Lucky 13

'It's something I never thought could work out for me' - Donegal star Herron lands AFLW deal

Katy Herron has signed for Western Bulldogs, becoming the 13th Irish player confirmed for the 2020 season.

FROM STARRING AS Donegal made it three in-a-row in Ulster to signing a professional deal to play in the AFLW in 2020, what a rollercoaster 10 days it’s been for Katy Herron. 

Western Bulldogs announced their newest signings this morning, with 28-year-old Herron joining Tipperary star Aisling McCarthy at the 2018 Grand Final champions.

Katy Herron Donegal star Katy Herron has signed for the Western Bulldogs. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

She’s lucky number 13; the 13th Irish player confirmed for the Australian league next season and like most who have signed on the dotted line, has come through the CrossCoders programme. 

But unlike the others, it was a decision Herron probably had to put a little more thought into. For anyone, moving across the world is big. But for her, it was pretty unthinkable before this chance came about.

“Listen, it’s a massive opportunity and it’s something I probably never thought of before,” Herron recently told The42.

I have a child who’s seven and I’ve never got away travelling. It was just straight out of college, straight into work kind of thing for me. It was something I never really expected to happen, or thought it could work out for me.

“When I thought about it a bit more then, it was obviously an opportunity I couldn’t turn down so I’m over the moon. Delighted.”

The Glenfin native has been a constant in the Donegal side over the past few years, impressing week in, week out as she switches between defence and midfield. But her head was slightly turned towards the end of last year when her clubmate, Yvonne Bonner, got into the oval ball game.

Bonner went on the inaugural CrossCoders trial camp to Melbourne, and penned a deal with Greater Western Sydney (GWS) Giants off the back of that. 

You’d be great at it, you should try it out.

Words in Herron’s ear from Bonner and her husband planted a seed in her head and as she thought about it more and more, Herron committed to sending an application form into CrossCoders. 

The night of the closing date, she emailed co-founder Jason Hill explaining her situation with her son, Joshua, but he assured her that she had nothing to lose by applying for the 2019 camp in Athlone. They’d cross that hurdle if, and when, it came.

Katy Herron with Jennifer Dunne Herron facing Dublin earlier this year. Tommy Grealy / INPHO Tommy Grealy / INPHO / INPHO

“I just thought I’d wait for the camp, but he emailed me one day and said that the Bulldogs were really interested and I was their number one choice. I was like, ‘What?.. but right, okay.’”

“He was asking me then had I thought stuff through and what I had planned to do with Joshua. I was like, ‘I haven’t thought about anything because I didn’t think that this was going to happen!’

“He kind of just advised me to go home and have a few conversations with my family, see could it work out because they were really interested going off the [video] clips.”

And that’s what she did.

“I went home and spoke to Mum and all, they were pretty supportive and kind of happy that I would get the chance to go away… worried about Joshua at the same time, but listen, we’ll get it worked out. That’s all other stuff we’ll get worked out.

In a whole, I was over the moon, I was delighted. I never thought it would happen so fast. I obviously grabbed the chance then when it came.

Every sportsperson wants to play professional at some stage of their life, after all. Doing what you love 24/7, week in, week out, and getting paid for it really is the dream.

“You love playing with your county and that’s probably always your number one,” she nods, “but there’s a lot of demands in life I suppose and getting that chance to play professional, to do what you love doing every day and having the time to recover and get physio work done and strength work done without having to worry about work and all those other things, is massive.

To see really what limits you can reach. You don’t really have the chance to do that at home when you’ve so much going on. It’s nice that way, it’ll be exciting to see.

So by the time the camp rolled around in May, Herron had already verbally agreed terms to join the Bulldogs for 2020. She bought a Sherrin a few weeks beforehand, and became acquainted with the oval ball.

Katy Herron At the CrossCoders camp in May. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

“I didn’t want to really take my focus away from county, so when we had a week off I took the ball on holidays with me and did the few clips of kicking and stuff.

“It went okay, it didn’t seem to go too bad,” she laughs. “Once you get the hang of it…

“Handling it is not too bad when it’s in the air but if it hits the ground, you’re snookered altogether! Obviously there’s a lot of skills we need to learn, but having played football for so long, it’s something hopefully I’ll pick up.

“They’ve been great giving feedback and stuff, so we’ll just keep working on things.”

From watching Bonner, her soon-to-be team-mate McCarthy and the three other Irish girls that excelled in the league last year, she has an idea of what to expect. 

She’s still entering the relative unknown, of course, but will take comfort in knowing how well they’ve got on and how she’ll have an equal opportunity to succeed Down Under.

“Yvonne would have been probably the fittest person on our team, and seeing how she’s developed physically with all the stuff they’re doing and getting all her diet plans and stuff is probably somewhere that we’re lacking here.

To have the chance to be exposed to that is massive. She’s loved the experience.

She shares how she contacted McCarthy when the wheels were set in motion and the Bulldogs originally approached Herron.

“I actually wrote to her whenever I knew I was getting the call. I only know her from playing against her really. She was lovely and gave me loads of advice. She said if I needed to chat about anything, she’d let me know. It’s nice having someone there.

“Then, meeting Lauren [Spark, CrossCoders co-founder and Bulldogs star] this weekend is nice as well. She was emailing me, and I was like, ‘You play for them?’

Aisling McCarthy Tipperary star Aisling McCarthy. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s good to have some wee connection before you go, seeing as I haven’t been anywhere like. I don’t travel too far! It’s nice to have somebody there. I’m so excited now, it’ll be brilliant.”

It’s a big move, a big venture to the other side of the world for a first time to live away from home, but thankfully, one those closest to her support.

Her family — and of course, the club — are right behind her every step of the way, with plans coming into place to bring her young son, Joshua, with her.

“Mammy’s like, ‘Are you sure?’ I was like, ‘He’ll be with me, like,’” she giggles. “I’m going to try and keep him in school as long as I can, up until Christmas hopefully. Then come home and take him out then from January.

There’s obviously a lot of things to think about with my situation, and that’s why I really appreciate the opportunity from the Bulldogs. There’s a lot of girls that they could have picked a lot younger than me, for a start, and with a lot less ties than me.

“I’m really appreciative of them. They’ve been giving me a lot if support already. They seem to be very focused around family so that’s really nice to see as well. I’m just really thankful for the opportunity. I’ll just make everything else work.”

Herron is the all-in type; once she commits to something she’s there 100%. All or nothing. And that’s why it’s so important to her that once the news breaks, she parks it and remains fully focused on Donegal and on championship football.

Maxi Curran’s side are in an All-Ireland championship group with their Ulster counterparts Tyrone — who were crowned All-Ireland intermediate champions last year and now find themselves promoted to the top flight — and Connacht runners-up Mayo.

With three championship fixtures under their belt already — the provincial decider victory over Armagh, a hard-fought extra-time win over Cavan, and a 3-13 to 2-12 opening win against the Red Hand — they’re raring to go again. 

And Herron is fully on board, with Australia to the back of her mind. 

Katy Herron Kicking the Sherrin. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

“That’s kind of a fear that I did have,” she explained. “I want to be able to tell the girls in the county and the girls in my club first, and it’s not that any focus will be taken away from that.

“I’m dedicated 100% to what I’m doing at the time and Donegal will be my number one from there. The girls will know that and I’m sure they’ll understand it and not doubt me on that.

“That’ll be the focus. When the end of the season comes, then we can turn the focus to something new.”

As the chat winds down, she’s keen to get a word in for CrossCoders. Of the 13 Irish in the league next year, they’ve played a part in 11 securing professional contracts. And Herron is forever grateful for their help, and the opportunity.

“CrossCoders have been brilliant,” she concludes.” To give this opportunity to people, it’s unreal.

“I know it may affect the Gaelic a little bit maybe in the long run, but to have that opportunity I just think it’s massive. They’re doing a great job.

“I’m sure everyone really appreciates it and hopefully there’ll be more success after.”

Screenshot 2019-07-10 at 08.58.03 Western Bulldogs AFLW. Western Bulldogs AFLW.

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