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Wednesday 20 November 2019

Collins: Aussie-bound pair owe nothing to Dublin ladies' game

John Gillick, AIG Head of Sponsorship, with Dublin footballers Davy Byrne and Niamh Collins on a visit to AIG Insurance’s head office. Pic: Matt Browne
John Gillick, AIG Head of Sponsorship, with Dublin footballers Davy Byrne and Niamh Collins on a visit to AIG Insurance’s head office. Pic: Matt Browne

There is growing unease within the LGFA just now about the accelerated recruitment of some of Gaelic football's top and most promising footballers for the AFLW.

Currently there are 18 Irish women on the books of Aussie rules clubs for the start of next season's expanded League, although a dispute over payments and scheduling has put the competition's kick-off in jeopardy.

That figure is expected to rise and by the time the competition starts, there could be as many as 25 inter-county players plying their trade in the semi-professional League for 2020.

Dublin All-Ireland winners Sinéad Goldrick and Niamh McEvoy are two of the most recent and high-profile recruits, having signed international rookie terms with Melbourne FC for next year.

Their team mate Niamh Collins admits to being "torn" over the upsurge in exports.

"I think for Sinéad and Niamh, they don't owe anything to Dublin ladies' football," Collins stressed.

"They've been around for 11, 12 years and they have done their part.

"This opportunity has come to them in their late 20s and I think they're dead right to take it.

"They're going to have a great time over there, they're going to learn loads and hopefully they'll bring it back to us."

Shallow

"For players who are in the earlier stages of their careers, then maybe it is kind of dangerous to the game that we're losing people at 22, 23, 24 when they're possibly headed into their prime and they might see a more glamorous side when they're getting paid and not come back.

"That could be the danger, but for Sinéad and Niamh I think they're dead right to go."

Part of the reason for the upsurge in interest in Irish players is the extremely shallow pool of talent in Australia.

The League is still in its infancy and the academy structure for female Aussie rules players in its formative stages.

This year there will be four new teams in the League and the intention is to bring the number of competitors to 18 in line with the AFL men's competition.

There is also a requirement for each squad to contain three rookies, defined as a player who hasn't played AFL in the past three years.

The GAA then hosts a selection of similarly-skilled and suitably-conditioned players for AFL teams to attempt to lure to Australia with the offer of pay for play (tier 4 players earned $13,400 this year) and an accommodating job in the club.

Technically, the scheduling of the League should minimise the impact on inter-county teams.

This year, the Grand Final was played on March 31, meaning Irish players could be home in time to play for their counties in the championship.

However, the proposed introduction of an all-Australia VFL - ostensibly a reserve League played during the Irish summer months - will mean players could be asked to stay and gain some more experience in their new sport.

Yvonne Bonner, a team mate of Cora Staunton at GWS Giants, remained in Australia this year after the AFLW season ended, depriving Donegal of her talents.

Worried

Collins says she expects both McEvoy and Goldrick to be back in time for the start of Dublin's bid to win a fourth All-Ireland title in a row, but is keenly aware that for all their dominance of late, losing two players of their undoubted influence on a permanent basis would be detrimental.

"You lose players to injury every year," she points out.

"I don't think we've gone a year without a cruciate ligament injury.

"Losing three is maybe manageable, losing five or six you'd probably be very worried then.

"I think it'll give our team an opportunity to build. We've had some really, really talented minor players come up this year.

"Like Caoimhe O'Connor, who came on in the All-Ireland final and scored a goal … this might give those players an opportunity to really push it in the League.

"Like I said, losing three, think we can manage. Any more and we'd be worried then."

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