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'She's setting the standard' - a closer look at the nine Irish players that featured in AFLW openers

The view of an expert Down Under ahead of TG4′s highlights show this evening.

Updated Feb 1st 2021, 9:34 PM

“THE IRISH AREN’T just making up numbers, they’re actually some of the best players in the league.”

aflw (2) Cora Staunton, Orla O'Dwyer, Aileen Gilroy and Aishling Sheridan are among the Irish players in the league. Source: PA Images/Brisbane Lions / North Melbourne.

The shape the 2021 inter-county season will take remains up in the air as the Covid-19 crisis continues, but some of the country’s top ladies footballers have already started their sporting year elsewhere.

There’s 14 Irish players involved in the 2021 Australian Football League Women’s [AFLW] season, with seven counties represented across eight clubs.

Nine featured in round one and impacted their club’s fortunes, with Cavan’s Aishling Sheridan and Mayo’s Aileen Gilroy turning in headline-hitting performances for Collingwood and North Melbourne respectively.

Others watched from the sidelines, most notably Bríd Stack (GWS Giants and Cork) and Áine Tighe (Fremantle and Leitrim) who sustained potential season-ending injuries over the past few weeks.

We here at The42 brought you wraps of the action through the weekend, doing our best to cover the performances of the Irish players, the scores and result, but an expert on the ground in Australia has kindly offered some deeper analysis and insight.

Below, CrossCoders co-founder and agent to several Irish stars Down Under, Jason Hill, runs the rule over the nine who featured in round one, how they fared overall and what to expect from them and their respective sides going forward.

With TG4 showing a highlights programme at 8pm this evening, Hill’s words on each will act as a handy guide.

Aishling Sheridan (Collingwood / Cavan)

aflw-blues-magpies Sheridan (left) kicked the first goal of the season and later added another on Thursday. Source: AAP/PA Images

Great start for the Cavan star. Slotted back into the side seamlessly and you could tell her knowledge of the game and teammates had taken a huge step forward exemplified by her run off the shoulder of Lambert for her second goal. Two goals against one of the best defensive sides in the league shows you just how well she played. Pies will be in and around the business end of the year.

Mayo’s Sarah Rowe missed the game through injury but will be itching to get out there. Pies could definitely do with her injection of speed on the wing.

Sinead Goldrick (Melbourne FC / Dublin)

aflw-bulldogs-demons Sinéad Goldrick was the only Dubliner Melbourne utilised on Saturday. Source: AAP/PA Images

Slotted back into the Melbourne side with very little pre-season and did a good job down back. Surprisingly credited with 0 tackles but upped her involvement (8 disposals) in the game compared to her average of 7.2 last season. Solid win for a Melbourne side that a lot of people have ruled out of contention due to their changes in the off-season. Looks like no one told them.

Both Niamh McEvoy and Lauren Magee weren’t selected for the first round, but expect to see them at some point this season once they’ve upped their training load.

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Aisling McCarthy (West Coast Eagles / Tipperary)

Solid start to life in blue and gold. Led all Irish players in possessions and battled hard against the heat and class of an Adelaide midfield full of superstars. Will continue to improve as she gets used to her new team and game plan. West Coast look a more attacking and exciting team in 2021 but skill errors in round one need to be ironed out of their game if they’re going to look to improve on one win in 2020.

Niamh Kelly (West Coast Eagles / Mayo)

Screenshot 2021-02-01 at 11.34.43 Niamh Kelly picked up where she left off with a West Coast goal. Source: West Coast Eagles.

The speed demon has moved into the forward line and it seems to be paying dividends for the Mayo native. She was a constant threat to the Adelaide backline with her speed getting her free over the top on a few occasions. Took her goal well and crashed packs nicely. The change in West Coast’s plan should allow her to get free often and create havoc.

Grace Kelly (West Coast Eagles / Mayo)

aflw-giants-eagles Source: AAP/PA Images

A quieter game for the other Kelly sister as she returns from injury. Battled hard all day in the scorching heat and did some nice things when she did get her hands on the ball. Will look to take big steps this year after having a great pre-season and increase her numbers as weeks go on. Similar to her sister, a change in West Coast philosophy will only improve those chances.

Ailish Considine (Adelaide Crows / Clare)

Back in the forward line and back kicking goals. A good performance by Ailish will give her confidence moving forward. Just getting in this side, the stacked nature of it, is an accomplishment in itself and with the quality they possess, this will give Ailish a chance to deliver real quality when she gets on the ball. Adelaide are back firing after a down season and the current reigning champions [from '19, as last season wasn't completed] are looking to show that 2020 was just a blip on their radar. If their guns stay fit they’ll be a tough team to take points against.

Aileen Gilroy (North Melbourne / Mayo)

aileen gilroy Gilroy has been a revelation since joining the Kangaroos. Source: North Melbourne.

North dominated Geelong and Gilroy hasn’t missed a beat. Joint-leading the game in tackles (seven) and having 13 disposals across half back, it’s like she hasn’t taken any time away from the game. Her run off half-back is what stands out in her game and helps North start attacks. That and one of the most penetrating kicks out of the Irish contingent. Better forward lines will test her two-way running but right now, she’s setting the standard for Irish players in the backline. Expect North to go all the way this year. They’re the bookies favourites and will take some beating. They feel like they would have gone close in 2020 and there are potential some blockbuster matchups with the likes of Collingwood, Fremantle, Carlton and Adelaide to wet the lips of all sports fans.

Orla O’Dwyer (Brisbane Lions / Tipperary)

orla O'Dwyer (left) celebrating the win with her Brisbane team-mates. Source: Brisbane Lions AFLW.

A move into a more midfield role for Orla as she lined up on the wing against a Richmond Tigers side who recruited hard over the offseason. Her speed stood out on the weekend as did her attack on the ball, her camogie background really coming to the fore. Speed and strength is something she wants to weaponise this year and she started to show some of that off against Richmond, while also kicking her first point for the season and being a big part of the build-up which put the final nail in the Tigers coffin. Expect Brisbane to surprise a few teams this year and be pushing for finals.

Cora Staunton (GWS Giants / Mayo)

aflw-giants-cats This is 39-year-old Staunton's fourth season in Australia - she's the oldest player in the league. Source: AAP/PA Images

A surprisingly quiet game for Cora on a day filled with emotion for the GWS Giants as they paid tribute to former player Jacinda Barclay who passed away last year. Cora only registered 8 touches and didn’t trouble the scorers against a very good Fremantle outfit. While her number of touches has dropped year on year as she moves further into the forward line, this has been replaced by goals. Expect Cora to bounce back next week and start slotting between the sticks. GWS will always be a hard-working team that grinds out a win or two, but I’d expect them to be towards the back end of the pack in 2021.

***************

Turning to round two next weekend, there has been a fixture reshuffle with the season thrown into early disarray due to Covid-19.

Several Irish players’ games have been called off due to lockdown and isolation, but there’s potential for seven to be involved across eight games, one which will be shown on TG4 on Saturday evening.

  • Collingwood (Sheridan and Rowe) v Gold Coast Suns — deferred coverage on TG4: Saturday, 5.10pm
  • Melbourne (Goldrick, McEvoy and Magee) v Richmond 
  • North Melbourne (Gilroy) v St Kilda
  • Brisbane Lions (O’Dwyer) v Geelong.

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

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Emma Duffy

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