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Mayo and Galway dual star becomes first Irish player to sign for Geelong's AFLW side

Rachel Kearns is the 14th Irish player confirmed for the upcoming season.

Rachel Kearns is set for a new chapter Down Under.
Rachel Kearns is set for a new chapter Down Under.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

MAYO LADIES FOOTBALL star and Galway WFC striker Rachel Kearns is heading to the Australian Football League Women’s [AFLW] after signing for Geelong.

The 2019 All-Star becomes the first Irish player to sign for the Cats’ AFLW side — Zach Tuohy, Mark O’Connor and Stefan Okunbar are on the men’s books — and the 14th confirmed for the upcoming season.

Kearns, 24, signs on as “an other sports rookie” alongside fellow new additions, Claudia Gunjaca and Olivia Fuller.

The CL McHale Rovers ace is probably best known on these shores for her exploits with the Mayo ladies footballers, starring in attack, defence and even in goals since making her debut in 2015. Kearns has established herself as a regular in the full-forward line of late; her keen eye for goal and stunning free-taking earning her the number 14 jersey on the 2019 All-Star team.

Also a incredibly talented soccer player, she represented the Republic of Ireland at underage level, excelling for the U19s in particular. She has also lined out for Castlebar Celtic and Galway WFC in the Irish top-flight, the Women’s National League [WNL].

Making her return to the league with the Tribe this season, Kearns’ comeback was an exceptional one, as she scored six goals in four games to land the Player of the Month award for April while balancing her inter-county commitments. Injury hampered her progress, though she’s now back to her brilliant best with Mayo.

A native of Crossmolina, Kearns also has two All-Ireland boxing medals to her name.

“Rachel is an experienced athlete, her list of achievements speak for themselves,” Geelong’s head of AFLW, Brett Johnson, said. “She is well suited to the physicality of AFLW and we see her making a strong contribution.”

The sixth current or former Mayo ladies footballer set for the new AFLW season, Kearns now follows in the footsteps of Cora Staunton (GWS Giants), Sarah Rowe (Collingwood), Aileen Gilroy (North Melbourne) and Niamh and Grace Kelly (West Coast), who all return for another campaign.

Dublin duo Sinéad Goldrick and Lauren Magee (Melbourne), Tipperary pair Orla O’Dwyer (Brisbane) and Aisling McCarthy (West Coast), Cavan’s Aishling Sheridan (Collingwood), Cork great Bríd Stack (GWS Giants), Clare’s Ailish Considine (Adelaide), Leitrim native Áine Tighe (Fremantle) are the other Irishwoman in line for the new AFLW season, which is due to begin in December 2021 and finish in mid-March.

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Over the past few years, the AFLW campaign opened in late January and ran until mid-April, allowing for the Irish contingent — most of whom play inter-county ladies football — to return to these shores for the tail end of the Lidl Ladies National Leagues and for the entire TG4 All-Ireland championship.

Covid-hit 2020 aside, they normally travelled Down Under in October/November for pre-season. That will be earlier this coming autumn, throwing up the potential of code clashes.

More Irish players could follow, with Meath star Vikki Wall, Roscommon’s Jennifer Higgins and Fermanagh’s Joanne Doonan — who previously played for Carlton — declaring for the upcoming NAB AFLW Draft, which is currently scheduled for Tuesday, 27 July.

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About the author:

Emma Duffy

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