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'It hasn't even hit, I don't think it's real' - Tipp ace McCarthy relishing dream move to AFLW

2017 Intermediate Player of the Year Aisling McCarthy reacts to signing for the Western Bulldogs.

IRELAND’S LATEST ADDITION to the Australian Football League Women’s (AFLW) Aisling McCarthy says she “couldn’t believe it” when she was picked in the 2018 Draft.

Aisling McCarthy Aisling McCarthy was Player of the Match in the 2017 All-Ireland intermediate final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The Tipperary star and 2017 Intermediate Player of the Year was watching on from home through the night when she was announced as a new signing for reigning champions the Western Bulldogs.

“It hasn’t even hit,” she told The42 this afternoon. “I don’t think it’s real.”

McCarthy, 22, travelled to Australia in September as part of the CrossCoders programme. A group of 18 athletes were invited to Melbourne in the hope of securing coveted deals ahead of the AFLW’s third season.

Clare’s Ailish Considine and Donegal star forward Yvonne Bonner both inked professional contracts while over there, with the other players then entering the Draft.

McCarthy admits though that once she landed home, she felt that was that.

“I hadn’t a notion,” she explains, when asked if she knew anything before the early hours of today. “There was a little bit of interest from clubs since we came home, I would have had to discuss things with them — but not the Western Bulldogs.

“I had a chat with them when I was out there and all that. They said they were kind of interested but I hadn’t heard anything from them the last few weeks. I wasn’t expecting that at all.”

Awake at 2am Irish time, she watched it in bed on Facebook Live before realising her Mam was up and waiting patiently to hear her daughter’s name too.

I was watching it for about an hour and-a-half. I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is cruelty.’ Then my name gets called out — pick 23. At least I could stop worrying then. It was like, ‘I’m safe.’ I didn’t expect it at all.

“I thought it would have been further down the picks. They usually pick maybe the Australian girls first and then… I actually couldn’t believe it at all. My phone has just been buzzing like since last night.”

The dual player — she captained her club Cahir to the All-Ireland intermediate club title in Croke Park in March 2016 — concedes her disappointment that a few other Irish CrossCoders didn’t get picked in the Draft because there was interest there.

She spoke enthusiastically of their time at the camp in Melbourne, and how invaluable it was to get a full insight while there.

Just to see it first-hand was pretty cool,” she continues. “The facilities and things they had was crazy. The clubs as well, they share with the men’s so it’s very much you’re on par in that sense. That’s all great.

“Anything you want, you can ask for to make yourself better: physio, strength and conditioning, psychologist, video analysis, full-time coaching and other supports.

“That’s something that I’m really looking forward to, the whole professional aspect. It’ll be interesting to see how it unfolds and how I develop as a player.”

With the way the seasons fall, McCarthy and her fellow footballers can return to their respective inter-county set-ups for championship.

That’s a definite target, the UL Physiotherapy graduate confirms.

“I’m going to miss Division 1 league with Tipp. I’m disappointed about that, I haven’t played at that level yet but this is an opportunity that you just couldn’t pass up. I’m obviously delighted I’m heading over but at the same time I do wish I was playing Division 1 for Tipp. Hopefully I’ll be back for championship.

“With all the facilities and support networks over there, surely I’ll be coming back fitter in that sense. I’ll have a lot of work put into me so hopefully that will pay dividends. It’ll be tough to get back into the Tipp team, no doubt there’s a really good crop of players.

“I wouldn’t take it that I’ll just be walking back onto the team by any chance,” she adds, reiterating that she’ll have to work hard and stay in contact with management.

“Over the next few months my sole focus will be playing AFL. It obviously doesn’t come that naturally compared to Gaelic football. There are things I need to work on.

I’ll have to put Gaelic football to one side, in terms of mentally and physically, and I’ll come back all guns blazing if Tipp want me back.”

In an article on the Western Bulldogs website, they said that the Premier county midfielder “impressed with her power and speed, as well as her ball-handling ability”.

Aisling McCarthy lifts the cup Lifting the All-Ireland intermediate club camogie title in 2016. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

She doesn’t have many details at the minute but knows that training starts on 14 November, so there’ll be plenty of visa-sorting and flight-booking before then.

The Bulldogs, she knows, are a serious outfit and are most definitely aiming for back-to-back titles after winning it last year.

“There’ll be expectations on them again. They obviously want to get a good group of players in, they set high standards.

“Paul [Groves], their coach, came to talk to us at the camp. His approach to coaching, his approach to players and the players on the team are so down to earth. It’s a professional environment but you can relate to it; it’s very like being part of a college team or your club or county team. I really enjoyed that aspect of it. 

“The girls were Facetiming me this morning, they’re half-cracked! I’m excited to get over there with them. They’re on the same page as you in that sense, in that it’s a bit of fun as well.

“I know it’s obviously taken very seriously but I just found that the whole approach that the club have to the game is very relatable and wasn’t too far from home. I’m looking forward to that.”

For now though, she has sleep to catch up on from last night and plenty of planning to get done. As well as the Irish AFLW and AFL players over in Melbourne, McCarthy has family out there too so that’s a nice added extra going forward.

Grainne McGlade tackles Aisling McCarthy Facing Cavan this year. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

She’ll worry about that when she gets there, take it all in her stride. As she has done. 

“I had a nervous few days leading up to the draft. You just didn’t know at all,” she concludes, saying that she basically gave up her job in case the dream came true.

It all worked out. There must someone looking down on me or something! I’m delighted.”

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Emma Duffy

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