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'I never imagined I'd get this opportunity. It's a pinch myself moment'

Galway star Mairead Seoighe has penned a deal with North Melbourne for the 2020 AFLW season.

Mairead Seioghe Mairéad Seoighe. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

IT HAD BEEN settled already, but it all became real for Galway star Mairead Seoighe last Friday when her move to AFLW side North Melbourne Tasmanian Kangaroos was  announced at the CrossCoders trial camp in Athlone.

And even more real when the club officially published the news this morning.

Up on 30 hopefuls — both Irish and international athletes — were vying for professional rookie contracts at the weekend-long camp and hoping to join the so-called Irish invasion Down Under, but Seoighe had already sealed her deal for 2020 before lacing up her boots.

Like with the recent signings of Niamh and Grace Kelly, Orla O’Dwyer, Kate Flood and Áine Tighe, CrossCoders have been central to the Tribe forward securing a coveted contract, so it was fitting that their co-founders Jason Hill and Lauren Spark presented Seoighe with her new blue and white jersey in the absence of her new club. 

Proudly sporting North Melbourne gear from head to toe during the afternoon’s skill session, Ireland’s newest AFLW signing impressed with the oval ball in hand and took a few minutes out of a hectic day to reflect on the madness.

“That was a bit of a surprise to be honest but yeah, it was class,” she smiled after the announcement, slightly taken aback, “really, really good.

“Jason and Lauren called me into the room and they had the jersey, I was like, ‘What?’ You know you play football for how long and you get a jersey every now and then, and I have two in the bag inside!”

twitter Emma Duffy Twitter. Emma Duffy Twitter.

The opportunity itself has to be addressed first and foremost though.

“It’s just something I can’t really pass up I suppose,” the 26-year-old tells The42. “I’m at the right age where I can take the opportunity without leaving too much behind.

“I suppose a big factor this year for me was there was no decision to be made between football and it.

“I’m not heading off until October time and it just gives me the opportunity to play out this year’s championship, focus on what my primary goal was this year and then reset again and look towards the AFL.”

With a colourful sporting past — she was a talented soccer placer, did Irish Dancing at World Championship level and dabbled in horse riding, show jumping and tag rugby, but Gaelic football was always her ‘constant’ — Seoighe first tried her hand at Aussie Rules last year when the inter-county season finished. 

She went in search of something different to vary her winter training, and soon found West Clare Waves. The side compete in a league on these shores, AFL Ireland Women’s, and Seoighe took to it all fairly quickly. 

“Other than that the closest thing to an oval ball was playing tag rugby a few summers ago when I wasn’t playing county football,” the primary school teacher laughs, “that was about it.

Mairead Seoighe scores a goal Scoring a goal against Dublin last year. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

“I just said in the off-season I wanted to do a bit of running but to take my break from football. I was doing a heavy winter in the gym but I still wanted to keep the fitness up so I said I’d try it out.

“I had heard from Mairead Coyne, she was at the camp [CrossCoders trial in Melbourne] last year and she’s my clubmate from home. She had said to me to try it with West Clare Waves.

“I went up with the Kellys [Grace and Niamh] the first day to Islandbridge, we played it and then fell in love with it. We played it out for a few Saturdays there and ended up winning it out. It was brilliant.”

Not only did her side win the Premiership, Seoighe finished off with the Golden Boot award after scoring a remarkable 22 goals.

And from there, doors started opening. She credits AFL Ireland’s Mike Currane for much of that, and the whirlwind that happened after.

“To be honest, I’d say Mike Currane probably had a massive impact. Mike had said to me to keep an ear open and an eye out for CrossCoders coming up and things like that,” she explains, adding how former West Clare Waves star Ailish Considine had signed for Adelaide Crows around the time.

WhatsApp Image 2019-05-17 at 17.59.18 Premiership-winning side West Clare Waves (Seoighe is in the front row, second from right). AFL Ireland / Mike Currane. AFL Ireland / Mike Currane. / Mike Currane.

“Look, I got in touch with CrossCoders and Jason did a lot of work, he got onto me a good bit. I got a heads up that I might be getting a call from North Melbourne, just only a couple of days ago.

“I did a bit of testing and all of that with them. Jason has been my main point of contact, especially with North Melbourne and he’s made me feel very secure in my decision.”

While she had been chatting to a few different clubs, the Kangaroos were the first to get in touch. From the word go, she knew there was something special about them. 

“It was just a very relaxed, comfortable conversation,” she reveals of her dealings with list manager Rhys Harwood and head coach Scott Gowans.

“From the get-go, they just seemed that they had already invested in me before I had even committed to anything. They knew what they were after and they said it seemed to fit that.

“My primary thing is it’s a big move so going out there, you want to be going to a place you know really wants you. They had a lot of work done on me already so I knew if they were going to take me in, it was for the right reason. That was an easy decision.”

Mairead Seioghe At the camp yesterday. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

It’s pretty much every athlete’s dream to play professionally, and considering Seoighe’s storied background, she’s most definitely no different.

“Growing up, you’d only dream that football would become professional. The reality is it’s not at that place in Ireland at the minute. It’s definitely going in the right direction, and hopefully with a push from AFL, it might go that way,” she giggles.

“I just can’t believe it. I never imagined that I would get this opportunity, and now I’ve been presented with it. It’s a pinch myself moment. My uncle actually just moved to Melbourne. He was in Perth for 10 years. It’s like it’s meant to be — he only moved last week, so yeah it’s cool.

She adds: “Football’s very adaptable to AFL. The skills are very transferrable.

“What I like about AFL is you’re being rewarded for a mark. We all field the ball in football. It’s in the men’s game now that you’re rewarded for it, but it’s not something that women are being rewarded for.”

Slowly but surely, it’s becoming more and more real for The Big Show, as the club have taken to calling her, unable to pronounce the very Irish name just yet. Her family and friends are “thrilled for her,” as were all the other girls at the camp.

And she’s enjoying every minute of it.

WhatsApp Image 2019-05-17 at 17.58.03 Seoighe receiving the Best & Fairest Award from the Harvey Norman AFL Ireland Women’s Premiership in 2018. AFL Ireland AFL Ireland

“This camp is just class, getting the opportunity to meet all these other girls that could potentially be going over, and to even meet with the different clubs that you could end up linking up with throughout your time over there. It’s a huge initiative. 

“What I like about it is they’re testing in all areas, not just one or two. Some girls might be very strong in strength but weaker in other areas.

“They seem to be taking a good assessment of the player as a whole as an athlete as opposed to just looking at one element of the game.”

The dust settled on Sunday evening though, and the AFLW dream has been parked with Galway in full championship mode and hoping to bounce back from their league final defeat to Cork.

“That’s it,” she smiles. “Straight into championship. Once this weekend is over it’s championship season and that’s it for the next while. Hopefully right through to September. We’ll be back in championship training, it starts Monday!”

And after a busy summer of championship action, she’ll board the plane to Oz and join the 10 other Irish players who are already confirmed for the 2020 season. 

Lauren Spark takes the warm up Seoighe (centre, in kit) at yesterday's camp. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

The Kelly sisters recently signed for West Coast Eagles, O’Dwyer put pen to paper with Brisbane Lions, while Cora Staunton, Yvonne Bonner (GWS Giants), Sarah Rowe (Collingwood), Ailish Considine (Adelaide Crows) and Aisling McCarthy (Western Bulldogs) have all renewed terms for next year.

Flood and Tighe are Fremantle-bound with that news announced on Monday, while more and more are expected to sign deals over the coming days off the back of the CrossCoders camp.

It’ll be all go then, but Seoighe admits she’ll find it hard to leave a special group of people on home soil as she packs her bags and takes a break from the teaching.

“I’ll be crying! I love my class,” she concludes. “I have junior infants in Newcastle, Athenry. I’m in a great school with great staff. It’ll kill me honestly to go and leave them but I can’t pass it up.”

That she can’t.

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