VIDEO: A long way from Clare to here

Ailish Considine tells David Hennesssy about being the first Irish woman to win an AFLW Premiership, how she adjusted to the game of Aussie Rules and why she had to do a jig on the stage when collecting her medal.

“It’s absolutely unbelievable,” Ailish Considine from Clare told The Irish World how it felt to be the first Irish woman to win the AFLW championship in 2019. We caught up with her in the days after her final victory.

In her first year with Adelaide Crows, Ailish and her team stormed to a 63-18 final win over Carlton to win 2019’s Grand Final. It was only late in the previous year that she was signed by the South Australia club for the code that was still young.  

“When I came out here in November, it was probably one of the last things on my mind because the whole thing was a whirlwind. I literally came out just to see what the lifestyle was going to be like and what it is like playing at a professional level. I just wanted to take in as much as I could. I never expected to get a game, obviously hoped we would do well in the competition but to actually play in a Grand Final and win a Grand Final with that group of girls, it’s surreal. It actually doesn’t feel real at this stage. An absolute dream. It’s been an absolulte rollercoaster since day one and I’m privileged to have been able to step out on the field with those girls and win a Premiership with them.”

Tadhg Kennelly became the first Irishman to win an AFL Premiership in 2005 and Ailish emulated that achievement with the Crows. With the AFLW only established in 2017, it came a lot sooner. Not only was Ailish the first Irish woman to win one but she was also the first non-Australian.

Was she conscious of the history she was making? “Yeah, I think with the week that was in it, that absolutely cropped up a few times in media and whatever. It’s a huge privilege to be able to be part of that history. It was in the back of my mind coming up to the game but it was kind of more, ‘If we win, super. If we don’t, at least we got there and still made a little bit of history by partaking’. It’s a really nice thing to have, being the first Irish woman to play and win a Grand Final. Hopefully a few more will follow.”

Ailish marked the occasion of picking up her medal by doing a little jig for the crowd much like Tadhg Kennelly did when he was Ireland’s first AFL Premiership winner back in 2005: “The girls were like, ‘You have to do something when you get your medal. Make sure it’s something Irish being the first Irish woman to win one.’ 

“They were actually a little bit disappointed with me I didn’t do it when I scored my first goal. I said I would have to do it then if we won the Grand Final so I made sure it was a really, really quick one and I just got off the stage as quick as possible. 

“I had to follow through, I guess. I didn’t do it very well but at least i did it. I held up my part of the deal.

“You have to always remember where you come from and it was nice to get the bit of Irish heritage – Even though it was very poorly done on my part- It was nice to acknowledge all the people back home and all the support that I’ve got.”

Her big day attracted an audience of 53,000 which was not expected for a ladies final.

The only thing Ailish could even compare the experience to was the 2016 Intermediate Ladies All-Ireland final when Clare lost to Kildare. 

“That was incredible. Up until now that was probably one of the highlights of my sporting career so far. I think that was about 30-35,000 people when we played. That was the biggest crowd I had ever played in front of. You try and remain focused on the game and you try not to think of that but at the end of the day you still have to embrace it. It doesn’t happen very often for female athletes that we get to go out and perform in front of thousands of people because sometimes it’s just not the same as the men’s. You have to take it in. You have to appreciate it at the moment in time that you’re in. I guess I did that back in 2016 and I think that probably helped me a little bit coming towards this game. 

“With 53,000 there at the stadium- I didn’t even realise how many were there. I think we were only expecting a maximum of 30,000 so when the number actually went up on the screen, I couldn’t believe it. It was absolutely insane. I’ve never played in front of that crowd. You just have to embrace it at the time. A lot of people will say, ‘Don’t think about it at all’. But for me you have to think about it. You have to appreciate that moment and really enjoy the atmosphere and the crowd that show up.”

Ailish’s goal in the first quarter put Adelaide into a strong lead that they would not relinquish.

“To score a goal and hear the cheer of the crowd is a great moment and something that will always live on. I’m glad that my familiy were there to witness that as well. They were like, ‘Get us three, one each’. And I was like, ‘I’ll be doing well just to get one and just do well in general game play’. Just to get one was pretty special and it was special to have them there for it.”

Ailish celebrates after her triumph with the cup and her mother Kay.

Did her family members end up having to share her goal since she didn’t get three? “Yeah, they have to share that one. That’ll do them,” she laughs.

Ailish’s sister Eimear Considine plays rugby for Ireland and encouraged Ailish towards the Australian adventure: “She actually sent me on the link to apply for the CrossCoders. I didn’t expect much from it. I just put my name in to give it a go. 

“Yeah, she would always push me for things like that. We’re really close as it is anyway. She’s probably my best friend as well as my sister so to be able to share that moment with her and have her there is absolutely special. I’m so happy that they did make the trip and I guess that they’re super happy that they did as well. I think they could have probably regretted it a little bit if they missed it so I’m delighted they were there, we won and it was all happy days.”

With a score as wide as 63- 18, the Crows were sure of their victory long before the final whistle. Did it feel that way for the players? “I guess you don’t really consider it until the final whistle but I think coming into the fourth quarter at that stage we were well in control as a team. I think we kind of knew at that stage. But you can never write off any team and you always have to finish out the game and that’s what we did. Obviously for the last two minutes of the game we knew we were about to win it. That was a pretty special feeling.”

And when did Ailish know that the squad they had could be crowned Premiership champions? “If I’m being really honest the first day I trained with them, I knew this was a special group of girls and we could definitely go all the way with just the skill and the talent that was in the team and the bond that was there. 

“It was more than just a team. We’re actually more of a family than a team. That’s pretty special and you don’t get that in too many teams and I’ve played with a lot of different teamas in football, camogie back home. I’ve never had the same bond that we’ve had in this team. 

“It was just something special and I knew from day one when I walked in, ‘think we might be going somwhere with this’.”

Although the Crows lost their first game of the 2019 season to Western Bulldogs, they found their rhythm after that disappointment to win every remaining game by a comfortable margin. 

“Bulldogs played well and beat us by a point. After that game, I think we really concentrated a little bit more and worked really, really hard and got back to winning ways. 

“We had to play every game under pressure and I think that definitely helped us. Every game was pressure because if you lost a game, we could have potentially been out of the conference system. They were just a special group of girls from day one. I think my hopes were high after the first training session.

“There’s absolute superstars in our team but we all play as a team. They’ve all played their role and done their bit for the team, for the girls and for the club.”

Already 26 before she was signed by the club, was it a difficult adjustment for Ailish to be a novice when she had been a leader on any team she played on at home? “It’s a huge change because you come from a sporting background where you have potentially played for 20 years which I have done. I’ve played football for over 20 years at this stage.

“You’re coming to a new sport, a new team, a new country and you’re basically starting from absolute scratch again. Yeah, it’s a daunting task and you put a lot of pressure on yourself because you’ve played at such a high level at home. You’ve pretty much mastered the skills of one sport and then you come over and you have to start all over again, learn everything. 

“It was difficult and there were days when you would wonder, ‘Will I ever be good enough at this sport. Will I ever understand it enough that I will make it?’ That’s all part of it but I’ve had so much help and support since I have come over here. They’ve made it so easy. They’ve really, really helped me along the way and given me extra coaching sessions, extra skills sessions, everything. It’s been an amazing journey so far.

“I have so much to thank the Crows for as a club. I’ve never really felt homesick since I’ve been here. My mother would laugh because I’m such a homebird. I would never usually leave home for too long. There’s bad days but there’s mostly good days.”

Although the numbers have increased since due to the success of Ailish and her compatriots, there were five Irish girls competing with AFLW clubs in 2019 with Yvonne Bonner and Cora Staunton at Greater Western Sydney Giants, Sarah Rowe at Collingwood and Aisling McCarthy at Western Bulldogs making up the Irish contingent. 

“They have been great to keep in contact and obviously it’s a little bit difficult when I’m in Adelaide and there’s two in Melbourne and two in Sydney so it’s not easy but we’ve always sent messages to each other. I have got messages from each and every one of them saying well done and everything. It’s nice to have that Irish connection here and you keep that connection strong while we are here. It’s nice that we’re spread over the three states as well. That kind of means we’re taking over a little bit, I guess. It’s great to have connections here. Hopefully a few more will join us.”

The AFLW season runs from February until April which means the Irish players can take part and still take part in the All-Ireland with their counties as long as neither season is delayed or cancelled due to Covid-19.

Ailish would encourage any girls thinking about AFLW to not hesitate.

“It’s everything you want ladies football and camogie at home to be: The professional set-up, the support networks that you have, just the team ethos. It’s an absolute dream so I would one hundred per cent recommend any girl to come out and try it because if it doesn’t work out, you can always say you tried it.

“At the moment it being a six month contract and the way that it’s falling time-wise, it’s perfect to come and go back home and play your championship at home. 

“It’s a dream come true for me and something I never thought would be possible: For me to say I’m actually a professional athlete and I’m living that life. If you’re thinking about it, just go and do it.”

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