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'They're taking our top players. It is worrying' - All-Ireland finalists' managers on AFLW

Vikki Wall will ‘turn into the face of ladies AFL,’ says Meath boss Eamonn Murray. He and Kerry joint-manager Declan Quill share their thoughts.

Meath star Vikki Wall is heading for North Melbourne in the AFLW.
Meath star Vikki Wall is heading for North Melbourne in the AFLW.
Image: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

VIKKI WALL WILL be one of the big attractions in Sunday’s All-Ireland senior ladies football final between Meath and Kerry.

It could be her last outing in the Green and Gold for some time, as she and team-mate Orlagh Lally prepare for moves to the Australian Football League Women’s [AFLW].

The 2021 Footballer of the Year heads for North Melbourne with Lally Fremantle-bound, the pair part of a 21-strong Irish contingent set for the new Australian season in late August.

At yesterday’s All-Ireland final media day, Meath manager Eamonn Murray was asked about Wall. The initial question wasn’t one focusing on her imminent departure, but one referencing an interview she did last year about the Meath ladies being seen in a different light after their remarkable success

“I’d always say to Vikki, ‘Thank you.’ For what? ‘For staying Vikki Wall,’” Murray began. “She never changed. She’s the nicest person to every child in Meath. The last person leaving the pitch.

“They talk about Vikki going away, it’s never mentioned. I’ve never mentioned it. It won’t be. I wish her the very best. Whoever wants to go.”

“Orlagh Lally is going as well, so big losses. Opportunities for somebody else. Who knows what is going to happen next year, it mightn’t be my problem at all,” he later added, noting that star defender Emma Troy is also going to live in Australia. “She’s not playing that. As she said, ‘Sure I can’t catch a ball over my head.’”

Delving deeper into Wall’s exit, in particular, Murray continued:

“It’s tomorrow’s problem. I don’t know how she is holding it together. There’s a lot of stuff in her head, college and that. She’s a very level-headed girl. She’s still everybody’s friend. You’d see it after the last match, she’d go round to every table and have the chat. They are all equal to her, from the weakest to the strongest.

“She’ll not be the only loss, there’s three or four going [not just to AFLW]. She’ll probably turn into the face of ladies AFL below, I presume that’s the idea. She’s a fluent Irish speaker and all that.

“She is going to be a massive loss, not just for us but for the country. I am hearing now that they have to sign a two-year contract so that’s not… look it, she wants to get a taste of it and she is very young. I know she will be back playing with Meath. I will not be around probably, but I hope somebody will have her again.

“She is a very special person, but she is not the only special one we have. We have plenty of them. That’s why we are All-Ireland winners.”

eamonn-murray Meath manager Eamonn Murray. Source: Tom Maher/INPHO

Emma Duggan is another, the 20-year-year old sharpshooter unquestionably on the Aussie Rules radar herself, though repeatedly brushing off any immediate appeal or interest in recent interviews.

“I’m sure she’s getting plenty of calls from Down Under,” her manager says at one point.

The big question is how does one win that battle with the AFLW? It’s undoubtedly one of the biggest issues facing the ladies’ game at the minute.

“That’s not my battle, it’s their parents’ battle,” Boardsmill clubman Murray responds initially, before clarification that it’s the challenge for ladies football as a whole.

“It’s a strange sport over there where you don’t have any underage. I don’t understand that set-up at all. They are starting this year with underage in Australia. No underage, I don’t know when you are supposed to learn your trade over there, that is why they are mad looking for our girls.”

Is there a way for ladies football to compete? Murray, for one, would “walk away” if the LGFA embraced some form of professionalism to do so. “All I’d ask for maybe is travelling expenses, that’s not much to ask, but we haven’t got that yet, so.”

He’s unsure how the game can prosper with the ever-growing loss of big names, but later looks to a certain county in the west who impressed despite the absence of key players.

“That’s not for me to say, it’s really the higher-ups should be sorting something out – not us. We can only train our girls the best we can. When you offer money and nice sunny weather and all that, it’s very hard to compete with that, and a lovely life.

“Mayo were class this year, any manager who can get their team to two semi-finals in-a-row missing all of those players, all All-Stars, all class acts, they are, for me he is the Manager of the Year every year if he can keep doing that, not me, he is the man.”

Murray’s opponent on the line on Sunday, Declan Quill of Kerry, was also asked about one of the biggest issues facing ladies football in the AFLW drain.

“Look, I suppose they’re taking our top players which is quite harsh on the game in itself,” he began.

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“When you come to see Meath playing or Kerry playing you want to see Louise [Ní Mhuircheartaigh] playing, you want to see Vikki Wall, you want to see Emma Duggan, you want to see the superstars of the game. Just like David Clifford and Shane Walsh, the show they put on on Sunday, what it would have been without them? The flair the two of them showed is what everyone is talking about.

tg4-all-ireland-ladies-football-finals-captains-day TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Finals Captains Day took place in Croke Park yesterday. Source: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE

“So when you come to see a ladies game you want to see the best players and unfortunately the way the game is in Australia, they’re taking our top players because they’re fitting them straight into their teams. Whereas maybe in the men’s game in Australia they’re taking them at a younger age so they can develop them and a 28-year-old might be too old for Australian Rules whereas our girls are physically in great shape and physically really fit and strong and skillful so they’re going in straight into the teams in Australia because maybe that game isn’t as developed as the men’s side of it.

“But it is worrying. I don’t think anyone in Kerry is going at the minute, so if all the other counties want to leave their players go we don’t mind!

“Yeah, I think one or two of our girls have been approached but have no interest in partaking, I think they’re home-birds, it’s hard to leave Kerry you know.”

Joint-manager with Darragh Long, Quill later continued: “What do you say, do you want to come out training in the muck and dirt in February or do you want to go to Australia and spend some of that time on the beach?

“I don’t know what our cards are because it’s costing the girls money to play their chosen game here in Ireland whereas they’re going to make money in Australia and are probably going to be, like we saw with Orla O’Dwyer, the top outstanding performers. Cora Staunton at her age is still putting up massive performances over there. The Irish girls are doing really, really well.

“If it’s put in front of you, it’s a really, really hard choice. Myself and Darragh were talking coming up in the car, would David Clifford ever think of going to Australia? But I think David Clifford has so much to stay around Kerry for because he has a fanbase that is just unbelievable. He’s a superhero to the kids down there, he can probably have his choice of jobs in whatever he chooses to do. I don’t see the attraction of him going to Australia whereas for a girl who is playing ladies football it might be, ‘Oh Jesus, I’m going to make my money and live a lovely lifestyle over there whereas here I mightn’t even get recognised on the street.’

“So, look, I think there’s pros and cons for both sides of it but I can see the pros for the girls going to Australia.”

- Originally published at 06.30 

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Emma Duffy

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