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'It wasn't entirely my choice. It's just disappointing' - Donegal Aussie Rules star explains 2021 absence

Western Bulldogs said today that Katy Herron ‘has elected not to return’ – but she claims the situation is different.

DONEGAL STAR KATY Herron has explained the reasoning behind her absence for the 2021 Australian Football League Women’s [AFLW] season, clarifying her side of the story after a statement from her Western Bulldogs side today.

aflw-saints-bulldogs Katy Herron enjoyed a stellar debut season at Western Bulldogs - though 2021 won't come as her second. Source: AAP/PA Images

The Bulldogs announced that Herron “has elected not to return to the Western Bulldogs for the 2021 AFLW season,” citing family reasons in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We understand that this has been a very difficult decision for Katy, but she has made the right choice for her and her family,” the club’s general manager of women’s footy Debbie Lee said, confirming a replacement player will now be added to their list.

But speaking to The42 this evening, Herron — who had her seven-year-old son, Joshua, with her in Melbourne for most of last season — outlined the situation from her point of view.

She explained how she had hoped to leave for Australia after spending Christmas with Joshua, having taken a career break from her teaching job, and questioned why that could not be accommodated with other Irish stars departing later.

“It probably wasn’t entirely my choice,” the 31-year-old said, with news of her 2021 return originally announced in August. “I know the year has been pretty crazy, but I was hoping with Joshua not able to come out and then with everything going on, that there might have been a wee bit of leniency with regards Irish players.

“I knew the Dublin girls were travelling out after Christmas, so I just spoke to the club and asked them was there a chance of me staying at home for Christmas with Joshua. I had offered to travel out on Boxing Day, just so I could spend it with him because he wasn’t going to get over [to Melbourne].

“They were pretty keen for me to go on the early flight, that was actually today. There was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing for that and they ended up not agreeing to let me come after Christmas.

“The club were keen for me to go earlier for my own player development, but I made the choice to spend Christmas with Joshua and they didn’t see any later as a viable option.”

“It’s pretty disappointing,” she added. “With the fact that there is other Irish players travelling later, I thought there might have been a bit more of a compromise.

“I know at the end of the day they’re running an organisation, I understand it’s a professional set-up and players coming in late probably isn’t ideal. Maybe it’s the tone they want to set for the 2021 season, which I respect. 

“But it’s just disappointing at the minute. Obviously I took the career break with the hope to go back and things are just left very up in the air now. Obviously I respect that the club are running an organisation but it’s just disappointing for me with how it’s worked out.”

aflw-bulldogs-dockers Herron on the ball last season. Source: AAP/PA Images

In a stunning debut season shortened by the pandemic, Herron played all six games for the Dogs alongside Irish team-mate Aisling McCarthy, who has since moved clubs. Key at the back, Herron averaged 6.8 disposals at an impressive 68% efficiency.

With excitement for her second coming now dashed having been supported every step of the way last season, Herron finds it hard to hide her frustration, though is forever thankful.

“Obviously, I’m extremely grateful to the club for the opportunity, and how I was treated last year with getting to take Joshua with me, it worked out brilliant. Looking back, at the time, it was going to be a one-year thing, I never really expected any more so to get anything else is probably a bonus.

“But just the way it has all fallen now, it’s kind of done a full turn. When I go to do anything, I go to do it at 100%. That’s what I gave when I was there and I was pretty excited to get another chance to make an impact.

“To be fair, the players themselves have been very supportive of me and what’s going on. They were pretty keen for me to get back out, which is nice to see as well that they were kind of on my side.

“It’s disappointing that I won’t get a chance to develop on what I started, and keep the impact going that I had on the team. It’s just a bit of a let-down when you’ve planned so much around it.”

While a return Down Under isn’t exactly front and centre of her mind right now after recent events and a successful inter-county football stint with Donegal, Herron won’t rule it out either.

“Listen, I suppose for the girls here, we’re putting a lot of things on hold with regards work, jumping in and out of contracts really. The school has been been very good to me with taking the career break this year just so I wasn’t kind of messing around too much there. We probably have a lot more to think about.

“Now that it hasn’t worked out this year and I’m getting back into that routine now of trying to get work, it’s going to be very hard next year to jump out of that loophole again. It’s very hard to see what what the future brings.

“I know from seeing how it’s developing over in Australia, there seems to be a bigger focus on taking in Australian girls, the younger girls coming through are coming through at a much higher standard than before.


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“I suppose I’m at an advantage that I’ve been there and I’ve played the game before, but it’s hard to see what the future holds after the pandemic, and all the challenges that brought with international players.”

Screenshot 2020-12-08 at 21.44.42 Clara Fitzpatrick (left) in action for St Kilda. Source: St Kilda.

This comes after recent news that St Kilda’s Down star Clara Fitzpatrick will also miss the 2021 season after running into a delay in her application for permanent residency.

The 30-year-old, who too enjoyed a glittering first campaign, is now on the Saints’ inactive list and should be able to re-join for 2022.

The42 understands that Irish involvement in 2021 will be reduced even further, from the originally expected 17 to 14, with Donegal star Yvonne Bonner not returning for a third season at Greater Western Sydney [GWS] Giants.

Several Irish players are now back in Australia with Tipperary’s Orla O’Dwyer (Brisbane Lions) and Leitrim’s Áine Tighe (Fremantle) among those in pre-season training, while Mayo’s Kelly sisters, Niamh and Grace (West Coast Eagles), are two in quarantine with their Tipp team-mate Aisling McCarthy in transit.

A group is understood to be departing tomorrow, while Melbourne’s Dublin trio of Sinéad Goldrick, Niamh McEvoy and Lauren Magee remain on home soil until after the four-in-a-row All-Ireland bid on 20 December.

The 14 Irish players confirmed for the 2021 season are as follows:

  • Lauren Magee (Melbourne FC / Dublin)
  • Sinéad Goldrick (Melbourne FC / Dublin)
  • Niamh McEvoy (Melbourne FC / Dublin)
  • Cora Staunton (GWS Giants / Mayo)
  • Brid Stack (GWS Giants / Cork)
  • Sarah Rowe (Collingwood / Mayo)
  • Aishling Sheridan (Collingwood / Cavan)
  • Aisling McCarthy (West Coast Eagles / Tipperary)
  • Niamh Kelly (West Coast Eagles / Mayo)
  • Grace Kelly (West Coast Eagles / Mayo)
  • Áine Tighe (Fremantle / Leitrim)
  • Aileen Gilroy (North Melbourne / Mayo)
  • Ailish Considine (Adelaide Crows / Clare)
  • Orla O’Dwyer (Brisbane Lions / Tipperary).

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

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Emma Duffy

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