Luck of the Irish: Eagles recruit 'grateful' to continue AFLW dream

Coming into 2021, the NAB AFL Women's competition has Unfinished Business. Following the abrupt cancellation of the 2020 season at the end of March as COVID-19 restrictions hit the country, players are keen to make up for lost time. As well as the competition as a whole, each player has their own personal Unfinished Business. In a video and text series, womens.afl will speak to a variety of players about their aims for the upcoming season. 

LEAVING behind family, friends and work to play a sport in a foreign country for six months is tough.

Doing so during a pandemic pulls at the heartstrings even more.

West Coast recruit Aisling McCarthy (and native of Tipperary, Ireland) is settling into her first year in Perth after playing the 2019 and 2020 seasons at the Western Bulldogs, but it's not without an uncomfortable pang.

Unfinished Business: Aisling McCarthy

02:23 Jan 24. 2021. 12:00 PM

Irish midfielder looking to take her game to a new level at the Eagles

"We're actually very lucky we even got out here in the first place. We did have to get exemptions and things like that, so we're very grateful that we actually were able to get out here in the first place," McCarthy told womens.afl.

"I suppose the pandemic at the moment is quite bad at home, and they're back into lockdown, so you feel a little bit guilty having the freedom out here. 

FULL 2021 AFLW FIXTURE Check it out here

"I think we're nearly in the best part of the world at the moment, life is so normal. It's nice to be able to enjoy that. 

"We had our fair share of lockdowns at home, so we're heading off to the beaches and living a bit of a normal life, because you don't know what's around the corner. Just enjoying our football while we have it."

SWAPPING WEST(ERN) BULLDOGS FOR COAST

McCarthy says her move to the Eagles is "multifactorial", bringing up three key elements.

She is excited to build something from the ground up with West Coast, 2021 being its second season in the competition after a difficult beginning, winning just one game.

The 24-year-old is able to join up with countrywomen Niamh and Grace Kelly at the Eagles – whose effusive praise of the club's efforts to accommodate international players was a key selling point – bringing a taste of home to the club.

REMEMBER ME? The stars returning for 2021

And most importantly, the Eagles are facilitating McCarthy's development in her chosen off-field career of physiotherapy.

"Because of our visa restrictions, we can't actually work while we're in Australia. I parked my physio career for those two six-month stints (at the Dogs), whereas West Coast have a physio clinic attached to its headquarters, West Coast Health," she said.

"I'm hoping to do a bit of shadowing there. It's not official work, but it will enable me to keep my skills up and just learn new things.

Former Bulldog Aisling McCarthy attempts to smother new teammate Parris Laurie's kick in a game last season. Picture: AFL Photos

"It's a brilliant opportunity for international players to come out to Australia and see a different part of the world and immerse yourself in semi-professional environment. But there really is a side of it you don't hear about, where you have to put your life on hold for six months. 

"When we can't play sport anymore or get injured or when we retire, we have to have something to fall back on, so it's important to have things outside of football. 

"I think West Coast really focus on that and make sure all the girls in the club have something outside of just sport and something else to focus on in case that doesn't go as well as we'd like."

FOLLOW THE LEADER Your club's leadership group for 2021

QUARANTINE BLUES

McCarthy spent her first two weeks in Perth in hotel quarantine, but thanks in part to an overactive imagination, it wasn't quite as tedious as expected.

And due to the wonders of technology (and an exercise bike in her hotel room), she was able to train with her teammates before meeting them in person.

"It was tough, but I built it up to be worse than it was, so it was way better than I thought. You keep yourself busy and structure yourself around the meals that arrive at the door and the workouts," McCarthy said. 

Aisling McCarthy, pictured at Eagles training, has settled in well to life in Perth. Picture: westcoasteagles.com.au

"It was great, the girls who were in rehab and doing bike sessions and stuff like that in the club would WhatsApp call me, so I did a couple of bike sessions and gym sessions with them. It was nice to get familiar with a few faces before I walked into the club.

"[West Coast] were great throughout the two weeks. There were different people checking in every day. The club sent a care package with jigsaws and mindfulness colouring books and different things like that to keep me busy. 

"There were different UberEats orders and coffees coming to my door (courtesy of teammates), so it was nice to have a surprise each day and it meant I got to know a few girls over text."

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ROOM TO GROW

Having split her time at the Dogs between the forward line and the midfield, McCarthy is gunning for a spot in the developing West Coast engine room, alongside club leaders Emma Swanson and Dana Hooker.

But despite two years in the competition, she's conscious of her inexperience, especially as she returns home to her "first love" of Gaelic football during winter and doesn't play state league Australian Football.

"I have only played 12 AFLW games, so (my aim is) trying to get more games under my belt and continuing to improve, just getting familiar with the nuances of the game, playing on instinct and bringing something different to the table," she said.

"Hopefully I can continue to improve each game that I play, and I think that's my unfinished business. I don't know how good I can get, so it's about getting minutes under my belt and seeing where it can take me from there, and continue to try and improve on my game."