home with Mayo, where her power and athleticism around the middle is hugely important. After missing most of last season with a devastating cruciate injury, Gilroy has enjoyed a major comeback and stellar debut season Down Under.

aflw-cats-kangaroos On the ball against Geelong last week. Source: AAP/PA Images

The 27-year-old works as a personal trainer on home soil, represents St Brigid’s at club level, and has played underage soccer for Ireland. She was first approached by North Melbourne through social media last May.

Máiread Seoighe (Galway)

Known as “The Big Show” at North Melbourne, mainly down to pronunciation struggles with her surname, Seoighe is also experiencing her first season in Oz.

The Galway star forward signed her first professional deal with the help of CrossCoders and impressed at their trial camp last May after dipping her toes in the water with West Clare Waves in the AFL Ireland Women’s Premiership.

mairead-seioghe Mairéad Seoighe at last year's Crosscoders trial camp in Athlone. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Seoighe is yet to debut, though did impress in pre-season outings and seems to be enjoying her time Down Under. A primary school teacher by trade, the Clonbur player scored two goals for the Tribeswomen in their All-Ireland semi-final win last year.

In younger years, the 26-year-old was also a talented soccer placer, did Irish Dancing at World Championship level and also dabbled in horse riding, show jumping and tag rugby.

Collingwood

Four wins, two losses. Fourth in Conference B, but have had a much-improved season.

Sarah Rowe (Mayo) 

Sarah Rowe has certainly hit the ground running in her second season at Collingwood. While the Pies endured a disappointing 2019, the Mayo ace has been central to their turn in fortunes this year as they reached the AFLW finals for the first time after three years in the doldrums.

aflw-lions-magpies Sarah Rowe and fellow Irishwoman Aishling Sheridan last week. (The side wore black armbands to honour Rowe's late Grandfather.) Source: AAP/PA Images

After being named the club’s best first-year player at the end of last season, the 24-year-old has pulled several huge performances out of the bag over the past few weeks, kicking goal after goal. Rowe has been a key player for Peter Leahy’s Mayo side over the past few years too; her threat inside and accuracy from placed ball driving them on. 

Collingwood are keen to lock Rowe down on a two-year contract, but the former Irish soccer international is set on coming home to play inter-county football. A multi-talented athlete, the DCU PE and Biology graduate should play a huge part for Collingwood this weekend.

Aishling Sheridan (Cavan)

A housemate and teammate of Rowe’s at college, the pair have been reunited at Collingwood. Cavan star forward Sheridan has had a hugely successful maiden season Down Under after being rewarded for her efforts in chasing a coveted contract.

aflw-magpies-eagles Facing West Coast Eagles in February. Source: AAP/PA Images

A physical, scoring inside forward on home soil, Sheridan’s Aussie Rules journey began with a CrossCoders trial camp to Melbourne in 2018. While she returned to Ireland and put football and her athletic therapy career first, the 23-year-old headed back to Darwin last May and spent four weeks with a Victorian Football League Women’s [VFL Women's] — the AFLW’s second-string — team in Darwin.

She impressed there, and in turn, landed a deal with Collingwood — all before returning to James Daly’s Breffni county set-up ahead of Ulster championship.

Fremantle v Gold Coast (Saturday, 21 March, Fremantle Oval, 5.4oam Irish time)

Fremantle

Six wins from six, top of Conference B.

Kate Flood (Louth)

Another multi-talented athlete, Kate Flood also secured her first professional deal with the help of CrossCoders last year. She’s helped Fremantle remain the only unbeaten side in the AFLW in 2020, chipping in with some nicely-taken goals along the way. 

aflw-dockers-cats Kate Flood on the ball. Source: AAP/PA Images

Flood was captain as Louth won the All-Ireland junior final last September — she scored 1-8 in a Player of the Match winning performance that day — and has been a star turn for the wee county through the years. Named 2018 LGFA Junior Player of the Year, her physical presence really suits the Australian game and she’s been making waves with Freo.

Also a talented soccer player having lined out for Raheny United — now Shelbourne — and Newry City through the years, the St Patrick’s forward impressed at last May’s CrossCoders camp and has taken it all in her stride since.

Áine Tighe (Leitrim)

Unfortunately, for Áine Tighe, her season ended before it began. The towering Leitrim forward sustained another devastating cruciate injury in Fremantle’s final pre-season match, and underwent surgery on her left knee.

aine-tighe Tighe at the 2019 CrossCoders camp. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Like Flood, she signed through CrossCoders and impressed at the camp, while she continued that in leading the ruck division for Freo through pre-season and had been tipped to make a big impact in the Australian league before she suffered the cruel blow. The Kiltubrid star had only recently made a full recovery from another ACL setback.

A key forward for Leitrim through the years, she’s popped up with some incredible tallies. Tighe, who works as a PE teacher, will have to wait to star in Oz — though The42 understands that it’s likely Freo will resign Tighe for 2021 as they manage her rehab.

Greater Western Sydney [GWS] Giants v Melbourne FC (Saturday, 21 March, Giants Stadium, 3.40am Irish time)

GWS Giants

Four wins, two losses, second in Conference A.

Cora Staunton (Mayo)

Someone who needs little to no introduction, Cora Staunton is enjoying her third season in the AFLW — and probably her best one yet, all at the age of 38. Undoubtedly one of Ireland’s greatest-ever female athletes, the Mayo woman battled back from a career-threatening horror quadruple-leg-break — sustained just 10 months ago — to lead the Giants again.

aflw-crows-giants Staunton celebrates scoring a recent goal. Source: AAP/PA Images

The Carnacon ace kicked a career-best four-goal haul two weeks ago, adding to other typically brilliant performances produced in the orange jersey this season. She added two goals last week in an important win for GWS.

While she launched her AFLW career in 2018, Staunton has also enjoyed a 24-year stint with the Green and Red, in which she won four All-Irelands and a record-equalling 11 All-Star awards.

Yvonne Bonner (Donegal)

Another to hit the injury list, an ankle blow has ruled Bonner out for the rest of the Giants’ season. The Donegal forward sustained ligament damage in round four, though she stayed on the pitch for the remainder of the game and kicked a goal.

aflw-lions-giants Yvonne Bonner is in her second year at the Giants. Source: AAP/PA Images

This is Bonner’s second season in Australia, after signing off the back of the 2018 CrossCoders camp in Melbourne. The Glenfin star enjoyed a successful 2019, bagging the Giants’ Goal of the Year award, while she opted against coming home to play inter-county football. 

Before sustaining the injury, Bonner intended to play club and county football this year, and the 31-year-old athletic forward would be a huge boost on home soil. 

Melbourne FC

Four wins, two losses, third in Conference B.

Sinéad Goldrick and Niamh McEvoy (both Dublin)

The All-Ireland-winning duo have returned home amid the Covid-19 crisis.

1 (1) Niamh McEvoy (left) and Sinéad Goldrick.

Carlton v Brisbane Lions (Sunday, 22 March, Ikon Park, 2.10am Irish time)

Carlton

Five wins, one defeat, second in Conference B.

Joanne Doonan (Fermanagh)

2019 Fermanagh captain Doonan is another Irish player enjoying her first AFLW season. She, too, got her first real taste of Aussie Rules at the CrossCoders trial camp last May, and after gathering significant interest afterwards, she was given the opportunity to go the Australia and chase a contract. 

aflw-richmond-carlton Joanne Doonan in action in round one. Source: AAP/PA Images

She caught the eye training with Carlton, landed the deal, and returned to captain her county in the All-Ireland junior football semi-final a few days later. After winning there, they were beaten by Louth in the final but it was a whirlwind time for Doonan. 

The dream continued in Australia with a winning start, and the 24-year-old has enjoyed her time since. A process engineer by trade, she plays her club football with Kinawley.

Brisbane Lions

Three wins, two losses, one draw, third in Conference A.

Orla O’Dwyer (Tipperary)

O’Dwyer became a treble star when she signed for Brisbane, after establishing herself as one of the most prominent dual stars in the country with Tipperary. 

orla Triple threat: Orla O'Dwyer. Source: Inpho/Brisbane Lions.

An All-Ireland intermediate football championship winner in 2017 and 2019, O’Dwyer has also captained the Premier’s camogie outfit. After CrossCoders helped her put pen to paper — even before the trial — O’Dwyer scored on her Brisbane debut with her first touch. 

Still only 20, O’Dwyer — who was actually born in Australia — has put her college commitments at UL on hold to chase the AFLW dream, and her star continues to rise on the other side of the world.

- Looking forward: the winners of North Melbourne-Collingwood will play either Carlton or Brisbane in the last four, while the other battle will be between the respective victors of GWS Giants-Melbourne and Fremantle-Gold Coast.

- Ladders and more info here

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About the author:

Emma Duffy

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