IT WAS A decision she had to think a lot about, but one she couldn’t turn down in the end.
Triple threat: Orla O’Dwyer.
When a professional contract in the Australian Football League Women’s [AFLW] came her way, Tipperary dual star Orla O’Dwyer just couldn’t say no. It was something she never thought would happen. Especially given the fact that she had just applied for a trial camp.
CrossCoders — the programme that’s brought several Irish athletes to the league Down Under — are running a camp on these shores next weekend, with scouts from clubs set to be present as they look to add to their stock.
And that’s what 20-year-old O’Dwyer was signing up for originally.
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As part of the programme though, player profiles where clubs can access video footage and data are set up, and the ball starts rolling immediately.
“Obviously from seeing how successful the girls were last year, I was interested,” O’Dwyer, who officially signed for Brisbane Lions yesterday, told The42.
“I submitted my statement of interest at the start of the year to CrossCoders. The weekend’s going on but I was lucky enough to get approached before that. A few clubs got in contact with me and I had several interviews.
“It was obviously a big decision. In the end, I just went with Brisbane. I thought that Craig [Starcevich, coach] and Bree [Brockwere, women’s CEO] very supportive.
“Even the way he knew my style of play and what he wanted me to do. He was just very interested in the way I play.”
There was plenty of interest in the ladies football and camogie star from the get-go further afield.
She remembers finding out that there was initial interest and approaches not long after she applied.
“I was definitely shocked,” she smiles.
“I remember I was on the way home from something in Dublin and I got a message from Jason [Hill, co-founder of CrossCoders] saying, ‘Can you provide some video clips of you just kicking around because there’s already some clubs interested’.
Striking the sliotar in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last summer.
Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO
“I was like, ‘Oh God, it’s happening so fast’. I got onto that straight away, I was really enthusiastic.”
As interest heightened, the opportunities came thicker and faster and Hill himself can most definitely vouch for her enthusiasm on that front.
“With Orla, the one thing that came through the interviews she had with clubs… everyone goes, ‘I love her,’” Hill enthuses.
“She has this X-Factor about her that no one can quite put their finger on what it is, but there’s something about the way she talks and the way she holds herself that everyone’s excited about how that comes out in sport.
“These are the exciting things that I just can’t wait to see.”
Of course, before saying yes to Brisbane, O’Dwyer spoke to friends and family, and even to young Dublin footballer James Madden who’s currently plying his trade with the Lions.
She got advice from some of her fellow ladies footballers who flew the flag so high in the 2019 AFLW season, and went from there.
“They were very excited as well,” she recalls. “I just had more of a love towards the Brisbane Lions over the other clubs.
“Obviously it’s not just playing the football out there, you have to live there and have your life out there. I went for Brisbane in the end and I’m very happy with my decision.
“I’m really looking forward to going now — at such a young age as well.”
She’s currently finishing her second year of a PE and Irish teaching degree in University of Limerick [UL] and O’Dwyer admits that that was a big factor of her uncertainty.
“I didn’t know about college, to leave or to wait until after. I decided sure I don’t know what I’m going to be at in two years’ time. Even last year, I missed all of college sport because I was out injured. You never know what might happen in two years time.
Brisbane announced their first-ever Irish AFLW recruit yesterday.
Source: Brisbane Lions Twitter.
“While it’s [AFLW] growing so big now with the expansion and four new teams, I was like, ‘I’ll definitely grab it and go for it’.
“UL have been very supportive as well in the last while, congratulating me. I’ve decided that I’ll take a year out and I can go back to it then after Australia.
“I don’t regret the decision. I’ll take the leave of absence and take it from there. It’s the chance of a lifetime and not something that comes around every day.
“I’m hoping my experience out there — there’s personal growth — I can bring that back to the classroom. For me to have the opportunity to experience playing professional is fantastic.”
Born in Sydney and now with Australian citizenship, O’Dwyer’s parents spent four years there after getting married. A year after their daughter was born, the family moved back home so she, understandably, has no memories of the Land Down Under.
Likewise, she has never played Aussie Rules.
“It’s completely new to me,” she grins, explaining that as well as the Gaelic football and camogie, of course, she played soccer and basketball in school, and did athletics as well.
A bit of Cross Country, some sprinting but it’s been basically just the two the past few years.
“I got the Sherrin there for Christmas, my Mam got me a ball because she knew I was interested. I’m trying to kick away there at home.
“I can see a lot of similarities between the two [Gaelic football and Aussie Rules] and there’s obviously something that the AFL clubs are seeing as well. The Irish players are being professional over there so they’re looking towards Irish players.
“I have no doubt that in a few weeks, well, after the camp, that there will be a few more Irish Gaelic footballers and camogie players being brought out and getting offered contracts, especially with the expansion of the game — it’s getting huge.
Facing Armagh’s Caroline O’Hanlon in last year’s league.
Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
“It’s definitely great to have that experience here to go out.”
She’s watched from afar over the past season and more. Mayo duo Sarah Rowe and Cora Staunton, Donegal’s Yvonne Bonner, Clare’s Ailish Considine; they all flew the flag with distinction through the 2019 season.
But she kept a closer eye on someone else in particular. Her Tipperary team-mate Aisling McCarthy.
“It’s great knowing people over there because you have someone to follow then,” she explains. “I was talking to Aish there, she’s back in the Tipp football set-up now and she’s looking forward to going back there next year and having another successful year, hopefully.
“She’s looking forward to getting back to the football as well after having such a break from it. She felt real hungry going back.
“It’s great the way it’s set up that the AFL finals were the end of March last year… I don’t know if it’s later this year, but then you’ve a few weeks and you’re straight into your county championship. It’s great to have that opportunity to be able to do the two of them as well.”
She’s an expert at switching between codes as is, balancing senior-inter county commitments across both football and small ball games — and doing so excellently.
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O’Dwyer has been at the centre of several dual debates and clashes through the years, but carries on giving 100% to — and clearly loving both — and excel at that.
After a lull between league and championship and recovering from injury, she’s ready for the madness once again. And that starts today. The Premier open their Munster intermediate football championship campaign against Limerick at 5pm in Thurles, while the camogie side face Waterford at The Ragg at 7.15pm.
“We have a big championship season ahead of us,” she smiles, giving a run-down of the fixtures in her head. She thought that the camogie was on the Sunday at the time of our conversation. All must be under control though.
“I’m glad that it’s all thought through, that I got the contract and now it’s all parked so I can focus on camogie and football until the end of the summer.
With UL team-mate Roisin Howard.
Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
“I think that’s great the way it works like that. Obviously I’ll be working away with the AFL, kicking, the club sent me on a few videos to get my skill up.
“The big focus at the minute is just championship and trying to get Tipp to Croke Park again in both codes. That’s the goals. And win Munster as well, so hopefully!”
She’s said it before, she’ll say it again: she absolutely loves them both. And however profound that love was before the injury, it’s increased tenfold now after her return.
“I haven’t really been playing proper matches with camogie, I’ve played the last few football ones,” she explains. “Back training now, I love being back.
“The biggest thing about being out injured was my patience was tested. I’m obviously not allowed to train or anything like that, so it’s great to be back.
“Especially back for championship season. That’s what all the girls love the most — being out training in the summery days when the weather is nice. We all aspire to go out and win and hopefully Tipperary go far this year in the two of them.”
And hopefully she’ll go far in Australia come pre-season in October, and the fourth edition of the league kicking off in January 2020.
Hill, who keeps a close eye on the Gaelic games scene, most definitely thinks so.
Celebrating the 2017 All-Ireland intermediate final win.
Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
“For someone like Orla who’s clearly a multi-talented athlete already in two sports, to pick up a third I don’t think it’s going to be much of a stretch for someone like that,” he smiles.
“I remember thinking, ‘God!’ when [year one CrossCoders] Ailish, Aish [McCarthy] and Yvonne [Bonner] were suiting up for round one, getting nervous for them saying, ‘I can’t wait to see how they go’.
“I’m getting that feeling all over again — this little bit of unknown, this little bit of X-Factor and the fact that there’s now an expectation on us to deliver. It’s not just, ‘Hey, let’s see how they go, this is a cool experiment’.
“It’s going, ‘Right, who’s the next one that’s going to deliver to the level of Sarah Rowe, of Yvonne Bonner?’” he concludes.
“Ireland can deliver world-class female athletes. There’s not many countries around the world that can say they’re delivering an abundance of that level of highly-talented sportswomen who are taking an opportunity like this and going and turning it into a success like these girls have.”
Gavan Casey, Murray Kinsella and Bernard Jackman tee up Saturday’s Champions Cup final and look at the backroom problems in Munster.:
Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud
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