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The 22 Irish stars set for the new AFLW season

They’re spread across 12 teams and hail from 12 different counties.

Cora Staunton, Vikki Wall and Orla O'Dwyer are three to keep a close eye on.
Cora Staunton, Vikki Wall and Orla O'Dwyer are three to keep a close eye on.
Image: PA Images/Inpho.

22 IRISH PLAYERS are gearing up for the new Australian Football League Women’s [AFLW] season.

It all gets underway at 10.10am Irish time on Thursday morning when Carlton and Collingwood go head-to-head in the Ikon Park opener.

Seven Irish stars are in line for debuts over the coming weeks: Meath All-Ireland winners Vikki Wall and Orlagh Lally, Armagh duo Blaithin Mackin and Amy Mulholland, and Erika O’Shea, Áine McDonagh and Megan Ryan of Cork, Galway and Tipperary respectively.

In this, the league’s seventh season, the 22 Irish players are spread across 12 (of 16) teams and hail from 12 different counties. Mayo have the strongest representation with six, while Fremantle are the club with the most Irish involvement (three).

Some of the finest female Gaelic games stars of their generation, they’re all paid and contracted; average player salaries having increased by 94% across the board amidst a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The average salary has risen from $23,904 to $46,280 (€32,097), with a select band of top-tier players now earning $71,935 (€49,255), and tier 4 players receiving $39,184 (€26,830).

Back in the inaugural 2017 season, Laura Corrigan Duryea of Cavan became the first Irishwoman to feature in the AFLW, before the legendary Cora Staunton crossed codes ahead of the 2018 campaign and set the template for the 27 others that would follow.

There have been so many incredible stories since — Draft signings, others joining after working with CrossCoders and AFLW Ireland, underdog stories, historic trades, Sister Acts, remarkable injury comebacks, two Premier winners in Ailish Considine and Orla O’Dwyer, the list goes on and on…

More than ever before will follow between now and the Grand final, which is set for late November.

More games, more teams and more money as the league expands.

There’s also more interest and coverage than ever before. BT Sport are due to show three live games this week, with up to 10 Irish players potentially gracing our television screens this weekend.

aflw-lions-demons Orla O'Dwyer. Source: AAP/PA Images

They’ll broadcast Carlton v Collingwood (Sarah Rowe and Aishling Sheridan) on Thursday, Adelaide (Ailish Considine and Niamh Kelly) v Melbourne (Sinéad Goldrick and Blaithin Mackin) on Friday and Essendon (Joanne Doonan and Megan Ryan) v Hawthorn (Aileen Gilroy and Aine McDonagh) on Saturday.

TG4 return with their weekend coverage too — the Irish language station screening deferred coverage of Adelaide v Melbourne on Saturday [4.10pm] and Brisbane (Orla O’Dwyer) v Fremantle (Áine Tighe, Orlagh Lally and Amy Mulholland) on Sunday [12.30pm] — with uncertainly over Virgin Media’s weekly highlights show.

Here’s a snippet of what to look out for from each player while tuning in.

Irish players and their clubs for AFLW 7.0

Adelaide Crows

Ailish Considine (Clare)

History-making two-time Premier, set for her fifth season. Has been a good utility player for Adelaide, chipping in with a few goals.

Niamh Kelly (Mayo)

Made an interesting off-season switch from West Coast, where she had established herself as a key player. A big challenge lies ahead for the speedster.

Brisbane Lions 

Orla O’Dwyer (Tipperary)

Ireland’s only other AFLW Premier, has been a revelation at Brisbane since her debut campaign of 2020. One of the big success stories, the key midfielder made history in April as the first Irishwoman named in the AFLW All-Australian team.

Collingwood

Sarah Rowe (Mayo)

Also preparing for her fifth season, the Mayo star has moulded into an all-rounder, from goal-scoring forward to midfield powerhouse. Unfortunately misses the season opener due to an outstanding one-game suspension.

aflw-lions-magpies Sarah Rowe and Aishling Sheridan. Source: AAP/PA Images

Aishling Sheridan (Cavan)

Has really impressed through her four seasons since joining her long-time team-mate and friend at the Pies. A goal-scoring forward who plays with physicality and aggression.

Essendon 

Joanne Doonan (Fermanagh)

Set for a second bite at the cherry, having previously represented Carlton before the Covid-19 pandemic. Her huge efforts and VFLW – second-tier – exploits were rewarded with another contract.

Megan Ryan  (Tipperary)

A late addition to the roster as injury cover, the former Tipperary camogie player is a bit of an unknown quantity. Moved to Australia in 2019, caught the eye at state level and is now, by all accounts, a robust ruck ready to realise her AFLW dream. 

Fremantle

Orlagh Lally (Meath)

The Meath All-Ireland winner is fast becoming a fan favourite at Freo, despite her limited pre-season involvement. A hard-working, hard-hitting midfielder for the Royals, expect more of the same Down Under as she adjusts to the oval ball.

Áine Tighe (Leitrim)

Tighe’s first season was long-awaited, but worth it. The towering, versatile Leitrim star was excellent after devastating knee injuries scuppered her previous two campaigns. One to keep a close eye on, for sure.

Amy Mulholland (Armagh)

Like Ryan, Mulholland had moved to Oz for non-footballing reasons pre-Covid. Excelled at VFLW level as a goal-scorer and was recruited through the Draft.

Geelong

Rachel Kearns (Mayo)

The two-time All-Star and multi-sport talent is set for her second season, having struggled with a knee injury over the past few months. A force to be reckoned with in full flight.

GWS Giants

Cora Staunton (Mayo)

aflw-giants-cats Cora Staunton. Source: AAP/PA Images

Like a fine wine, the 40-year-old icon returns for a sixth campaign, having gotten better and better. The Giants’ all-time leading goal-kicker, having registered 47 goals in 40 games since her debut in 2018, there’s undoubtedly more to come from Staunton.

Bríd Stack (GWS Giants / Cork)

Overcame a serious neck injury from pre-season #1 to make her impact felt when her opportunity came in season #2. Like Staunton, a ladies football legend who has made a smooth transition.

Hawthorn

Aileen Gilroy (Mayo)

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Ms Consistent of the Irish Down Under, the teak-tough defender’s trade from North Melbourne was a big off-season talking point. A huge addition for a new Hawthorn side.

Áine McDonagh (Galway)

A talented Gaelic football and basketball player, McDonagh is preparing for her debut season. A rib injury sidelined her for the latter stages of pre-season, and is expected to keep her out for a bit longer.

Melbourne 

Sinéad Goldrick (Dublin)

One of the biggest names in ladies football, ‘Goldie’ has been a stalwart in defence for Melbourne since joining ahead of the 2020 season — just like for Dublin and Foxrock-Cabinteely. On the cusp of success with the Dees.

Blaithin Mackin (Armagh)

Kicked a goal at the MCG in her first-ever Aussie Rules game in pre-season, and will be looking to build on that. A powerful, direct runner, it will be interesting to track her progress.

North Melbourne

Vikki Wall (Meath)

vikki-wall Vikki Wall. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The big Irish signing of the summer, Wall had been tipped for an AFLW career for quite some time. Her pivotal role in Meath’s recent success only strengthened those calls, and they’ve been heightened since her immediate impact upon arrival.

Erika O’Shea (Cork)

The AFLW’s youngest-ever Irish player at 20, like Wall, has come in for high praise from Melbourne head coach Darren Crocker through pre-season. Lively and lightning-quick.

St Kilda

Clara Fitzpatrick (Down)

Another Irish player enjoying a second coming, but with the same club. Visa issues and injury delayed her return, but Fitzpatrick is a defensive stalwart ready for more.

Grace Kelly (Mayo)

Like her younger sister Niamh, the subject of an off-season switch from West Coast. Was an important goal-scoring forward at the Eagles, will be hoping for a successful new chapter.

West Coast Eagles

Aisling McCarthy (Tipperary) 

The only Irish player left at the Perth outfit, McCarthy started out at Western Bulldogs before making an historic switch to West Coast. A crucial midfielder due a big season, after a fractured wrist prematurely ended her involvement last time.

Round One fixtures 

Thursday

  • Carlton v Collingwood, Ikon Park, 10.10am

Friday 

  • Adelaide Crows v Melbourne, Norwood Oval, 10.40am

Saturday 

  • North Melbourne v Gold Coast, Blundstone Arena, 4.10am 
  • West Coast v Port Adelaide, Lathlain Park, 6.10am
  • Sydney Swans v St Kilda, North Sydney Oval, 8.10am
  • Essendon v Hawthorn, Marvel Stadium, 10.10am

Sunday 

  • Western Bulldogs v GWS Giants, Ikon Park, 3.10am
  • Brisbane v Fremantle, The Gabba, 5.10am
  • Geelong v Richmond, Kardinia Park, 7.10am.

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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