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'Home from home' and hopes to 'make everyone proud' - Ladies football CrossCoders set for AFLW dream

12 of the Irishwomen currently in the Australian league came through the CrossCoders programme. They share their thoughts with The42 ahead of round one.

Updated Feb 7th 2020, 8:30 AM

WITH THE 2020 Australian Football League Women’s [AFLW] kicking off this weekend, there’s no shortage of Irish interest. 

Eighteen Irish players are on the books at clubs Down Under, with excitement well and truly building ahead of the league’s fourth season. Cavan native Laura Corrigan Duryea was the first to fly the flag in 2017, before Mayo great Cora Staunton crossed codes in 2018. 

lads (1) Tipperary duo Aisling McCarthy and Orla O'Dwyer, and Clare's Ailish Considine all came through Crosscoders. Source: PA Images/Brisbane Lions.

Last year, Staunton was joined by Donegal star Yvonne Bonner at Greater Western Sydney [GWS] Giants, while fellow Mayo woman Sarah Rowe, Clare’s Ailish Considine and Tipperary All-Ireland winner Aisling McCarthy also made the move. 

Considine — a 2019 Premier champion with Adelaide Crows — Bonner and McCarthy all caught the eye at a trial in Melbourne as they came through the CrossCoders programme.

12 of the Irishwomen preparing for the 2020 season are managed by the agency, and The42 has been in touch with all 12 ahead of take off. 

Leitrim star Áine Tighe’s preparations unfortunately ended last week as another dreaded cruciate injury forced her out for the season, but the 11 others are in line for debuts over the coming days and weeks.

Two simple questions were asked of all 12 over the past two weeks, with the varied responses from everyone, in full, below.

1. How have you found the experience so far?
2. What are you looking forward to in round one?

***

Aisling McCarthy (Tipperary / Western Bulldogs)

I’m really enjoying my experience this year. It’s my second season so I have a better grasp of the game. I’m just trying to build on what I learned last year and some of the foundations that were set then. I obviously still have a lot to learn, it’s still a new sport and I definitely still have areas to grow in. I’m feeling a lot more comfortable on the field. I’m constantly trying to learn and improve my game overall. 

aflw-bulldogs-lions Aisling McCarthy. Source: AAP/PA Images

Away from football, I’m living in a house full of Irish girls; with Mairéad [Seoighe], Joanne [Doonan] and Aileen [Gilroy]. It’s great to have them and it feels like you’re at home a bit. We’re not feeling that lonely at times, it doesn’t feel like we’re a million miles away from home. It’s just really nice to have each other to bounce off. We obviously all come from Gaelic football and we’re all over here in the same situation. If training doesn’t go well some night, at least we all experience that at times. I can’t wait until all the games start as well, we’re all going to be playing against each other so there’ll be a bit of banter!

At the moment, I just have my head down trying to put my hand up for team selection. That’s my number one aim. As a team, I can’t wait to see where we’re at compared to the other teams in a competitive environment. Throughout pre-season it was quite tough, we just had inter-club games and things like that. So it’s now trying to see how much our hard work has paid off, expressing ourselves out there and enjoying ourselves. We’re playing St Kilda so I’ll get to play against Clara Fitz. There’ll probably be a few Irish at the match as well so that’s brilliant.

Aishling Sheridan (Cavan / Collingwood)

aishling-sheridan Aishling Sheridan on the ball for Cavan. Source: Tom Beary/INPHO

I’ve found the experience challenging but exciting. From the training to the facilities, just the whole experience has been amazing. Learning the skills and the rules of the game has probably been the most difficult, but after the first few weeks I settled in quite nicely. The experience just has been brilliant. 

I’m excited and nervous for round one, obviously for team selection as only 21 can get picked. It’s a home game for us and we’re really hoping to win our first game, and hopefully get a good performance under our belts. Everyone is excited. It’s only a few more weeks, and hopefully we’ll get selected for round one. 

It’s hard to describe the whole experience. There have been some times where it has been that little bit more challenging, but you just take every day as it comes and every training as it comes. After the first few weeks, you settle in quite nicely and get used to the oval ball. The next few weeks will be exciting. 

Mairéad Seoighe (Galway / North Melbourne)

mairead-seoighe Mairead Seoighe. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

I’ve absolutely loved the build-up and pre-season over here. The club has been a very easy environment to slot into and they prepare at the top level. Having the house with the girls has made it feel like a little home from home and having the other Irish girls around to touch base with is so great. Melbourne itself has been an unreal city to get an experience to live in. I can’t wait for the games to begin and see what it’s all about.

Pre-season has been long so it’s nice to finally get going. Also, having Jason [Hill, CrossCoders co-founder] close by has been so great for us. He made moving over such a seamless transition and we know if there’s anything we need, we can pick up the phone.

Yvonne Bonner (Donegal / GWS Giants)

I’m just looking forward or starting the season. Training has been going really well and I’m enjoying it even more the second time around. Hopefully we can get off to a good start as it’s such a short season. It’s important to gather momentum from the get go.

aflw-giants-demons Yvonne Bonner (orange) facing Melbourne last season. Source: AAP/PA Images

Ailish Considine (Clare / Adelaide Crows)

It’s my second year out here so I guess it’s a little different to this time last year when everything was so new, and I didn’t really know what to expect. Just knowing the run-out and the layout of the whole season and how it works, just the familiarity is definitely something that has made me feel more at ease… and feel more that I know what I’m trying to do this year a little bit more.

Having so many extra sessions working on my skills and looking through videos last year has definitely made me think less about having to do the skills. It’s actually one thing I don’t have to think about too much any more, which is good. It means I can focus a little more on the gameplay and that side of things, it’s probably the area I struggle with because it’s such a different game to Gaelic football. It’s nice not having to think as much about actually executing the skills because they come a little bit more naturally than last year. That has put my main focus on how the game is played, the best ways to get into the best position on the field, learn new positions and new areas to play in.

aflw-crows-cats Ailish Considine won the 2019 Premiership with Adelaide. Source: AAP/PA Images

Otherwise, it’s been pretty similar to last year; the build-up with pre-season training and the type of training — our gym and our conditioning have upped a little bit this year, but apart from that it’s been pretty much same same. It’s been really, really exciting and fun throughout the last couple of months out here playing with the Crows. It’s definitely been a good adventure, and I’m happy to be back in my second season playing AFLW.

First thing’s first anyway, I’d hope to be picked for round one for our game against Brisbane. It’s been a long pre-season, there’s been a lot of drills and a lot conditioning and gym stuff. All that’s been really enjoyable but you just want to get out there and play and get some games in. We’ve obviously been looking forward to the games and we’re glad that we got a few trial games in, against GWS and Fremantle. I’m just looking forward to round one, getting going and seeing how we’re going to attack this year.

Obviously we had a pretty good season last year and improved as the season went on. First round is always going to be difficult with a new team, new players and that sort of thing. Personally, I hope to improve on last year, pick up a few more things and hopefully continue to get a little bit of game time, have more of an impact on the team and improve as a player in general. I hope to play a bigger role, and hopefully we come away with the win against Brisbane in round one. 

Niamh and Grace Kelly (Mayo / West Coast Eagles)

kellys Mayo sisters Grace (left) and Niamh Kelly). Source: Niamh Kelly Instagram.

We are really enjoying the experience so far. We are being so well looked after by the coaching staff and team on and off the field, and the facilities are top class. We are so grateful to be given this opportunity to play a professional sport.

We’re looking forward to the challenge of playing a new sport and putting what we have learnt at training into a match situation. We’re looking forward to seeing and hearing the atmosphere from the crowd and getting pre-game goosebumps. We’re looking forward to playing with our teammates and putting all our hard work during pre-season into practice together, encouraging each other to push on and bring out everyone’s full potential.

Orla O’Dwyer (Tipperary / Brisbane Lions)

I knew that coming out to a new country, playing a new sport with a brand new, different team was going to be a challenge in itself, but it was definitely an opportunity that was going to develop me as an athlete. My experience here so far has been excellent. I’ve loved all the training, gym, running and the intensity.

The girls are great and the management have been so supportive for me especially, learning new skills and having to take my time to adjust. It’s definitely been a great experience and a challenge, but it’s very rewarding as an athlete to have different resources available and to have the professionalism and backroom staff there. There’s just so much, it’s definitely something that I’ve really enjoyed. 

9b4ab258-6d45-4873-b3d8-ea8b7c254fe1 Orla O'Dwyer after signing for Brisbane. Source: Brisbane Lions.

I’m really looking forward to round one, just to see the excitement and the energy and see all the hard work that all the girls have put in in pre-season. To see how we, as a team, will perform against the other teams. I know that Brisbane especially has lost a lot of players due to new teams starting up. But it’s definitely something that we’re looking forward to.

There’s a great bond within the team, and great competition as well, which is always good to see. Our first game against Adelaide Crows, the champions from last year, will be a big test for us but we’re all very excited. I just can’t wait to get out there, and hopefully for myself as a player, get an opportunity to play my first AFLW match and make everyone back home as proud as I can. 

Áine Tighe (Leitrim / Fremantle)

It’s been really enjoyable. The girls and the club as a whole have gone over and above in making us feel welcome and helping us settle in since we arrived. The professionalism in terms of set-up, standards, expectations and support both on and off the field has been unbelievable so getting the opportunity to train and compete in that environment has been great.

aine-tighe Áine Tighe at the CrossCoders camp in May. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

We’re just looking forward to really testing ourselves against the players at the top level. The match sim and scratch matches so far have been really enjoyable, obviously we are still learning a lot in each game but the excitement is really building towards round one. I can’t wait to see what the buzz is like to run out with the girls in front of a couple of thousand at Freo Oval. I know family and friends at home are really excited and looking forward to the season kicking off too so it will be nice for them to be able to tune in and keep an eye on the games from back home. 

- submitted before her injury 

Joanne Doonan (Fermanagh / Carlton)

The experience has been really good so far. Thankfully, with the help of CrossCoders, we got a really good house and a few of the Irish girls are together. We’re all in the same boat, which is great.

Carlton’s been really good so far, they’ve been very welcoming. It was a wee bit daunting at the start. I suppose it’s like starting primary school; you’re trying to make new friends and get used to their banter. It’s been really good and the girls have been so welcoming. Thankfully, as a whole it’s been a fantastic experience. Even just to experience Melbourne in general… we have so much time on our hands to focus on the sport, but also time to experience other things; even going down Great Ocean Road and that. 

joanne-doonan Joanne Doonan at the CrossCoders AFLW camp in May. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Coming up to the first round, it’s definitely scary. You don’t realise how hard it is to get a place until you’re out here — and you’re obviously at the bottom of the pecking order having not played before. It’s about trying to show what you have. Obviously we don’t have much experience playing AFLW, but it’s trying to show your other skills and how that can contribute to the team. It’s exciting, it’s definitely something to look forward to and it’s just come around very quickly. I really can’t wait for the first round. 

We’re the opening game of the season against Richmond, which was meant to be an away game for us but it’s actually being played at our home pitch in Ikon Park. They’re expecting a sell-out crowd, there’ll be a lot of Richmond fans because they have so many members but also it’s the first game of the AFLW season. I’m really looking forward to experiencing a packed out stadium, the build-up to the game and even just running out on the pitch. It’s so different compared to at home. It will be fantastic.

Katy Herron (Donegal / Western Bulldogs)

The experience has been really enjoyable so far. Getting the opportunity to work with such an experienced team of coaches and legends of the game over here has been great. There’s never been a question left unanswered with regards footy, video, diet, strength and conditioning; even factors outside of that. There’s always someone there to help you and answer questions. Coming from playing Gaelic most of your life, the process of trying to adapt your thought process and game style has probably been the biggest challenge, without obviously compromising the skills that got me here in the first place. That’s something that’s probably taken longer than other things. 

katy-herron Katy Herron at the AFLW camp in May. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

It’s getting really exciting with round one just over two weeks out. I’d say most of us are just keen to see if we impress the coaches enough to line out on game day, if we’ve picked up enough rules of the game between times to see us through. But I’m very excited to take on the challenge and see what it brings.

Kate Flood (Louth / Fremantle)

Pre-season has been very positive. It went really well. We had a few really hot evenings which was a struggle for us, but we got over that and I think we’re really adapting to the heat. The club has been working with us really closely on getting us used to the ball, different plays and the rules of the game after not knowing much about the game coming over. We’re definitely adapting to it really well. They’ve done a lot of vision, and sitting us down explaining different runs that they play. 

I’m really excited for this weekend and round one. It’s going to be really exciting, a completely different atmosphere with big numbers at all the games. It’s a completely different team and completely different sport, but when you are working hard in pre-season you just want to hit the ground running in round one. Hopefully that’s what we’ll be able to do: take everything that we know from Gaelic over, and hopefully adapt well to the game here. It’s all been going really well, I’m really excited for round one and it’s going to be an exciting year. I’m just really looking forward to it.

kate-flood-lifts-the-west-county-hotel-cup Louth's 2019 All-Ireland winning captain Kate Flood. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Some final thoughts from CrossCoders co-founder Jason Hill

I’m really excited coming into round one as this is the culmination of the hard work that the girls have been putting in since the day they knew this was happening. I’m obviously really devastated for Áine [Tighe] as she’s been killing it at Fremantle this pre-season but I know she’s going to come back stronger in 2021.

I think the competition is going to take some massive strides this year, and I cannot wait to see what the girls can produce. They’ve all done everything that’s been asked of them so far and now, coming into the business end of the their time out here, I’m sure they’re going to blow away the fans.

***

Hill also noted that Sligo’s Lauren Boles has signed for Carlton’s Victorian Football League Women’s [VFLW -- second tier] side, and will travel to Australia in a bid to land a coveted AFLW deal for 2021.

Mayo trio Sarah Rowe, Cora Staunton and Aileen Gilroy, Dublin duo Sinéad Goldrick and Niamh McEvoy, and Clara Fitzpatrick of Down are the five Irishwomen not represented by Crosscoders. 11 counties are represented across 11 Australian clubs this season.

- Keep up to date with the 2020 AFLW season on The42, CrossCoders and on AFL Ireland’s social channels.

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About the author:

Emma Duffy

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