Aishling Sheridan reveals all on life, work and playing AFLW in Australia
Former Cavan GAA football star Aishling Sheridan has just been selected to play her fifth season for Collingwood AFL Women’s team. With many Australian clubs turning to talented Irish players to boost their squad, Aishling’s story is one a growing number of women players can relate to. If you’re curious about playing AFL and what it’s like to uproot your life in Ireland to live in Australia, Ashling’s story is for you.
Now, four years into her new life in Melbourne, she looks back on her big move, with all its highs, a few lows, and more knocks and bruises than she had bargained for.
How it started: from being scouted to moving from Ireland to Australia
“It all came out of the blue in 2018,” Aishling recounts over a Zoom call. “I was very lucky at the time. There was talk of one or two Irish going over to Australia to play AFLW, but it was generally unheard of in Ireland. The game is only going into its eighth year now, so then it was really new.”
Big steps from Cavan GAA to Collingwood AFLW
After multiple successes playing for Cavan GAA, she was invited in 2018 to visit Australia to join a Crosscoders training camp. “There were 18 other Irish women who went over, and we got to try the game and train together.”
These training camps are an opportunity for coaches from AFLW teams to scout talented players. “I didn’t get picked up in that week, so I just returned home to Ireland and carried on doing my thing. A while later, a team in Australia contacted me and invited me to Darwin so they could see me training. They also offered the chance to play a few local footy games to actually see me in the game.”
Aishling leaped at the opportunity. “That visit was good for me because other teams and coaches got to see what I was doing and how I was training. That’s when I received a few offers from different clubs and Collingwood was one of them.”
How Aussie rules is different from GAA football
After four seasons playing for Collingwood and heading into her fifth, Aishling says she’s only now starting to really understand Aussie rules football.“When I first landed in Australia, I was looking at it as similar to a GAA game and couldn’t understand why they do some things in AFL and why we would do them differently in GAA.”
She realised that she couldn’t compare the two sports. This freed her to get to grips with the thinking behind the game: “I started to understand why there are certain things they want you to do that are so different to GAA. One example is, in AFL you kick to loads of numbers, whereas in GAA you kick to a free player.”
While the education around the game took time to get used to, there was one signficant difference. “The contact was a shock. Aussie footy is proper tackling, whereas GAA is non-deliberate contact. That’s like chalk and cheese. You’re definitely sore after a game. You get a lot of bruises.”
High contact means high injury risk
Aishling has been lucky so far and avoided major injuries. “I think I jinxed myself in last year’s season. In round two I busted my eye in a contact. It was badly bruised and my eye swelled and closed over. So, I was going around wearing sunglasses for a few days.
“Then, in round three, I dislocated my finger. I put it back straight away and played on. It’s absolutely fine,” she adds. “It was just bruised and swollen.”
New ball shape, new skills for AFL
“With the oval ball, AFL requires a completely different skill set to GAA. And then the rules are different, with contact allowed,” says Aishling. “GAA is probably a quicker game because there isn’t as much stopping and starting, whereas AFL is definitely more stop-start and it’s a game of four quarters rather than two halves.”
From helping people during Covid to building a business
Aishling studied Athletic Therapy and Training at Dublin City University for four years. During her first season with Collingwood, Covid broke out and she flew back to Ireland early because borders were closing. “I always knew I d like to coach fitness classes. So, I thought I might as well take this opportunity to do a few online fitness classes, because no gyms were open. Things took off from there.
“I had a fitness Instagram account @at_ash_fit, which was always a passion of mine. During the lockdown, I did a lot of online workouts and shared information on fitness, sports and lifestyle,” she explains.
“There are a lot of young girls looking to come out to Australia and see what life is like out here. I shared some tips around sport that I wish I’d known when growing up, such as what you should eat before you play a game, or how to recover post game. I use my Instagram as a platform to share as much information as I can to help people.”
Her online coaching was so popular she was able to turn it into a business, offering subscription-based fitness advice and online personal coaching.
Moving from rural Ireland to bustling Melbourne
The move from the Cavan countryside to the metropolis of Melbourne was a big adjustment: “It was definitely a difficult transition. Melbourne is a massive city.”
Fortunately, Melbourne is an Irish hotspot and Aishling soon met other expats, developing a group of friends there. “At the same time my boyfriend was back home in Ireland and so I was in a long-distance relationship, which was probably the hardest thing. Then we had Covid, and the borders were closed. Even trying to see my family was difficult, but I was always able to come home after a few months. There was that mental struggle of being away from your loved ones. But aside from that it was all ok.”
Loving the Australian lifestyle
“Australians are very positive and happy and it’s infectious. I love the Aussie lifestyle. As a coastal city, Melbourne gives easy access to everything. Unlike at home, where I’d have to drive 20 minutes into the town to get groceries, here you literally walk two minutes and you’re at the grocery shop.” She adds: “The Aussies love their coffee and brunch, so I have to say I fit into that very well.”
Life in Ireland vs Australia
It’s well known that Australians work to live (rather than living for their work) and Aishling confirms this: “The work-life balance is different in Australia. People get up early and go to work, then have the whole evening off. A lot of this has to do with the weather. The Australian winter isn’t like a winter in Ireland. Even if you get a hailstorm in the middle of summer, Melbourne weather is still better than Irish weather!”
Aishling’s fellow expats agree: “From talking to other Irish here, who are mostly in construction and teaching, they say they have a better work-life balance and there are better staff ratios in Australia. A lot of Irish are on their way out here.”
Aishling’s tips for getting settled in Australia
It’s no surprise that Aishling suggests the easiest way to settle in Australia is to join a GAA club if you play. “If you’re on your own, try to get in with other Irish. Everyone there was in the same position as you where they moved out and know that it’s the scariest experience of your life and you don’t know what the next few months are going to bring.
“There are many Irish here and it can be very daunting on your own. For me, meeting Irish people outside of AFLW was hard so I would just reach out to people on Instagram and see if anyone was free.
“You do want to have your own here, especially when you’re homesick. It is nice to be able to meet up with people who know what you’re going through and can help you with that.”
Picking up Aussie slang
Part of getting settled in a new country is learning some of the local slang, even if it’s just to know what people are talking about: “Australians always say they’re stoked – which means they’re excited. I don’t say it really, but it’s easy to pick up. I’ve kept my full Irish slang, but the Aussies are catching on to a few words, like craic.
“Aussie slang is funny, and they find Irish slang funny too. I’m soon starting my fifth season with Collingwood and still getting slagged about my Irish accent and how I say the number three,” she laughs.
Aishling’s best place to visit in Australia
“I only ever get to see other cities when we play there. I briefly travelled up the East Coast. If I wasn’t in Melbourne, I’d say I would be in Gold Coast. It’s a lot quieter than Melbourne and is more like a town than a city. Maybe it’s the country girl in me that likes the quietness. The beaches there are some of the nicest I’ve ever seen in my life!”
The best thing about Melbourne
A coffee fanatic, Aishling is at home in her new city: “Melbourne is known for some of the best coffee in the world. So, no matter what café you go to, you’re guaranteed a really good coffee. Everyone here is crazy for coffee.”
One big drawback of living abroad
“I miss my family,” she says. “I come from a big family – I’d love to get them out here to experience Australia. My dad visited in the middle of the season. I have three other sisters and my mom – I’d love them to visit too.”
Best of luck for the 2023 season!
From all of us at NexVentur, we’d like to wish Aishling the best of luck in her fifth season playing for Collingwood.
If you’d like to share in more of Aishling’s adventures in Australia and playing AFL Womens, follow her on social media:
Instagram: @at_ash_fit and @aishlingsheridan
Visit her website for fitness tips and online coaching
Thinking of making the move yourself? Book a free consultation with our relocation team and recruitment experts.