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Q&A — Aisling McCarthy

It’s been a big couple of months for Irish recruit Aisling McCarthy. After travelling to Australia and getting her first taste of the AFLW as part of the CrossCoders program, the Gaelic Footballer was drafted to the Western Bulldogs with pick 23 in the 2018 NAB AFLW Draft. The Tipperary native spoke to about her move across the globe, what enticed her to the AFLW and how she plans to spend her time in Australia. 

What enticed you to become involved with the CrossCoders program and AFLW? 

I received a message from Lauren Spark about the CrossCoders program explaining it was a global initiative to give female athletes from other sports an opportunity to be scouted by the AFLW teams. I began my application which included videos of me playing Gaelic Football for Tipperary, and a Skype call interview. It was not long until I received an email which was an invite to the week-long trial camp, giving 18 athletes the opportunity to showcase their talent to the AFLW teams. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I could not forgo. My interest in AFL was probably initially sparked when Tipperary male football star Colin O’Riordan made his move to Sydney Swans. My interest in the AFLW became stronger more recently due to Cora Staunton’s move down under for last year’s season with the GWS Giants.

The prospect of playing a sport professionally is what entices me the most — the opportunity to fulfill my potential as an athlete. The professional aspect is something that I think all sports people would like to experience. There is a support network there with full-time coaches, strength and conditioning, physiotherapists, psychologists and much more. It is a set up that sports people can really excel in. I play Gaelic Football at the highest level possible at home in Ireland, but access to top class facilities is not always available and because it is an amateur sport the support team is not on par with the AFLW.

You traveled to Australia in September as part of the CrossCoders program, what did that involve and was that the moment when you made a decision to nominate for the AFLW draft?

The CrossCoders camp was a week-long training camp which gave me a first-hand experience of the game and allowed me to be immersed in the AFLW world. The first day of the training camp involved testing at Vic Uni followed by a training session, which was mostly skills-based. The following day entailed a lot of recovery to ensure we were fresh to play against a group of VFLW players. This game was played in Sandringham and our team dominated proceedings from start to finish. The following day we had more training and a 2km time trial. As well as scouts being present at all the testing, training and the game, each AFLW team also received vision of this which could be reviewed by their background teams. The CrossCoders camp was run so professionally and I cannot thank them enough for helping me to be able to become an AFLW player.

However, it was not just all intense training sessions and games. We got to see the VFLW grand final during our short stint in Melbourne and got to experience the build up to the AFL grand final.

During the camp, it became clear to me that pursuing a career in AFLW was something I would really like to do. There was a little bit of interest in me from a few clubs and it became clear there was a possibility this dream could come through. I nominated myself in the draft and had some discussions with a few clubs for them to get to know me and vice versa. I got to visit the grounds of clubs too, which was amazing. I got to see the facilities they have and was blown away by it.

Once I landed home in Ireland, I did not know exactly what the future held. I continued to work on my skills and fitness prior to the draft. It was a very unpredictable process and I had a nervous few days leading up to the draft. I am still getting my head around it, I do not believe this is really happening.

You’ve grown up playing Gaelic football, have you found those skills easy to transfer to the AFLW?

Gaelic Football is a sport that I have played since I was 7 years of age and have developed my skills from a very early age with my club Cahir and throughout my career with Tipperary. It is something that comes second nature to me at this stage. The decisions I make on the pitch as a Gaelic Footballer are instinctive and you do not need to think twice about it. However, with AFL I am going to have to work on my decision-making to know what the best option is during a game. I think this will develop naturally with training and hopefully some game-time.

The basic skills of kicking, hand-passing and catching are all transferable to the AFLW game. There is obviously some tweaks I have to make with regards kicking and hand-balling the Sherrin but Gaelic Football definitely gives me a good basis going forward.

The athleticism required to be a Gaelic Footballer is very transferable to AFL. This is something the Bulldogs have commented on since they have drafted me. Although, it is something I can always continue to work on to increase my power, speed and endurance.

A big skill I will have to work on is tackling. AFLW is a lot more physical than Gaelic.

What do you think are your best attributes as a player and what you can bring to the Western Bulldogs?

As a Gaelic Footballer, I have quite an accurate kick and I am a free-taker with both my club and county. This is something I hope I can bring to the Western Bulldogs. I like to think that I’m quite strong, so hopefully I can break through tackles which is something I think will benefit me.

I have great determination and heart and put 100 percent into everything I do. My work-rate is something I take pride in and I can bring to the Bulldogs this season. I am looking forward to starting pre-season and becoming the best athlete I can be. I love being a part of a team and doing everything possible to help the team get over the line.

A number of other Irish recruits have come to Australia to play AFL and AFLW, have you made contact with any of these players to build a support network?

There is five of us in total coming to Australia for the upcoming season, which is really exciting. I have been in contact regularly with the girls from the CrossCoders camp, Yvonne and Ailish. Also, I have played against Sarah Rowe (Collingwood) in college football and she has given me a few tips on what to pack. Sarah is moving to Melbourne as well so we will definitely be able to support each other on the other side of the world, even if we may be rivals for the upcoming season. Cora has also wished me well and has offered to help me out.

Will having those players in Australia make the move across the globe that bit easier?

Yes, definitely! We are all in the same boat with regards moving far from home to pursue this career. We will all help each other out.

Which AFL or AFLW player do you try and model your game off?

I have been watching the Bulldogs games over the past few weeks and a good few of the girls stand out to me. Katie Brennan’s leadership skills are evident and she is a class baller, too. I saw Emma Mackie play in the VFLW final and her leads and goal-scoring was second to none. Of course, Lauren Spark has been an inspiration on and off the field. She was part of making this dream happen. I could name a few more but I hope to model my game off a few different players and develop my own style of play which can benefit the Bulldogs.

What are your plans while you are in Australia?

While I am in Australia my sole focus will be on my AFLW career and becoming the best I can. However, we have a lot of down-time so I will try to work part-time as well. Also, I would like to see a bit of Australia, too. For now I am not looking too far past getting started with pre-season.

What do you do with yourself outside of sport? Are you studying or working?

I am 22 years of age and come from a small town, Cahir, in the South of Ireland. I have one younger sister, Róisin. She is in 2nd year in Uni studying pharmacy in UCC.

I recently qualified from the University of Limerick with a first class honours Physiotherapy degree. I was working in a private practice, Cahir Physiotherapy Clinic, up until I got selected in the draft. I also do pitch-side physio for local GAA teams and visit a local nursing home once a week to help out with elderly rehabilitation.

Feature image: Ladies Gaelic Football Association