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What started as a backpacking trip turned into wearing Jim Stynes' number at Melbourne FC

Cavan-born Laura Corrigan Duryea is flying the tricolour in the Women’s AFL.

THAILAND – AUSTRALIA – NEW Zealand – Fiji – LA – home.

That’s how Cavan native Laura Corrigan Duryea’s around-the-world backpacking trip was meant to go nine years ago.

lcd Source: Melbourne FC Twitter

However, things took a drastic turn.

She did her month in Thailand, and continued on Down Under as planned. But she’s been there ever since.

A talented inter-county player at the time, Corrigan Duryea got sucked into the gaelic football scene in Melbourne. It was a way to keep fit and to meet Irish people, to kill two birds with one stone in a sense. From there, stemmed an unlikely venture to Australian Rules.

“I met an Aussie girl I played against one day in Gaelic Park in Keysborough and she said ‘ah you should come out and play Aussie Rules, you’d be really good at it you’re pretty tough,’” she tells The42.

“I’d always wanted to give it a go so I went down to training and absolutely loved it — and made the team. Then both of them [gaelic football and Aussie Rules] were on a Sunday, and I had to choose. I just thought then, I’m only here for the year so I might as well just give it a crack and then I’ll be playing gaelic again when I go home next year.”

She laughs as she casts her mind back.

A year passed and she decided to stay on for another, mainly because of the football.

“I went back to uni and did my grad dip in teaching and then from that, I got a job immediately. It was around the time of the global financial crisis and there was no real work for me to go home to.

“As much as my parents wanted me to come home, they said ‘if you can get a job there, you might as well stay out another year’, thinking short-term. So I got a job, and then from there on I just stayed. I met a guy and the rest is history.”

2016 brought the 32-year-old’s big break.

Following years of tireless efforts with her club Diamond Creek, Corrigan Duryea was selected as a free agent by Melbourne FC in November, the club of legendary Irish AFL player Jim Stynes.

She’s the only international player who’s been picked for the inaugural AFL Women’s competition, let alone the first Irish woman ever to be selected at this level.

Interestingly, she’ll wear the same famous number 11 as Dubliner Stynes, an opportunity which she is relishing.

“It’s a massive achievement [playing with Melbourne FC]. Wearing Jim Stynes’ number is a huge honour. He came out here and was a great success story. He was an awesome person, not just for his footie but in general, he did so many good things out here.

A photo posted by irishcreeker (@irishcreeker) on

“It’s an honour to just even get his number, I want to do the number proud. I know a few of his brothers over here and they were delighted that first of all, I got picked for Melbourne, and secondly I’m going to be wearing his number.

It’s a big thing, I’m the only international player actually who’s been picked, so I’ve big expectations ahead of me. I just want to do Ireland proud, and do the number proud. It’s a massive honour, so I want to make the most of it.

With Melbourne opening their campaign at home to Brisbane in February, the Cavan woman is hoping to nail a starting position and subsequently make an impression on the league.

“I had a meeting with the coach this week, and at this stage I’m looking at probably starting defence, or another option is maybe starting on the wing and I can also play in the ruck which is like a midfielder.

“Because I have experience playing in quite a few positions, it’s working to my advantage. He seemed pretty happy with how I was going, he gave me a few things that he wanted me to work on over the next few weeks, but obviously no one has a guaranteed spot, we all have to prove ourselves.

“This weekend’s practice match is a good opportunity to show that I’m ready and that I’ve put in the hard yards and deserve my spot I guess.”

The teacher, who won two Ulster medals with Cavan and lined out with her club Drumlane before she emigrated, is far from her country roots now, training in 38 degree-heat with sessions lasting up on four-and-a-half hours.

“The heat is tough, and the physicality is a big difference. I remember the first month or so after I started playing Aussie Rules, I’d literally come home and I’d go straight to bed on a Sunday evening, at like five or six o’clock. I’d be absolutely exhausted.

“The game goes on so much longer, it’s double the length of a gaelic match. That was a big difference, I thought they’d never end.

So between the physicality and then the duration of the game, the first few months were very hard on my body. I felt like I’d been in a car crash the first few games. The more you play, the more you get used to it I suppose.

When she had just gotten into the swing of the game over the past few years, the professional set-up of Melbourne FC was another challenge for Corrigan Duryea to adjust to, with training sessions very different to anything she’d ever witnessed before.

duryea

“On a Tuesday and a Thursday, we have to be at training from 5 o’clock and that’s called our preparation time. So from 5pm-6pm you can go and see the physio, you can go and get a massage and get anything taped that needs to be taped. We also have ‘vision’, so basically you go in and jump on some computers and all of the last training session will be on the computers. You find your name and then there’ll be little clips of all the things you did throughout the session.

“You can have a look at things that you did which were good or bad, and then call a coach over and they can go through things with you. That’s that first hour, and then you have to go to the gym and do all of your mobility and stretching and all of that before you head into your meeting at six o’clock.

“At 6pm, you meet the coaches and have a chat about what you did in the last session, what you learned, what you needed to work on, what worked well and what didn’t, and then they go through what you’re going to do in that session. They put up all of the drills and show you the men’s team doing it if they did it before.

“That usually goes on for twenty minutes, then we go outside and train for about an hour and a half, and we usually finish with conditioning — ten minutes of hard running. Afterwards we go inside and do weights for twenty minutes or half an hour, and then we do our recovery, which is either the ice baths or the pool. We have dinner at nine o’clock and then we go home, so it’s a long night.

The first few sessions were challenging, eating at the right time during the day or eating enough food beforehand so you got through the training session. It took a bit of getting used to.

“The resources around you are incredible though, being able to look at your last training session, what you were doing and where you went. It’s one thing for the coach to be able to say ‘remember that drill the other night when you did this’ — you probably won’t remember, but to be able to look at it over and over again and then talk about it, that’s probably the biggest thing that I’m taking out of it, it’s brilliant.”

Even though it took a while to adjust to some of the differences between sports in the two countries, she often finds herself drawing similarities between life in general in Melbourne and life at home in Ireland.

Life is very similar, it’s just the different surroundings I suppose. In terms of lifestyle, you get up at the morning, you go to work, you come home, you go to football training in the evening. It’s all pretty similar until summer comes and then obviously you’re at the beach, or you’re at a pool, or you’re at a barbecue every second day.

Among all the AFL hype and her new way of life in Australia, Corrigan Duryea hasn’t forgotten her gaelic football and Irish roots however, continuing to line out with her club Sinn Fein to get that taste of home.

“I’ve only been back playing gaelic here the last three years. I had a break for a few years and then came back to it because a couple of my clubmates from home are playing out here, and I was missing that Irish connection.

“As much as I love the Aussie Rules and as much as I love all my Aussie mates, you still need to have your Irish friends and your Irish connection. There’s just different craic with the Irish compared to the Aussies I suppose.”

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