‘I had a message from an elderly person from Cavan to say they looked forward to watching the games every weekend’

FROM COLLINGWOOD TO Cavan, it’s been a hectic few weeks for Aishling Sheridan.

Aishling Sheridan was speaking at the 2021 Lidl Ladies National Football Leagues launch.

After her stunning second season in the Australian Football League Women’s [AFLW], she’s firmly rooted back home in Mullahoran, readjusting to life on these shores.

With that, comes her first love of football. The switch between codes has certainly been challenging, but it’s welcome as she enjoys the best of both worlds — and plans to continue in the same vein, contracted for another season with the Pies.

“I’m not going to lie, the transition has been a bit difficult,” Sheridan said at the 2021 Lidl Ladies National Football League launch yesterday.

“Last year when I came home I had a full 10, 12-week lockdown to prepare myself whereas I kind of only had the 10 to 14 days this time. So far it’s all getting better, I’ve been doing my own extra bits every day to just get comfortable on the ball.

“Self confidence is a big thing so even getting more time holding the round ball as opposed to an oval ball, that can make a massive difference.

“But delighted to be home, delighted to be back with family and be back in with Cavan. We’ve a new set-up this year, a lot of new girls and a lot of new faces on the panel. It’s been a good challenge but I’m definitely delighted to be back.”

Reflecting on her Australian odyssey, Sheridan was certainly pleased with her season.

Alongside Sarah Rowe of Mayo, the 25-year-old starred in the Collingwood forward line and chipped in with plenty of goals to steer the side to the Finals Series, where they fell just short to eventual champions Brisbane Lions.

The growth and progression within the team has been “phenomenal,” with similar strides made on an individual level.

“Looking back on my season, I’m definitely happy with it,” Sheridan nods. “There’s obviously areas for growth. I suppose I had a shortened pre-season, I only made it out for three weeks of pre-season so I kind of have to take that into account.

“Overall, definitely a lot happier than I was in my first year and I suppose that only comes with practice and experience. You obviously understand the game better and get to know the game better.”

With 14 Irish players on the books of AFLW clubs last season, Irish interest was massive as people looked to fill the considerable Gaelic games void through lockdown.

TG4 showed games every weekend, and Sheridan says that support from home was certainly felt.

“I know I can probably speak on behalf of all the Irish players who were playing in the AFLW when I say about the support that we got from back home, whether you knew the players or you didn’t, no matter where they were from, was absolutely phenomenal.

Sheridan celebrating scoring a goal.

Source: AAP/PA Images

“Full credit to TG4 for the coverage they gave the games. It’s funny, the Australians even noticed the support that the Irish were getting. There was so much interaction. With the games being at difficult times, sometimes they were at three in the morning so we didn’t expect anyone to be watching them at that time but there were a good few people watching them.

“The messages I received personally in the 10 weeks I was playing was absolutely phenomenal. It really warmed your heart to see people who mightn’t have ever seen the game before get such pleasure out of watching the games.”

Thinking of one in particular brings a massive smile to her face. 

“I had a message from an elderly person who was probably in their 80s or 90s from Cavan, to say how every weekend they looked forward to watching the games. It’s something really heart warming.”

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There’s plenty she brings home with her, and into her county set-up; the Breffni preparing for another Division 2 league campaign under the watchful eye of new boss Gerry Moane, Tyrone’s All-Ireland intermediate winning manager from 2018.

“I suppose there’s things that one (sport) might do a bit better than the other,” Sheridan explains.

“It’s one thing I always talk about over in Australia, how far advanced Gaelic football is here. That’s one thing they can’t comprehend, how it’s not semi-professional or a professional sport.

“Essentially we have girls who work and then come to training, and it is quite similar in Australia but even, take for example, the fact that there’s going to be 50 games streamed in the league. Out in Australia it’s quite similar and that, to me, is absolutely massive.

“But I suppose in terms of qualities to bring back home from Australia, it would probably be more so off-the-field qualities like leadership. I think the preparation and the whole set-up the way the county system has gone in recent years, it’s been phenomenal, it’s been hitting towards that semi-professional environment.”

Training on both sides of the world is “not too dissimilar,” with timing and the length of sessions the main difference, while huge emphasis is put on prehab and skills work Down Under.

With the notable similarities between the codes, Sheridan expects more Irish talent to head over the coming years, though that could be impacted by recent news of scheduling changes.

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“The season is starting a lot earlier next year although they’ve not announced any official dates,” she says. “They’re hoping to get the first game off around early December whereas last year it was late January so it’s a full two months earlier. That’ll require us to move back a lot sooner rather than later.

This is honestly huge 🙌🏻 make sure you sign up and register so you can stream the games live for FREE . So good especially when spectators and family members can’t be at games #SeriousSupport https://t.co/mTaIhBGNfP

— Aishling Sheridan (@AishlingSherdo) May 18, 2021

“With four new teams coming in, that means that 30 new players will be needed for each team and then there might be older players on each team that only have another year or two left.

“I imagine in the next two or three years, there will be a good few Irish looked at to go over. I’m sure they will go over, that’s their decision but they’ll have to take into account if the season changes, will it impact their Gaelic football season. If it doesn’t, then I’d imagine another one or two will be going over.”

For now, her entire focus is on home soil, and the Breffni county’s 2021 campaign, which opens with a meeting with neighbours Monaghan in Clones on Sunday.

Lining out alongside her older sisters, Mona and Geraldine, Sheridan is hoping her side can make a splash in what will be a testing few weeks.

“Our main goal when it comes to league for the last few years has been trying to get out of Division 2,” she concludes. “There was two years there where we made it to the final and fell short. It’s something we keep striving to progress in.

“We’re playing senior championship and you do find that gap between Division 2 league and then going into senior championship which I found especially in that Donegal game [in 2019].

“Looking forward to this year, the goal will still be to try to get that one step forward that we haven’t in previous years. I know especially playing senior championship you want to be playing Division 1 league and getting used to that standard, that pressure and then being able to transition into championship.”

– Lidl and the LGFA have confirmed live-streaming of 50 league games. Read more here.

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