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'I Got An Email Saying, 'Congrats, You're Invited To Australia' And I Just Went With It'

'I Got An Email Saying, 'Congrats, You're Invited To Australia' And I Just Went With It'
By PJ Browne

If the timing had been right, Muireann Atkinson might not have been sitting in a North Dublin restaurant on Tuesday speaking to a small group of online media. Instead, somewhere in Australia, maybe Perth or Melbourne, could have been her station.

In September, the Monaghan footballer was one of 12 Irish players who travelled Down Under for a Cross Coders AFL Women's trial ahead of the 2019 season.

"I got an email saying, 'Congrats, you're invited to Australia' and I just went with it kind of," says Atkinson, who was in attendance at the launch of the Gourmet Food Parlour HEC Ladies Football Championships.

"We all arrived to the airport and we were all a bit confused at what we were doing. Nobody really told us what we were in for."

Atkinson spent two weeks in Australia. Though she calls it a holiday - and it sounds as though there was little time for relaxation - the trial finished with teams interested in signing her.

The first five or six days were quite intense. Straight off the plane, went to the training facilities and did athletic testing for two days.

Then they introduced me to an AFL oval ball for the first time, kicked about it for a while. Then we played a game the fifth or sixth day we were out there. It was the Cross Coders team against the VFL, which is the next standard to AFL. Turns out we absolutely hockied them 60 points to five points. A group of 18 players who hadn't played a game before.

It was clear to see that they were very interested in the Irish players from the get-go. It's the most transferable sport to AFL. A lot of the handball players and netball players struggled with the kicking whereas it came quite easy to us.

Also, the professionalism of ladies football has gotten so good that we surprised them in terms of our athletic ability. It's not far behind AFL at all. There's not much difference in our set-up to their set-up at the top level. It was interesting to see that and nice to get a taste for different top-class facilities in Australia.

Three Irish players, Aisling McCarthy from Tipperary, Yvonne Bonner from Donegal and Ailish Considine from Clare all earned contracts from the trial.

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In the future, if there were to be further offers, Atkinson would be interested in also playing Aussie rules. For the moment, the DCU PE and Biology student wants to finish her education in Ireland.

"[The] timing wasn't quite right for me at this point in time because of college and stuff but it would be great to get another whack at it in a couple of years time.

"I definitely wouldn't say I love the AFL sport, Gaelic, in my opinion, is a better sport. It's more skillful, you've more vision in total in the sport.

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"It's just the professional lifestyle that attracts me to it, and I think it would attract most ladies footballers. You know, you're getting paid to play which is class. It's a full-time job, it's what you enjoy doing and it gives you a chance to reach your full, max potential as well."

By the end of 2020, the AFL Women's league will have expanded to 14 teams. That will require resources which the Australian talent pool currently cannot meet.

Unlike the flood male GAA stars heading to play AFL which some expected to see but never happened, Atkinson can see it being far more than a trickle in the women's game.

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"I'm sure I'm not the only one that has been contacted, they are going to be poaching a lot of ladies footballers.

"They feel that when a player goes over there, they need three or four years to develop. You can't just pick it up in a year, even though Cora and the girls have done quite well.

"Men get a lot of perks in Gaelic football now compared to women, still. I know it's growing but there's still a big, massive gap there.

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"For me, to leave their set-up, they're leaving sponsorship deals, they're getting major travel expenses and they're getting huge publicity. Whereas ladies footballers there maybe ten high profile players but what about the rest of them, they're not getting that many perks.

"So, why wouldn't they go over when they're not getting paid. Ladies footballers probably need to be offered more here in Ireland if they want us to stay."

Muireann Atkinson of DCU and Monaghan was in attendance at the launch of the Gourmet Food Parlour HEC Ladies Football Championships at Gourmet Food Parlour’s Northwood, Santry outlet. Gourmet Food Parlour are the official sponsors of the HEC Ladies Football third-level Championships. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

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