When West Coast targeted Aisling McCarthy in last year’s Sign and Trade Period, the Irishwoman made sure to do her homework before potentially moving to a new AFLW club.
Everything she heard sounded positive, with the Eagles’ Irish sister act Grace and Niamh Kelly particularly effusive about their experience helping to grow the team during its inaugural season.
But then there was also the opportunity McCarthy saw to develop, not just as a footballer but also off the field, even though her physiotherapy career had to be put on hold due to Australian visa restrictions.
Ultimately, it meant the powerful 24-year-old midfielder made the difficult decision last August to leave the Western Bulldogs after two seasons for a fresh start in blue and gold.
“I chatted to (West Coast’s former Head of Female Football) Adam Selwood a lot before I signed and just the way he got to know me as a personal level and not just as a footballer, it just really opened my eyes to the opportunities I might have outside of football as well,” McCarthy told westcoasteagles.com.au.
“Obviously Adam has taken another opportunity but he’s still stayed in contact and he’s done a lot to help me feel at home as well and ease myself into WA.
“The club’s been great and I’m going to potentially shadow a physio while I’m over here. Just being able to continue to develop my professional career outside of football was something that was important to me.
“That was definitely a factor in the move, and then I just think the way everyone talked about the club.
“I chatted to Niamh and Grace as well and as international players the way they were welcomed to the club, and the way the club ticked all the boxes and made them feel so at home, I think that was something as well that excited me.
“Then there’s the fact that they’re a new team, too, being able to come in and potentially add something.”
After returning to Ireland last March when the AFLW season was shutdown, McCarthy only arrived back in Australia last month, giving her a short lead into a fast approaching 2021 campaign.
But she is settling in quickly, having moved in with the Kelly sisters, met plenty of her new teammates during the Christmas break and started training with the group under recently-appointed coach Daniel Pratt since the New Year.
“It’s exceeded all expectations really,” McCarthy said.
“It’s been great from the staff right down to the playing group, everyone has been so welcoming and I really do feel at home.
“It’s been a really good vibe since I arrived. I only started doing collective training sessions with the girls just after the Christmas break but I already feel really familiar with them and I think everyone is really excited to get going for round one.
“I really like (Pratt’s) approach to football. He wants to play on instinct and he wants to play a fast game of football and play to everyone’s strengths.
“I’m really excited to see how it goes. I think there’s a really exciting group of players.”
While transitioning from a Gaelic season to AFLW isn’t without its challenges, McCarthy is handling the football is much as possible during her time away from the club and quickly picking up the different terminology and gameplan.
A quick and strong onballer, she can also get forward and hit the scoreboard – with seven goals to her name in 12 matches – and is set to complement stars Emma Swanson and Dana Hooker in the engine room.
“I’m going to hope to put my hand up for a midfield spot but obviously it’s very competitive to get a place on the team so I just want to work hard over the next few weeks,” McCarthy said.
“My own style is probably competitive around the ball and just hunt the football and try to get it, and if the opposition get it just putting a lot of pressure on them so they don’t get a clean pass away.
“In Gaelic football as well I creep forward and if I can get on the end of a ball to get a score for the team that’s what I’ll try to do.
“Everyone kind of knows about Hooks and Swanny, so I’m really excited to potentially play alongside them in midfield, and then two young players that have really stood out to me are Mikayla Bowen and Bella Lewis.
“They bring great energy and they’re very mature for their age, you wouldn’t think that they’re so young. They’re great leaders as well and the way they play football they get around everyone.
“I think they’re really exciting and it looks like they’re going to be great players for West Coast for years to come.”