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'I'll get a proper taste' - Cavan star forward heading to Oz to chase AFLW contract

Aishling Sheridan will spend four weeks playing for a VFLW team alongside Clare’s Ailish Considine.

Cavan star forward Aishling Sheridan.
Cavan star forward Aishling Sheridan.
Image: Tom Beary/INPHO

EIGHT MONTHS AFTER taking a dive into the unknown and heading to Melbourne on an AFLW trial, Cavan star Aishling Sheridan is setting off once again.

Last September, she was one of 11 Irish players who travelled as part of the CrossCoders week-long camp, but this year the Mullahoran native is flying solo in slightly different circumstances. A coveted professional contract is still the end goal however.

She’ll spend four weeks in Darwin, lining out with Northern Territories [NT] Thunder in the Victorian Football League Women’s [VFL Women's] — the AFLW’s second-string — before returning to James Daly’s Breffni county set-up ahead of Ulster championship.

After getting a feel for the oval ball, 22-year-old Sheridan was eager to explore the opportunities Down Under more and more, staying firmly in touch with CrossCoders despite the fact that her focus was firmly set on Gaelic football and life after graduating from college.

“You never know, I could be giving it another go at some stage,” as the athletic therapist and trainer told The42 in March about the potential to play Aussie Rules on these shores. “Gaelic football is my main sport so that will obviously be coming first. Maybe I’ll be giving it a go.”

When the opportunity arose to head to NT Thunder to get a better taste though, it was an offer she couldn’t refuse. The club has links with 2019 champions Adelaide Crows, one side which showed interest in Sheridan at the camp — and they’ve kept contact since.

The last few days have been manic, with her flight details just confirmed this week after everything was up in the air depending on football commitments here. All packed and ready to go now, she’s looking forward to another experience of a lifetime Down Under.

mona Source: Mona Sheridan Twitter.

This time around, she can fully immerse herself in life over there; the oval ball sport, the different culture, and everything that goes hand-in-hand with it.

“It’s definitely going to be a massive change but it’s very exciting,” the Breffni forward tells The42 on the eve of her departure.

“I suppose last year when we went over, we had a week to learn the game, to get testing done, to do interviews and squeeze everything into a few days between training and all.

“I have four weeks over there now so I’m hoping that I get an extra bit of time to work on my skills and understand the game, recover, and just enjoy it really.

“I’ll get a proper taste of the sport. You have to go out, taste it and see if it’s for you. If it’s for you, it’s for you and if it’s not, no harm done.” 

She’ll be playing alongside Clare’s Ailish Considine, who helped Adelaide to AFLW glory in the Grand Final last month.

Considine has opted to stay out in Australia a little longer to get more minutes under her belt with a second-tier team, after re-signing with the champions for 2020.

The duo will live together, and have been in contact plenty in the run-up to Aishling’s departure. 

“Ah, it’s so nice having Ailish,” she smiles. “I was talking to her during the week and she gave me a run-down on everything. Even just to have that and to know what to bring made a massive difference.

AFLW CROWS CATS She'll play alongside Ailish Considine. Source: AAP/PA Images

“When I land I’ll be meeting her in the airport so that’s a massive thing as well because I wouldn’t know where I’m going. 

“We’re staying together, training together, she’ll be helping me out with my skills — no one better to have helping me especially seeing how well she got on last year. Even at the camp, her skills were very advanced. So to have her this a massive part of it.”

And Kildare’s Aisling Curley — who was also with Sheridan and Considine on the original CrossCoders trial — plies her trade with Collingwood’s second-string team in the VFL Women’s.

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The sides will actually clash in the last of the four games Sheridan will play, before making the trip back to Ireland in early June ahead of Cavan’s championship tilt.

“It’ll be nice to have the Irish contingent there playing against each other. It makes it that more homely I suppose, because you’re playing people you know. It’ll be fun lining lining out in games and seeing how everyone is getting on.” 

Sheridan is full of praise for the global CrossCoders programme and two of its co-founders, Jason Hill and Lauren Spark, telling of just how much they’ve helped her from September’s camp right through this process.

They’re a middle-man of sorts between the athlete and the clubs, and it’s been more than effective, she says. With many opportunities already open and likely more to come through this VFL Women’s venture, an AFLW contract really is the dream.

“It definitely is the end goal now,” she agrees.

“It’s hard to know what the future’s going to bring and what the next few months are going to bring, but I’m just going to take every day as it comes, especially when I’m out there for the four weeks, and not put too much pressure on myself to have to perform so well and make sure I get signed straight away.

“It is a process and I’m still young, I’m still only 22. I still have a long future ahead of me and I just have to take every day as it comes.”

She’s one of several Irish players vying for coveted AFLW contracts for the 2020 season, but a seven-strong contingent have already been confirmed in Considine, Mayo quartet Sarah Rowe, Cora Staunton, Niamh and Grace Kelly, Donegal’s Yvonne Bonner and Tipperary’s Aisling McCarthy.

With the expansion of the league and the addition of four new teams, more and more doors will open over the coming weeks and months.

“There’ll be a lot more players, especially from Ireland, crossing over codes to play because it’s getting bigger and the sport is being recognised a lot more than it was.

“I know it’s not the same as men’s AFL but it’s early days. It’s going into its fourth year, so it’s just going to get bigger and bigger. In 10 years time, it’ll be a massive sport.”

With Cavan facing the winner of Donegal and Tyrone in the Ulster semi-final on 15 June, Sheridan will be back in plenty of time for that, she assures, with Daly and her team-mates fully behind her venture.

Aisling Sheridan tackled by Maria Curley Facing Tipp in last year's Division 2 league final. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

In her absence, there’s club action, but she’s pleased with the timing overall and the fact that there’s a mutual understanding from both sides of the world.

“So many opportunities and experiences are opening up for players,” she says.

“The thing for me was I didn’t want to miss a county game. I’m committed to Cavan. The managers in Australia were so understanding of that. They understood that this is my sport at home. They were never pushing me to stay longer. 

“They’re happy for me to come out for four weeks and to give it all. I am missing club, I’m disappointed about that because I don’t like missing any sport or letting anyone down.

“But even at that, club is so understanding, they’re congratulating me and really looking forward to seeing me play out there and seeing how I get on. 

“It’s been great. Everyone’s been so supportive, wishing me well, and telling me to enjoy the experience.

“It’s massive for girls these days to get these opportunities, they weren’t around years ago when others were playing football.”

They say: grab it with both hands and enjoy every moment.

And that she sure will.

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Emma Duffy

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