Who would’ve thought a conversation in China would take someone from Ireland to the other side of the world to play a foreign sport.
When I left for Shanghai, and even after I returned, as an ambassador for the Asian GAA games in October 2016, being an AFLW player was the furthest thing from my mind.
On the trip 15 months ago, I met fellow Irishman Nick Walsh, who is an assistant coach with the GWS Giants men’s side.
While getting to know Nick during the week we spent together, he fleetingly mentioned that a new women’s AFL competition was starting up in 2017. Apart from joking about coming out and playing, Nick told me about the league and I thought nothing more of it when returning to Ireland to continue my life as a Gaelic Football player.
At the time I wasn’t far off turning 35, and despite the fact I was in good shape physically and mentally, I’d well and truly entered the twilight years of my sporting career.
While playing for Mayo as the first few months of the year came around, I received a message from Nick that the Giants were keen for my details. Alan McConnell, who’d taken over as the coach for the Giants women’s team, then called asking if I’d like to come out to Australia and meet.
I was hesitant to go and shocked they’d wanted to meet — they had probably never seen me play at that point.
He then sent his son, who worked in London, to Ireland to watch one of our games in July and take a bit of footage. I met him after the game to have a kick with an AFL ball before he reported back to his dad in Australia. All of a sudden, this situation was becoming more real — although, in between all of this, I think I only told one friend about what might transpire.
Between July and October, the Giants wanted me to come out to Australia but I had a fair few important games on during that time and had to wait for a free weekend around the 14th of October, the day before the AFLW draft, to make a long-awaited appearance in the country.
By the time I came to the club, the deal was already done.
The next day, my name was read out by the Giants with pick 45, which was a new experience given we don’t have the draft system in our game, and I was now an AFLW player, capping off 12 months that began with a joke and steadily snowballed into an opportunity I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
To say I’m excited for what’s ahead would be an understatement. While Australian Rules is a foreign game for me, there are many transferable skills from the codes that I’ve played along the journey.
Obviously after years of being an athlete, the physical aspects aren’t hugely different. I’ve also played rugby at senior level in Ireland so that’ll help with the tackling.
So far, kicking is the most challenging skill. As you would’ve seen with the Irish boys who’ve come across over the years, they tend to kick around corners due to playing with the round ball their whole lives.
I’m no different and my skills won’t be near the level of the other girls but hopefully I can add some value with other aspects of my game.
I’ve developed things like experience and leadership due to 20 years involved in sport and I’ve been able to prove my competitiveness over that period — this also comes with being the second-youngest of eight siblings, who are all within a 12-year range.
I’m surrounded by brothers. One younger and two immediately older, which meant fighting my way through life and that had a big influence on my sporting career.
How long ago that seems now. From a girl in the small village of Carnacon, which has a population of around 700, I’ve managed to make my way to Sydney to play a new sport at a time when my sporting career is supposed to be winding down.
Luckily, my employer and clubs back home were fine with me taking a short period of leave and that’s made the opportunity less risky. I also have a brother living in Randwick, which has made my living arrangements easier.
Hopefully I can be a role model for young girls back home and we see a few more come out to play in the AFLW in the future.
When you’re in the midst of training and life is moving fast focusing on improving and learning new things every day, it’s hard to reflect on what you’ve achieved.
It’s difficult to get a grasp on what’s happened but it’s been massive.
I don’t know where this will rank among my sporting career, only time will tell. This is another chapter of my journey but that mountain you climb as an athlete has just gotten a little bigger.
Who knows how long it will continue for.