Double the Irish luck

In the last thirty years or so, male Irish Gaelic footballers have taken the gamble of coming down to Australia, switching codes and trying to make it to the top of Australian rules football.

From Sydney Swans premiership player Tadhg Kennelly to Melbourne’s former President and Brownlow Medallist, the late Jim Stynes, many have had a positive impact on the game.

County Down’s Clara Fitzpatrick has the height to go with the AFLW’s elite talls. Image: Irish Banshees

This year it’s the turn of the Irishwomen to make their mark, with County Caven’s Laura Duryea already starring in defence for Melbourne in the AFLW, earning herself a very respectable sixth place finish in the club’s inaugural best and fairest.

Another female Irish Gaelic footballer looking to leave an impression on the footy world, and follow in the footsteps of Duryea, is Clara Fitzpatrick of County Down.

According to Fitzpatrick, a little bit of luck almost a year ago set her on her footy journey.

“It was a bit random actually,” Fitzpatrick told Girls Play Footy.

“One of the girls I use to play [Gaelic] football with in university posted it up and just basically said there was an introduction to AFL (Australian football).

“So, I thought, I was off on Saturday, so why not take a trip up.

“From there I really loved it; it was very, very similar to Gaelic football, a lot of fitness, a lot of running, a lot of skills transferred over.”

After just two months of being involved in the game, Fitzpatrick impressed the Irish Banshees coaching staff enough to earn a spot with the national team that was to compete at the AFL European Championships in London.

“It was quite surprising actually, but it was a really good experience with a really good bunch of girls.

“[The tournament] was really good for learning more about the game, because there was a lot of game time over there.

“It was good to actually bring on the skills a wee bit more.”

The experience of playing for the Irish national team in London had Fitzpatrick well and truly hooked on the sport of Aussie rules.

Coincidentally, the Irishwoman was thinking about travelling south of the equator at some stage, and her newfound love of Australia’s game was enough motivation for her to take the leap.

“Probably for the last two or three years I was always kind of thinking in my head that I was going to go to Australia at some stage.

“Finally, I broke the shackles and said ‘right, I’m going to go’, and it was just really all luck that I did start Aussie rules last year.

“The first thing I looked into when I got over here was starting up at a Gaelic club and starting up at an Aussie rules club.”

Although initially based south of the Yarra River in Melbourne, Fitzpatrick made the decision to head north of the city for a club to play with, and signed with Laura Duryea’s home VFLW club, Diamond Creek.

For the new Diamond Creek VFLW coach, Scott Gowans, it meant double the luck of the Irish: another tall, mobile Gaelic footballer that will surely create headaches for the opposition.

“She landed on our doorstep and she is 186cm and can play,” Gowans told the Diamond Valley Leader.

“She is very athletic but obviously just learning the game.”

At 6’1″, Fitzpatrick has the height to battle the giants of the VFL Women’s competition such as Emma King, Lauren Pearce and Lauren Spark.

She says she enjoys the ruck role, and will no doubt learn a lot from Diamond Creek’s AFLW recruited talls, Tiarna Ernst and Alison Downie.

“[In the Banshees] I was placed in the ruck… there’s a bit more freedom around the area; you can go where you want,” Fitzpatrick said.

“You’ve got a wee bit of attacking and defending, which kind of suits my game a lot.”

How long an impact Fitzpatrick has on the VFL Women’s competition will come down how much she enjoys her stay in the sports capital of the world, and certainly the Creekers will be doing all they can to make her feel at home.

“The plan initially was to come out here for a year, and basically see how I get on here in Melbourne, and see if I like it.

“If I do, I’ll probably look to stay on for a few years, but basically I’ve given myself to the end of the year to see what I think.”

The VFLW is not the only challenge that awaits the Irishwoman this season, with once again a potential spot on the Irish Banshees team on offer, this time in Melbourne for the AFL International Cup in August.

Should Fitzpatrick star in the triennial tournament, as Duryea did in 2014, and hold her own in the VFLW, the only question that remains is if she will submit her nomination for the AFLW draft.

“I’m not too sure, I’ll just have to see what the standard is.

“Probably get a few games into me first, and see where I would be coming in, but because I’m quite new to the game, I’m not too sure.

“I might be a bit off, but we’ll play it by ear for the course of the year and see where we go to from there.”

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