By Shaun Casey
AISHLING Sheridan is backing doing what she does best, scoring goals and winning games in the blue and white of Cavan. Her transition to the AFLW game kept her out of inter-county action last year, but she’s back and she’s making up for lost time.
“I got home just before Christmas, so I got a bit of GAA training back into the system before the league started and I’m really enjoying being home at the moment.”
It’s a trying transition to say the least, floating between two different sports with different skills, but through hard work and dedication Sheridan found her feet.
“Certain things like trying to perfect your solo run or your weaker side, that’s obviously something you don’t do out there. The speed and change of direction and stuff as well.
“I do find GAA is a much faster game because there’s not as many stoppages so it’s just getting back into the agility work. Then the whole mental side of it too, especially scoring and just trying to get back into the rhythm and all that comes along with that.”
“The weather wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be (on returning to Ireland). I think we’ve been very lucky the last little while, it’s been cold, but it hasn’t been raining. We had a pre-season last year from June to August which is technically Melbourne or Australia’s winter.
“Melbourne is probably the most like Ireland because some days it would be 4 or 5 degrees and a lot of rain, it mightn’t be as cold, but I did have a bit of a pre-season in a colder climate.
“It definitely wasn’t 20 degrees until December when I was on my way back home to Ireland. I don’t know if it’s a good thing, but I probably had two winters in one year, but it could be worse.”
The 26-year-old has scored 14 goals in 37 appearances for Collingwood since making the move down under. She’s played the AFLW game for three season now and enjoys the lifestyle that comes with being a professional athlete.
“I think it was the 2019 season, I went out to Melbourne for a week with this company called the CrossCoders and it was on a trial basis. There was 20 or 30 of us that got selected from all different sports around the world but the majority of us were Irish and Gaelic footballers.
“It gave Australian teams an opportunity to see us in their environment and they ran a mini-combine, so it wasn’t an official one, but they got to see our results. That was in September and the draft was in October so I didn’t get picked but a few months later, the following May I went out again.
“A team had offered me the opportunity to go out and play AFLW, which is probably the equivalent of club football. I got to go out there for three or four weeks and got to be in a training environment, I got to train three times a week and play two games.
“It gave any team out there a really good opportunity to see you in that environment because they actually got to see you play the game and train. On my way home I got a few offers from different clubs and Collingwood was one of them.
“It definitely is a big decision; you have to weigh up everything. At that time, we weren’t missing the county season so when the opportunity came, it was definitely one that I could never turn down.
“It was a shorter season but now the season is getting longer and it’s obviously running into the LGFA season. I think for a lot of people there’s probably more to think about now and as you get older you have to weigh up a lot of options.
“But it definitely wasn’t a hard decision to make, I was so over the moon to be offered to go out and it’s an amazing experience, I love it.”
Her old college roommate, and Mayo star, Sarah Rowe had already got a season with Collingwood under her belt before Sheridan made the move. So, the sight of a friendly face made the decision that wee bit easier.
“I lived with Sarah Rowe for three years in college and she had a year done with Collingwood, so I played my last AFL game in Melbourne, then I got to visit Collingwood the day before I headed back to Ireland.
“I got to see the club and some of the Collingwood staff, and it really gave me an opportunity to see what the environment and the programme is like. Having one of my friends out there made the decision a little easier to choose Collingwood.”
Sheridan wasn’t the first and she won’t the last talented Gaelic footballer to be snapped up by the Australians. In fact, she believes the numbers will only increase in the future.
“I think there probably will be a good few more in the next couple of years. The competition is only in its seventh year, so it’s not been around long. There’s a lot of history to it but basically kids growing up had to stop playing AFL because there was no pathway, no age group after u-12 I think it was.
“A lot of them went to different sports like soccer and netball and the rule only came back that you could play in a senior environment a few years later. A lot of people had actually left the sport so there was a large gap where they had very little players coming through.
“The competition has grown so much now over the last seven years, and they’ve changed the season. They’re really looking towards internationals to try and help build it. Having seen the Irish flourish, it made it easier for them to keep looking towards Ireland.
“They can compare the games and we do have that professional approach even though we play an amateur game. It’s actually one thing I’ve heard a lot from different clubs and different girls, they can’t believe the men don’t get paid and the professionalism they have and the same with us.
“I think any Irish player out there, they’re really top of the programme. We do every extra bit we have to, the strength and conditioning, the nutrition, commitment and I think it’s one thing they really admire about the Irish, our hard work and determination. They’re still waiting for proper confirmation (for the season ahead), but I think it will run very similar to last season. I imagine that training will start towards the end of May or June and then the first game will be at the end of August, and it’ll run through to November.
“For a lot of the Irish that maybe want to stay at home and play county football, that probably finishes in July, so it does give you a chance to play the county season and then get back out to Australia and get a few weeks training under your belt.
“That’s probably the plan for a lot of girls, to maybe stay as long as they can until July and then make their way back out again.”
While in the sunshine of Australia, perfecting her skills for another sport, Sheridan doesn’t get much time to practise her Gaelic football game.
“No none at all, especially when the season has started. Pre-season is very full on and when you have your off time you really need to take it. I think Sunday was the only day when we didn’t have anything so that was a day of rest.
“Obviously when you’re in season you’re trying to make sure you’re recovered, you have games with maybe a six- or seven-day turnaround. I had a few niggles last year as well so that was my main priority, to get back and recover from them.
“When the season is on and even when you’re in pre-season, there’s very little opportunity to play or train with a round ball, you’re trying to perfect your skills with an oval ball. You’d definitely confuse some of the rules if you were playing both.”
For now, Sheridan will concentrate on Cavan. The Breffni Blues sit fourth in the Division Two table and are in with a fighting chance of reaching the league final, having won three games on the trot after suffering two defeats.
“We lost a lot of players in the last year, a lot of our senior players, even the likes of me, I’m probably one of the older players at this stage. The first two games we were just trying to find our feet, try out new girls, our game-plan.
“I think now we’ve figured out the way we want to play and what player can player where and things like that, you can start to see us now succeeding. It’s straight finals this year so there probably wasn’t any room for losing games but that’s just how it goes.
“We’re really depending on results. We still have a few tough games ahead of us so we can’t overlook that. We’re still hoping for other results to go our way and if we can continue winning then we’ll be in with a chance.”