Ailish Considine showed the massive part Irish women can play in the AFLW when she was instrumental in her Adelaide Crows team emerging triumphant in the Grand Final in April and several AFLW clubs have looked to Ireland to improve their squads for next season.
Tipperary dual star Orla O’Dwyer has joined Brisbane Lions. Galway star Mairead Seoighe has penned a deal with North Melbourne. Fremantle have signed Aine Tighe of Leitrim and Kate Flood of Louth while Mayo sisters Niamh and Grace Kelly have moved from the West coast of Ireland to the West Coast of Australia by joining West Coast Eagles.
All five Irish women who competed last season have had their contracts renewed so there are now 11 Irish women on AFLW lists.
It will be a return to Australia for Orla O’Dwyer who was born and spent some of her childhood here.
O’Dwyer, who is also Tipperary camogie captain told The Irish Echo: “I’m really excited about joining the Brisbane Lions. To now have the opportunity to play a new sport like AFLW in a new country is such an experience in itself. I know that I will have a lot to learn and adjust to but I’m looking forward to the challenge ahead and pushing myself and being involved in a professional setup.”
She is the Brisbane Lions first Irish signing, something she says makes her feel extremely privileged.
“It’s great that they have given me this amazing opportunity and all the staff, background team and players have been so welcoming and helpful which makes me feel more comfortable about the move in October.”
Other clubs were chasing O’Dwyer’s signature but she decided Brisbane was to be the club for her.
“Initially, I had a couple of interviews with AFLW clubs but Brisbane Lions just stood out. They had a great knowledge of my style of play with camogie and ladies football and a plan of how I would benefit the team.
“They have excellent players and I’m excited to meet them all and play with them. Also, they offered me a contract in a matter of hours after the interview which showed me that they knew what they were about, and I’m delighted with my decision. I know Brisbane has a large Irish population, and I am hoping they will get behind me.
“I was born in Australia and my parents lived there for a few years in the late 90s and some of their friends from that time are now living in Brisbane. I hope to catch up with a few when I get over.”
O’Dwyer has been inspired by the success of the other Irish players in the AFLW, particularly Cora Staunton.
“I watched with great interest a documentary about Cora Staunton, it documented her move to the AFLW. She has been a great role model for women’s sport in Ireland,” she said.
Staunton has suffered a setback in her bid to continue her stellar career. The 37-year-old broke her leg while playing in the AFL Sydney Premier Division Women’s competition for the UNSW Bulldogs.
Staunton was the first international player to be drafted into the AFLW in 2017, clearing a path for many Irish girls to follow. She has scored 11 goals in 14 games for the Giants. She had already been invited back by the Giants to play in her third AFLW season.
Cora was optimistic in a social media post that showed a picture of her laid up in a hospital bed, saying: “Just want to thank everyone for all the support (calls messages etc) and help. I will be forever grateful to all my @gwsgiants family & unswbulldogs for everything ye have done for me. Sport can be cruel sometimes but hopefully this is only another challenge for me.”
Giants AFLW head coach Alan McConnell told The Irish Echo: “It was a shocking injury that Cora suffered, but as always she’s taken it head on as another challenge.
“Our medical team has been working closely with Cora in recent days to ensure she has the best care available to be able to get her rehabilitation
under way. There’s been a huge amount of support sent Cora’s way and all of us at the Giants are very grateful for the love that’s been shown.”
As the first Irish import, Staunton is credited with inspiring other clubs to look to Ireland.
On this, Cora told The Irish Echo during the past season: “People talk about it being me [that inspired the Irish influx of players] and I’d say next year it will double or treble with four more teams coming into the competition. In part it’s to me but in bigger part it’s to the Giants and in even bigger part it’s probably to Al [McConnell, Giants AFLW head coach].
“I’ve been extremely, extremely lucky. I’ve played inter-county senior football for 24 years, since I was 13. I’ve won everything that there is to be won in the game. I’ve been lucky with injuries. I’ve been lucky that my body has let me keep playing.”