Seeing Zach Tuohy parade around the MCG with a Portlaoise flag draped around his shoulders inevitably got some other Irish minds racing Down Under.
The women’s game exists in a different realm of pageantry and interest here, but we still live in the same sphere. And as my Dad is coming out for a couple of weeks at the end of next month, I may as well get him to pack a Dunboyne flag – just in case.
We are obsessed with Gaelic football at home, people live and breathe it. I live in Dunboyne and Meath bubbles, which essentially orbit the size-four O’Neills. But an AFL grand final week in Melbourne is another level again.
The coverage of the grand final is relentless all week, and by the end of it, the streets in Geelong were shut down. They’re dead right, too – we’ll have to get more barriers out in Meath if we get our hands on the Brendan Martin Cup again!
The grand final – I watched it over in Sarah Rowe’s place with a few of the Irish girls and some of her Collingwood team-mates – wasn’t much of a contest, but seeing Zach and Mark O’Connor win a Premiership really hit home and gave our little Irish Australian Rules community a huge lift.
I haven’t met either of the lads, but I’d be in regular contact with Cian McBride, the Meath man at Essendon, to chat about home and discuss how best to adapt to such massive change on and off the field.
It’s gone well for me so far. I’ve stayed fit – touch wood – and have played all five of our games, kicking a few goals along the way.
We’re going along OK on three wins, with our two defeats coming against Adelaide and Melbourne, last season’s AFLW grand finalists.
Coming from the Meath set-up, it’s been tricky to adjust to an environment where pushing the top sides close is seen as progress. I’m fiercely competitive, and to be honest, I was raging after those defeats.
I find the feedback can sometimes be too positive here - maybe it’s because I’m new to the game and they don’t want to discourage me.
As a player, you generally know when you’ve done something well, so in a review, I’d much prefer to be shown five things I could do better than five things I did well. I am desperate to improve – and quickly – because we are already halfway through the regular season.
We’re at home to Sydney Swans, the bottom side of the 18 AFLW teams at present, on Sunday (7.10am Irish time), where we’re hoping to make it three wins on the spin. Last weekend’s victory felt like genuine progress, inflicting a first defeat of the season on the Western Bulldogs, so hopefully, we can kick on from here.
There were even a few folks from Dunboyne at Punt Road; it was nice to have that home link. Mum and Dad usually go to all of my matches, so it’s been strange playing games without that close-knit support network on standby. Athletically, I think I’ve managed well. I get through about 7-8km of running, which is actually less ground than I’d cover in a game at home. But when you add in the additional physical contact here, it probably evens out.
A few weeks ago, I explained how I had been more reserved than usual while assessing my new surroundings. It’s safe to say that, in the intervening weeks, I’ve definitely settled into myself – I’d say some of my North Melbourne team-mates miss the quieter version of me!
I’m learning all the time, but I’m at a point now where I feel I understand the game. And until you get to that stage, it’s difficult to have the confidence to speak up and offer solutions or opinions in team meetings. I’m asked constantly how it compares to home. The truth is, there are a lot of similarities.
The standards out here are no different to what we demanded of each other in Meath – whether it was punctuality at training, completing a wellness app every day, or reporting every little niggle to the physio. We put a big emphasis on all the small things that could improve your contribution to the team and ultimately benefit the collective.
We do the same here, just with much greater resources – more S&C staff, physios and coaches. And we get paid for it. However, there’s one aspect of the GAA that this will never be able to match. When you turn up for training on a dark Tuesday night in the depths of the Irish winter – when you can’t hear people above the howling wind or see more than two metres in front of your feet – you know everyone is there by choice.
The grá of the game, and for the club, is the only thing that keeps pulling you back. That’s why I’ll be up in the middle of the night next weekend to watch the girls play in a county final. That’s why Portlaoise remains so special to Zach Tuohy and why Dunboyne and Meath will always have such a hold over me.