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Nobody has done more to funnel Irish players to the AFLW than Mike Currane

‘There are bound to be negative views but that’s okay,’ says Irish Aussie Rules coach who prepares players for life Down Under

Saturday into Sunday, deep in the dead of night. A WhatsApp group zinging and pinging away, all eyes flicking between it and TV footage from 10,500 miles across the globe. When the parents of Vikki Wall and Erika O’Shea started their girls off playing football as young kids, they never imagined a watch party like this. Yet here they are, their emotions whirring as Wall and O’Shea make their debuts for North Melbourne in a 40-14 win over Gold Coast Suns.

The other member of the group is Mike Currane, an architect by trade, an Aussie Rules lifer by vocation. The road that led Wall and O’Shea to the AFLW – and indeed that of most of the 22 Irish women playing in this season’s league – came through Currane. He is a talent spotter, a skills coach and an intermediary all rolled into one. He runs all the AFLW Ireland social media accounts and keeps the players’ families updated. Nobody has done more to funnel players from Ireland to Australia.

“I’ve been involved in Aussie Rules in Ireland for 23 years,” Currane says. “I would have founded the men’s league in 2000 and a women’s league in 2017. I was the national team coach for four years and would have coached universities here as well. When the AFLW started in 2017, I started working with the Irish players and helping them get over there and coached them when they were signed and were back here waiting for the season to start.

“Since Covid, my focus is purely on the professional side of the game. I work for the AFLW on talent ID and elite skills. I work with all the AFLW clubs and with Irish girls here who want to go, scouting some players to see their interest and matching them to clubs in Australia. I worked with all five players who went out this year. For some it’s a long process – Bríd Stack took two years, for Orlagh Lally it was a couple of months. Everybody’s different.”


Different people, different stories. All around the league last weekend, there were stories of Irish success and failure. The cruelest blow was to Rachael Kearns, the Mayo player who was one of only four of the 22 to play intercounty championship this year. Sadly for Kearns, her AFLW season with Geelong lasted just 10 minutes – a heavy tackle ruptured her AC shoulder joint and she looks likely to miss the rest of the year with it.

Elsewhere, however, there was ample evidence of the impact Irish players are having on the league. For the first time since its inception in 2017, three Irish players made the official Team of the Week – Aisling McCarthy, Clara Fitzpatrick and Cora Staunton.

The apparently endless Staunton scored three goals for GWS Giants, bringing her total since coming over from Mayo to 50. That puts her joint second on the all-time goalscorers list. McCarthy’s brilliant shimmy-and-strike for West Coast Eagles was voted Goal of the Week across the league.

“They had a brilliant start,” says Currane. “It’s surreal to be up in the middle of the night glued to it but I have got to know the families so well through the process. They’re always concerned and anxious watching on because they’re so far away. But Vikki’s mother texted to say she had been on to home within five minutes of the end to say that all was good.

“The thing people don’t realise really is that the AFLW doesn’t need Irish players. They might have at the start when there wasn’t a big playing pool but they have lots of academies now and there’s a significant domestic playing population there now. So when they bring over Irish players, they do it for a reason.

“It was no surprise that Vikki was rolled out in front of the media this week for North Melbourne ahead of them playing at the MCG this weekend. She has experience of playing in front of a huge crowd in a historic stadium that a lot of her team-mates don’t. The same with Bríd Stack or Cora Staunton or lots of the Irish players. They know how to face these big occasions and that’s one of the things that make them so attractive to Australian clubs.”

Over it all hangs the future of the women’s Gaelic football here, the great unspoken. Currane says he hasn’t felt a lot of pushback personally but he’s no fool either. With scheduling changes on both ends of the map, this is probably the last season in which it will have been possible for players to turn out for their county in the All-Ireland as well as their pro team in Australia. And even at that, only four of the 22 did so.

Not all of the remaining 18 would have been available, with or without the Aussie game, but the implications for down the road are obvious. Currane is already working with players aiming to go over in 2023, ‘24 and ‘25 – somewhere along the way, there has to be a reckoning.

“It’s not something that crosses my mind, to be honest,” he says. “There are bound to be some negative views but that’s okay. I have found in general that people are really delighted for these players, that they’re able to go and excel at professional sport.

“Nobody begrudges them their chance of an adventure. The other side of it too is that when they come back, they have so much to offer their club teams and county teams in terms of what they have picked up and learned over there.”

Interesting times, either way.

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times