Possible season move could put Irish players in limbo

THE PROPOSED August start to the new NAB AFLW season poses some tough questions for the Irish contingent of AFLW players.

Many of the talented group of 14 Irishwomen also play Gaelic football when they return home at the conclusion of the AFLW season.

In years past, that has worked well – AFLW in the first half of the year, with Gaelic football in the second, before returning back to Australia for an occasionally delayed start to pre-season training.

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"It would be a tough one,” Brisbane star winger Orla O'Dwyer said.

"Us Irish girls have been kind of blessed with the best of both worlds the last couple of years, getting to play a footy season here and then go back and play gaelic football or camogie (hurling),"

Orla O'Dwyer gets a kick away in round eight, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

"It has been great, and you feel like you're not really letting anyone down and you still get to play all year round, which is any athlete's dream. I think down the line we did realise it would come to this.

"AFLW are pushing for full-time, which is obviously huge. I think it will be hard and a lot of girls will have to make tough decisions, but you can just look at what's in front of you and hopefully choose the best option."

In terms of the effect on future Irish AFLW recruits, O'Dwyer said the move may throw a spanner in the works.

"I think it will definitely make them choose as they wouldn't be able to do both. I've got lots of messages from girls and a lot of friends who are keen to come out here and give AFLW a crack," she said.

"That's how I settled out here, seeing the likes of Sarah Rowe and Cora Staunton and Aisling McCarthy come out here and not just get on the team, but be really influential and make a difference.

Greater Western Sydney's Cora Staunton celebrates a goal during round nine, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

"I think it's really transferable, the skills between the two sports, but it's just a pity it's going to clash. I think that professional lifestyle will be great for some of the girls back home wanting to give it a go. It'll be interesting to see what happens."

Player manager Jason Hill of CrossCoders management company – who have seven of the 14 Irish players on their books – said while this current group of players are unlikely to be heavily affected, with about half having previously made the decision to stay in Australia over winter, attracting recruits could be an issue.

Irish publication The42 this week reported 2021 Player of the Year and County Meath representative Vikki Wall is in close discussions with two AFLW clubs. Wall previously came out to Australia to participate in the 2019 AFLW Draft Combine, placing fourth in the 20m sprint.

The inter-county Gaelic football season is scheduled to run in June and July, with the Grand Final to be played at the end of July. It is expected AFLW pre-season will run from mid-June to the end of August.

"We don't really have a long-term view for the competition, when it's going to be played, the length, the route to professionalism etc., it makes it hard for these girls to plan what their lives are going to look like. It means every year it's a decision for not just the girls, but the clubs they represent, and it makes planning for the long-term hard," Hill told womens.afl.

"I'd like to call for clarity around whether this (August start) is the new norm, and what does that look like? We were always aware in the future the players were likely to have to make a decision between Gaelic football and AFLW, but we were always under the impression we'd have some time to plan and prepare for that.

"It feels like we're getting close to that question being asked, without knowing when it will be asked.

"Those who were planning on going back home between AFLW seasons are now having to tell county football boards that they're not going to be able to play, or they're only going to be able to play part of the season, or they're having to ask their AFLW clubs to miss pre-season."

IRISH AFLW PLAYERS IN 2022:

  • Ailish Considine (Adelaide)
  • Orla O'Dwyer (Brisbane)
  • Aishling Sheridan (Collingwood)
  • Sarah Rowe (Collingwood)
  • Aine Tighe (Fremantle)
  • Rachel Kearns (Geelong)
  • Brid Stack (GWS)
  • Cora Staunton (GWS)
  • Sinead Goldrick (Melbourne)
  • Lauren Magee (Melbourne)
  • Aileen Gilroy (North Melbourne)
  • Grace Kelly (West Coast)
  • Niamh Kelly (West Coast)
  • Aisling McCarthy (West Coast)

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