Professional opportunity too good for Irish players to turn down – Aileen Gilroy

Professional Opportunity Too Good For Irish Players To Turn Down – Aileen Gilroy
Having been a key player for Mayo during her inter-county football career, the former All-Star has seen the difference additional facilities and coaches can make to a team.
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Michael Bolton

Since moving to Australia in 2020, Mayo's Aileen Gilroy has been one of the most consistent players in the Women's Australian Football League (AFLW).

Currently playing with Hawthorn, the 31-year-old is one of over 30 Irish players in the league.


While playing for Mayo, Gilroy admitted a move to Australia wasn't at the top of her agenda, especially when she suffered a serious ACL injury.

However, when a former Mayo teammate started making waves on the other side of the world, a career in Australia looked very tempting.

"The experience to have that professional lifestyle and how they work, and to have nothing else to concentrate on but AFLW, was a massive draw for me.

"The strength and conditioning here, when I came over her first, that was a huge part that opened up my eyes to the world because they concentrate on so much.


"Cora Staunton was the first person to get the game in 2017 when she came out. I hadn't taken any heed of the game. The closest I would have watched was Aussie Rules with Ireland, that was the only time I would have watched it.

"Cora is in a league of her own, so I wasn't expecting to get picked up, if there was anyone suited to the game, it was Cora.

"In 2018, I had to get my ACL, and I was just like that has really pushed me back, I don't think that I will do it, because how else will I get seen, it will be another yet before I get back fit, and then I'll have to that season with Mayo.

"But little did I know, there was a little backroom look in already as it was."


Home away from home

Moving to North Melbourne, Gilroy moved knowing she could move back home to Mayo within six months had she not enjoyed Australia.

However, in a professional environment, with family and friends in Australia, including a number of Mayo teammates, it felt like home away from home.

In 2022, after two successful years in Melbourne, Gilroy joined Hawthorn, becoming their first Irish player. She was joined by Galway's Áine McDonagh, where they have formed an understanding on the pitch to help their team.

"We are very different from the Aussies. It is always really nice and reassuring becuase there is so many of us and it is great. Having Áine McDonagh on the Hawks team is a huge thing. I don't know what it is, I know what Áine is going to do as she was a Gaelic footballer.


""I am reading her before anyone else can read her, we really connect. It is really nice to have another Irish girl on the team.

"I just know when she is going to turn, and when she is going to kick it. When the Aussies are marking us, they don't know what we are going to do."

Having been a key player for Mayo during her inter-county football career, the former All-Star has seen the difference additional facilities and coaches can make to a team.

Changing landscape

While Gilroy has seen the Dublin team focus on strength and conditioning, the former Mayo footballer believes more can be done in inter-county sides to focus on this, with the addition of more coaches.


"Strength and conditioning is huge. Even when I see the Dublin girls playing now, what Mick Bohan has done over the last seven years, they have got bigger, they have got stronger. I think a big factor is the strength and conditioning.

"I feel like some teams are not really concentrating on that. We do video analysis, which is a massive part as well. Even in training, we do videos of us in training.

"You can go back in there in 20 minutes and go to a coach and be like 'what could I have done better here?' You have the proof.

"Back home, it's hearsay. They can say it to you, but you don't really get it until you see it, which is a massive part as well.

"In Ladies Football, we need to get more coaches in to work with more people. Over here, you have a defence coach, a forwards coach, an assistant coach, and the actual coach over the whole team. They are always there to try make you better as a player."

In terms of promoting the game, an issue which Ladies football as been found wanting, the AFLW has been seen as an example to show what can be achieved.

From television coverage, to the scheduling of games, Gilroy has been impressed by how women's sport is promoted.

"I feel like Australia is leading that right across the world. They don't want the crossover with the men's AFL because they know it will take away viewers from our game. Back home, they try to do the double headers to promote the game.

"Over here, if you do a double header, the men's game goes on too long anyway. A lot of our fanbase would be families, you wouldn't expect a child to sit for a men's game that could go on for three hours and our game that could go on for two hours.

"Every game is televised, which is huge. I think the promotion is massive. It has improved back home, don't get me wrong, but there is so much to be done back home, and I think they need to dig deeper into that."

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