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'It is very alien' - Tipperary star McCarthy completes historic switch between Aussie Rules sides

Aisling McCarthy joins West Coast Eagles from Western Bulldogs. Here, she speaks to The42 about the move.

Next chapter: Aisling McCarthy has signed for West Coast Eagles.
Next chapter: Aisling McCarthy has signed for West Coast Eagles.

TIPPERARY STAR AISLING McCarthy has become the first Irishwoman — and first non-Australian — to move Australian Football League Women’s [AFLW] clubs after making the switch to West Coast Eagles from Western Bulldogs.

The news was confirmed today after the 2020 AFLW Sign and Trade Period opened yesterday, and the 2017 and 2019 All-Ireland intermediate champion now brings the curtain down on two hugely impressive seasons at the Bulldogs.

24-year-old McCarthy originally signed for the Melbourne-based side during the 2018 Draft after catching the eye on a CrossCoders trial.

Having gone from strength to strength during her time at the Bulldogs, the 2017 Intermediate Player of the Year now faces a new challenge at West Coast Eagles — the Perth side where Mayo sisters Niamh and Grace Kelly plied their trade last season.

And their newest Irish import is hoping to arrive at the club later this year, after representing Tipperary in the 2020 All-Ireland senior football championship.

“I’m really excited to get the journey underway,” McCarthy told The42 over the weekend in an in-depth interview in which she explained the trade, outlined the reasoning behind it and looked forward to the challenge ahead.

She is the first Irishwoman to move clubs, so this is completely different. While 19 Irish players have been involved with AFLW clubs since the league’s inception in 2017, this certainly is uncharted territory.

That said, it is a huge honour for Cahir clubwoman McCarthy.

“For people back home, it is very alien to transfer teams,” the CrossCoder says. “It’s completely different, it’s not something that you do in Gaelic football at all.

“You play with your club you grew up with all your life and if you get the opportunity to play for your county, that’s who you play for until you retire. It’s quite foreign.

aflw-saints-bulldogs McCarthy has been a leading light at the Bulldogs. Source: AAP/PA Images

“I’m nearly scared about the news coming out because it might be a bit of a shock to people in Ireland. It happens in other sports like soccer and rugby, but with my Gaelic football roots, it’s a little bit different.

“But the way West Coast recruited me and the understanding they got of me as a person was brilliant. I really just felt that the move would help me, not just as a footballer and as a person but it would help my physio career too. It all came at the right time.”

Those nerves about today’s announcement aside, her excitement shines through with each and every word. She knows it’s the right move, but the decision certainly wasn’t an easy one.

It’s one she’s had to come to over the past few weeks — “not alone transferring clubs but even the decision to go back to Australia for the AFLW,” she explains.

“Everything has been so uncertain but it was nice to come to a final decision and have everything set in stone. It has been tough. Loyalty is a huge value of mine as well so it wasn’t easy to make the decision.”

But when the Eagles came calling, she soon realised she wanted to spread her wings.

Initial conversations excited her. Options were weighed up, everything was carefully considered and McCarthy soon came to a set conclusion in her own head.

“I was really excited to get the ball rolling with West Coast,” she continues. “Obviously I’ve had a great two seasons with the Bulldogs, and I’m forever grateful to them for giving me the starting opportunity to even have a career in AFLW.

“It was definitely a leap of fate by them two years ago to select an Irish player and bring them over from the other side of the world. I had obviously never played before, it was a special time.

“But this opportunity came at the right time to be able to develop my football, delvelop as a person and get to see another part of the world as well. It’s the right thing for me and I’m really excited to make the move now.”

WhatsApp Image 2020-08-01 at 16.40.36 McCarthy is set for her third season in the AFLW. Source: Bernard O’Brien New Age Photography.

Why West Coast? The reasons are plentiful.

The Eagles are preparing for their second season in the AFLW, and the fact that she is their top trade target is a statement of intent. Having established herself as one of the best midfielders in the competition in such a short space of time, West Coast will look to base their team around McCarthy and make her a big part of their future.

But there’s much more to this move than just footie. The Tipperary star will be supported as a dual sport athlete rather than just an AFLW player for half the year, while the club are hoping to help her in her physiotherapy career.

The plan is to shadow in a clinic connected to the West Coast set-up, and to continue constantly upskilling.

For Aisling McCarthy the person too, the club seems like a great fit. More of Australia and the world will be seen from there.

“I just feel that West Coast have all the supports in place to make that transition over to Perth really seamless,” she nods. “How well they treated Grace and Niamh Kelly last year, there’s proof that they’re well able to cater for international players.

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“I spoke to [West Coast's Head of Female Football] Adam Selwood and the coach, Luke Dwyer, and during that process, they talked about their plans for the next couple of years and how they could potentially use me to my strengths… how I might bring something different to the team.

“I’m looking forward to trying to put my hand up for a spot on the team and hopefully run through the midfield. They have two of the best players in the competition in their midfield at the moment; the captain Emma Swanson and vice-captain Dana Hooker. Just to have the opportunity to play alongside players like that as well really excited me.

“Obviously the facilities and everything in all the clubs in Australia is excellent. I do think West Coast are absolutely brilliant and the standing of the women’s team within the club is great — it’s really integrated with the men’s team.

“I think they have all the supports in place that you can get the best out of yourself as an athlete — and hopefully that will translate over as well into Gaelic football.”

“Overall, they sold the club really well to me and they got to know me better as a person as well as a footballer,” she adds. “I thought that was really important that they understood what’s important to me outside of football.

aflw-bulldogs-cats Facing Geelong during the 2019 season. Source: AAP/PA Images

“They looked at the holistic picture of everything, they’re not just interested in just the football side of things. They want people to grow as people as well as just be 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.

“All that really excited me and I’m really looking forward to heading there.”

While McCarthy — who began working in the Midlands Regional Hospital, Portlaoise, during the Covid-19 pandemic — leaves an Irish team-mate in Katy Herron at the Bulldogs, she’s looking forward to joining the Kelly duo at West Coast.

The door closes in Melbourne, but on good terms with many of her team-mates giving her their blessings and really appreciating her decision, and another opens in the “chilled vibes” city of Perth. She’s glad she’ll have a piece of home there to help her along the way.

“It will be totally new again, a completely different part of the world. That’s a bit daunting but it’s exciting. It’s great to be able to see different parts of the world.

“I stayed over there for a couple of days after we played West Coast last year and it’s just a really, really nice place. It will be nice living near the beach and things like that. It will be definitely challenging at the start because it’s so new whereas last year I was obviously going back to Melbourne for the second time so made it a little bit easier.”

“But I’m sure having Grace and Niamh there will be great,” she adds, noting that her former Bulldogs team-mate Belinda Smith also plays there too. “I’ll know a couple of faces when I walk into the club on my first day. Hopefully I’ll settle in fairly quickly.”

That Irish, and Gaelic football, connection is most welcome. It means McCarthy is never too far from her roots, thankfully. On the field, they have a better understanding of each others’ runs and link up nicely. Just as they do off the field, too.

Having lived in a house full of fellow Irish AFLW stars in Melbourne last year, McCarthy is hoping to experience a similar situation in Perth — and West Coast will surely make her feel at home on the other side of the world.

Far, far away from her beloved Gaelic football. But the club completely understand her love for her native sport, and how she’s determined to represent Tipperary with 100%.

Delighted to be focusing on club football at the minute, having not played competitively since the All-Ireland intermediate final in September until Sunday, McCarthy plans to see that campaign out before switching her focus to the inter-county scene.

aisling-mccarthy On the ball for Tipperary last summer. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

She’ll be available to Premier manager Shane Ronayne for the group stages of the All-Ireland senior championship in late October, at least, with the Eagles supporting her all the way before returns to Australia for pre-season.

“The club have been great and they’re very supportive that I do want to represent Tipperary,” she smiles. “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. I potentially might have to quarantine for a couple of weeks when we land there and then I’ll stay out there for around six months, everything going well.

“I’ll come back then and hopefully be able to represent Tipperary again, so it’s kind of similar to what I’ve been doing the last couple of years.”

“West Coast have been great to give me the green light to continue representing Tipperary and then to go out to pre-season afterwards with them,” she concludes.

“I’m delighted that everything’s kind of worked out and it made the decision a little bit easier then that I was able to do both.”

- Originally published at time of announcement (8.30am) and updated to appear on TheJournal.

- A second interview with Aisling McCarthy will follow on The42 this week, with another piece on her trade coming later today.

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About the author:

Emma Duffy

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