Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
# Flying the flag
18 Irish players ready to go as 2020 AFLW season set in stone following ugly dispute
All has been resolved with fixtures in place for next year.

aflw-collingwood-giants AAP / PA Images Cora Staunton and Sarah Rowe in action last season. AAP / PA Images / PA Images

AFTER WEEKS OF uncertainty, the 2020 Australian Women’s Football League [AFLW] season is set in stone with 18 Irish players preparing to get stuck in.

11 counties will be represented across 11 clubs, with Richmond and Carlton — as they traditionally do — opening the league’s fourth edition at Ikon Park on 7 February under Friday Night Lights.

The 18 Irishwomen currently on AFLW lists for 2020 are:

  • Sinéad Goldrick (Melbourne FC / Dublin)
  • Niamh McEvoy (Melbourne FC / Dublin)
  • Cora Staunton (GWS Giants / Mayo)
  • Yvonne Bonner (GWS Giants / Donegal)
  • Sarah Rowe (Collingwood / Mayo)
  • Aishling Sheridan (Collingwood / Cavan)
  • Aisling McCarthy (Western Bulldogs / Tipperary)
  • Katy Herron (Western Bulldogs / Donegal)
  • Niamh Kelly (West Coast Eagles / Mayo)
  • Grace Kelly (West Coast Eagles / Mayo)
  • Kate Flood (Fremantle / Louth)
  • Áine Tighe (Fremantle / Leitrim)
  • Aileen Gilroy (North Melbourne / Mayo)
  • Mairéad Seoighe (North Melbourne / Galway)
  • Ailish Considine (Adelaide Crows / Clare)
  • Orla O’Dwyer (Brisbane Lions / Tipperary)
  • Joanne Doonan (Carlton Blues / Fermanagh)
  • Clara Fitzpatrick (St Kilda / Down)

The new season was up in the air earlier this month as an ugly dispute surrounding the number of games played each season and pay rumbled on, with players, league officials, the AFL, the AFL Players’ Association [AFLPA] and lawyers all involved.

After an initial collective bargaining agreement was rejected in early October, the dispute was resolved following meetings between the AFL and player representatives, and a landslide vote on Monday ensured that the season will go ahead. 

As confirmed in the CBA, the 2020 season will run for eight home-and-away games, with three weeks of finals (the Grand Final will be held on Saturday, 18 April). That will increase to nine matches and three weeks of finals in 2021, and 10 matches plus three weeks of finals in 2022.

With 14 sides in the competition for the first time after the addition of Gold Coast, Richmond, St Kilda and West Coast, teams will once again be split into two conferences:

Conference A

  • Adelaide (first in A in 2019, champions)
  • North Melbourne (third in A in 2019)
  • Geelong (second in B in 2019)
  • Greater Western Sydney (third in B in 2019)
  • Brisbane (fourth in B in 2019)
  • Gold Coast (new team)
  • Richmond (new team)

Conference B

  • Fremantle (second in A in 2019)
  • Melbourne (fourth in A in 2019)
  • Western Bulldogs (fifth in A in 2019)
  • Carlton (first in B in 2019)
  • Collingwood (fifth in B in 2019)
  • St Kilda (new team)
  • West Coast (new team)

Teams will play every side in their conference once, as well as two “cross-over” matches against sides from the other pool. The top three sides in each conference qualify for finals (the teams who finished first in each pool are given a bye in the first week of finals).

More detail here, and the full list of fixtures can be found here.

Here’s an explainer on the much-changed fixtures too.

The meeting of Cora Staunton and Yvonne Bonner’s Greater Western Sydney Giants and Geelong in round seven will be an historic one, as it forms a double-header with their male counterparts’ season opener.

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Further double headers are on the cards, too. In Australia, there will be three free-to-air matches on Channel 7 each Friday, Saturday and Sunday (or two on Saturday, one on Sunday depending on the weekend) and Fox Sports will air all games. Worldwide, matches will be streamed on and on the AFLW Official App.

1 Melbourne FC. Dublin duo Niamh McEvoy and Sinead Goldrick have signed for Melbourne FC. Melbourne FC.

Irish representation in the league has more than trebled from the 2019 season, when Ailish Conisdine helped Adelaide to Grand Final glory, Staunton and Bonner flew the flag for GWS Giants, Tipperary All-Ireland winner Aisling McCarthy starred for 2018 champions Western Bulldogs and Mayo’s Sarah Rowe impressed at Collingwood.

In the off-season, they all re-signed for their Australian clubs while several other leading ladies footballers sealed deals — some of those represented by CrossCoders — with all 18 confirmed ahead of last week’s Draft.

Several other Irish players were included in said Draft, but none were picked up.

Cork star Saoirse Noonan, Galway ace Olivia Divilly and Meath forward Vikki Wall were set to be included after testing at the recent AFL Draft Combine in Melbourne, but all three withdrew and delayed their AFLW pursuit for a year.

aflw-crows-cats AAP / PA Images Adelaide Crow's and Clare's Ailish Considine. AAP / PA Images / PA Images

Divilly shone brightest at the Combine as she finished in the top two of three tests, recording the best result in the Yo-Yo test (level 17.2 and the third-best ever in AFLW records; it’s similar to the beep test here) and coming second in both the 20m sprint (3.258 seconds) and the 2km time trial (7:48).

Wall also impressed while Noonan, also a talented soccer player with Cork City, didn’t test due to a knee complaint.

All three were able to nominate for all of Australia in the Draft — unlike local players who must choose a region in the state-based Draft — and had gathered some interest, but they all withdrew with the reasoning unclear.

Focus now turns to the 18 for 2020, with many already Down Under awaiting the official start of pre-season on 11 November.

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