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'It's something different every day' - home to hospital frontline before returning to Aussie Rules dream

Tipperary and now-West Coast Eagles star Aisling McCarthy is currently focusing on work and Gaelic football.

A FEW MONTHS back, Tipperary star Aisling McCarthy went from the front line of her Aussie Rules side Down Under to the frontline of the fight against Covid-19 in Ireland.

aisling-mccarthy-celebrates-scoring-a-goal Tipperary star Aisling McCarthy. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Having signed up for the HSÉ’s ‘On Call For Ireland’ initiative following her self-isolation stint upon her arrival to home soil, the 24-year-old physiotherapist soon found work.

In May, she began working in the Midlands Regional Hospital, Portlaoise.

“I moved up there, I’m there during the week and busy Monday to Friday with that,” she told The42 last week, after her landmark switch to West Coast Eagles to Western Bulldogs was confirmed.

“It was nice to kind of get back into a routine. I’m working on the ward. It’s really nice, it’s something different every day.

I’m mostly working with elderly people, it might be after a fall or people coming in with chest infections, and different things like that. We’re trying to get them back to where they were before they came into the hospital, rehabbing them and making sure that we can get them as strong as possible before they go home again.

“It’s been really nice as well to start that.” 

Her career away from football was one of the many reasons she cited for her move to West Coast Eagles, so she’s looking forward to continuing her journey there when she finishes up in this stint in Portlaoise.

“I think over the last few months, I realised how much I enjoy my physio profession,” she nodded.

“When West Coast gave me the opportunity to be able to continue to grow and develop my physio career, I felt that was important too because over the last two seasons, I kind of parked my physio career.

“You have to start over again when you get home, whereas now I’ll be able to continue learning and that when I get over to Perth. I’m really looking forward to that.

They have a physio clinic connected to the club so hopefully I’ll be able to do a little bit of shadowing even. They’re going to enable me to grow my physio career and just keep upskilling.”

McCarthy’s first club championship match with Cahir was played the day after our phonecall a little under two weeks ago. Her side were narrow 1-16 to 2-12 winners over Aherlow, a reward for their hard work over the past few weeks and months.

McCarthy — whose current football situation is now unclear due to the regional restrictions in Laois, Kildare and Offaly — was understandably over the moon at the time to be back at it.

“It’s really nice to be able to focus on the club because I’ve felt over the last few years, you weren’t able to give 100% to your club because you would be training with your county.

It’s nice to be able to spend a lot of time around your club team-mates at the moment and I’m just really looking forward to enjoying football. It was taken away from us for those few months and I haven’t played competitively since the All-Ireland final with Tipperary in September.

“I’m really looking forward to just going out and playing a championship match and hopefully things going well, we’ll do well with Cahir and then start training with Tipperary.

“It’s nice even to just be back with all the girls and have that social aspect because we haven’t seen each other in ages. It’s really nice to be back with them and kicking a football around.”

aismc Source: West Coast Eagles Twitter.

After two years in the Australian Football League Women’s [AFLW], 2017 and 2019 All-Ireland intermediate champion McCarthy is well used to alternating between the round and oval balls.

And it’s something she’s going to continue to do while at the Eagles, who “understand my love of Gaelic football as well.”

The plan now is to focus on Gaelic football until she returns to Australia, concentrating on club at the minute before her attention switches to the inter-county scene when the Covid-19 roadmap allows it.

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The TG4 All-Ireland senior championship is slated in for late October so the plan is to play the group stages of that — at least — with Tipperary, before jetting off for pre-season on the other side of the world.

“West Coast really respect the fact that I am determined to represent Tipperary as well so they’re going give me all the support over the next couple of months to ensure that I’m prepared for Tipperary championship as well.

I’ll be playing for Tipp for the group stages anyway and we’ll see where our journey goes from there. Then I’ll be travelling out for pre-season. At the moment, with coronavirus, we don’t quite know exactly what’s happening but that’s the plan.

“They understood what was important to me outside of football. They want people to grow as people as well as just footballers, and I think they’ve shown that they do have all of the supports in place to allow me to grow and develop. That’s something that really drew me towards them.”

And it’s something she saw in how they treated Mayo duo Grace and Niamh Kelly through their first AFLW season. Now, the trio will combine and are expected to play a huge part for the Eagles after the Kelly sisters signed fresh two-year deals.

“It’s great to have Irish girls with you on the team,” McCarthy said after she was joined by Donegal ace Katy Herron at the Bulldogs last year while she lived with three other top Gaelic footballers in Aileen Gilroy, Joanne Doonan and Mairead Seoighe.

You kind of have that better understanding of each other and where people might run because of patterns in Gaelic football and stuff. It will be nice that we’ll be able to link up with each other on the field and obviously off the field.

“It will be nice to have some Irish people in Perth as well — just to feel like you’re at home a little bit. That was a really important thing for me this year. I lived in a house with other Irish girls so it will be nice to have that similar situation in Perth.

“They’re planning to put a lot of support in place so that we do feel at home, I think that’s really important. Niamh and Grace spoke so highly of the club when I happened to speak to them. They seemed to get everything right, so I’m looking forward to that.”

So as one door opens in Perth, the other closes in Melbourne and McCarthy says goodbye to the Bulldogs — who she signed for in the 2018 Draft off the back of a CrossCoders trial, and where she went on to establish herself as one of the best midfielders in the league.

aflw-bulldogs-blues Fielding a ball for the Bulldogs. Source: AAP/PA Images

Reflecting on those two seasons — in which she kicked seven goals in six appearances, averaging over 10 disposals per game in a forward role in season one, and averaged 13.5 disposals and four tackles per game as she flourished in a move to midfield last campaign — McCarthy says it’s been an absolute rollercoaster ride.

“If it wasn’t for the Bulldogs, potentially I wouldn’t have even got a start in the AFLW at all,” she concludes, pointing out time and time again.

I am very grateful for them to draft me two years ago and bring me out to the other side of the world. It was challenging, but it was great. The club made me feel at home and I made some brilliant friends out of it as well.

“The Bulldogs are so ingrained in the AFLW history and they’re one of the foundation teams so that was great to be involved in a team like that. I got to play alongside some of the best players in the competition like Ellie Blackburn, Isabel Huntington as well. That was a great honour.

“I had a great two seasons and it was a tough decision to move,” she concluded, “but I guess just over the last few weeks, talking to West Coast, it just excited me and the opportunity to see somewhere else in the world along with everything else, it’s the right thing for me and I’m really looking forward to it now.”

Originally published at 07.00 and updated at 17.48

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Emma Duffy

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