Sinéad Goldrick and Blaithin Mackin celebrating last month's AFLW Grand Final win. Melbourne AFLW.
Land down under

'Appetite and need will remain' for Irish players joining AFLW - Melbourne list manager

Todd Patterson works with Sinéad Goldrick and Blaithin Mackin at the reigning champions.

MELBOURNE AFLW LIST manager Todd Patterson believes that the “appetite and need” for Irish players Down Under will remain over the next five years.

He also warns that players will likely continue to step away from inter-county amidst AFLW commitments, and certainly won’t rule out another Irish addition at Melbourne.

The Dees, with Sinéad Goldrick and Blaithin Mackin playing central roles, won their first Premiership title last month after a stunning Grand Final win over Brisbane Lions.

Dublin great Goldrick and Armagh star Mackin were two of 22 Irish players involved in the Australian league last season, with a total of 29 featuring since its inception in 2017.

Five players have represented Melbourne — the others being Dublin duo Niamh McEvoy and Lauren Magee and Cavan’s Laura Corrigan Duryea — so Patterson is well-versed to speak about the Irish impact on the AFLW.

Most of those who have flown the flag Down Under are top inter-county footballers here. For years, they enjoyed the best of both worlds, balancing their two sports on opposite sides of the world. They travelled to Australia for pre-season in October or November, played from January to mid-April at the latest, and the vast majority of them returned home for the business end of the league and for championship.

But the most recent AFLW season kicked off in August, meaning several absentees from the inter-county scene as they committed to pre-season in Australia. Just four of the 22 played on home soil — Goldrick, Mackin and Meath All-Ireland winning duo Vikki Wall and Orlagh Lally, who were on the books of North Melbourne and Fremantle respectively.

As the relatively-new AFLW continues to build and grow, with greater structures in place and more home-grown talent coming through the ranks, there’s talk that there’ll be less of a need for Irish imports going forward. But Patterson doesn’t buy into that.

“I think that in the next five years that appetite and need will remain,” he tells The42.

“I think Irish players add a lot more to your club than just football. It’s really good for staff, for the PDM [player development manager] and the coach, and just different challenges of getting people set up and developing different skillsets. Even from my sense, going through the recruiting and understanding what works and what doesn’t work.

Screen Shot 2022-12-13 at 11.36.49 Melbourne AFLW list manager Todd Patterson. Melbourne FC. Melbourne FC.

“One of the main challenges is clearly going to be the season length. I think some clubs have different sort of attitudes to us around county commitments. It will be interesting to see how that plays out. I think there’ll probably be more girls again that step away from county next year. I find that really interesting, it’s certainly not something that we impress upon the girls.

“We’ve been fortunate that the girls that have come out, obviously starting with the Dublin girls, they’ve just been really well physically prepared. We’re comfortable for them getting here on the eve of the season, despite the impact that has on their skill-base. That will be our stance moving forward. But how long we can maintain that will be dictated by timing of the season and how it all works together.

“I also think it’s just been a major win for the AFLW in general. We can’t thank the Irish public enough for the way they’ve jumped on board – the Virgin Media and TG4 broadcasts just opening us up to a new fanbase and growing the game internationally has been really cool to watch.”

Patterson says Melbourne are “still pinching ourselves a bit” in the wake of November’s Grand Final win, one which was years in the making and the culmination of a real journey for Mick Stinear’s side.

“It was a really special feeling and really hard to describe. Just so proud of the girls. It’s massive for our club. We passionately care about women’s footie.”

Goldrick, a five-time All-Ireland winner with Dublin, first joined the Dees ahead of the 2020 season, while this was Mackin’s debut campaign. Both impressed throughout the season and made their respective impacts felt before excelling on the biggest stage.

“They both play such different roles and have such different stories,” Patterson beams.

“Goldie, obviously being such a heralded player over in Dublin, to just be able to finally break through [in Australia] after lots of little injury setbacks with her time here, I was really happy for her. To have her partner David here was really special, and [parents] Seamus and Mary watching on from home.

aflw-grand-final Mackin enjoyed a stunning debut season. AAP / PA Images AAP / PA Images / PA Images

“For Blaithin to, I would almost say, step out of the shadow as a Mackin and show that she’s pretty incredible as well… when you’ve got such a good sporting family, you can sort of get lost in the noise a little bit.”

Her sister Aimee, brother Connaire, mother Freda and boyfriend Eoghan were all there to watch Blaithin kick a goal in the Grand Final and put the cherry on top of an “incredible journey”.

Goldrick, Mackin and co. are enjoying a well-deserved break at present, but “all indications from the group are that they are really committed to staying together and pushing to go again”.

And Patterson certainly won’t rule out another Irish player joining the fold sooner rather than later.

“It’s interesting,” Patterson concludes. “We probably just need some more information.

“We’re always looking in that market. Mick or myself are over there regularly. It’s just really hard to plan at the moment until we know what the list rules are. But yeah, if the right Irish player comes up, then we’ll just make it work.

“I think there is a right number of Irish players to have on your list. I don’t think that you can carry any more than three, just given the logistical challenges and even the timing of joining the squad, for us to have enough numbers to get the right training.”

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