Mayo manager Peter Leahy says it’s time for the Ladies Gaelic Football Association to make a rule about its players doubling up in Aussie Rules, in order to protect the integrity of their own National Leagues.
Mayo have lost four players to Australia for the 2020 Lidl National Football Leagues which throw-in this weekend.
Sarah Rowe played in Australia last year but has been joined this season by the Kelly sisters (Grace and Niamh) and Aileen Gilroy.
They are among 18 Irish stars (a big jump on last year’s five recruits) who will miss this year’s NFL because they have been snapped up by an expanded 14-team AFLW, now in its fourth season and also starting this weekend.
It finishes in mid-April, allowing Irish players to return home in time for championship football.
But Leahy says not only is this an anomaly but it’s affecting the quality of the LGFA’s NFL and also creating problems for players and managers alike.
“We’re the most affected team, I’ve lost four of my six forwards from last year’s All-Ireland semi-final but that’s not the issue,” he said.
“This has the potential to damage us quite extensively. I think there could be 25 and more gone next year and possibly to a longer Australian League.
“Our National League is going to be destroyed,” he warned. “You’ve a big sponsor like Lidl too. Are they going to continue to want to be involved without 25 stars? We’re into a very new scenario.”
Leahy says he has no problem with Irish players taking up this new football route and said he gave his blessing to all of Mayo’s players who discussed it with him.
“If my daughter came and asked me I’d say ‘Go! Enjoy it!’ This is an opportunity for any girl,” he admitted.
But they’re coming back from a professional game into an amateur one. I don’t believe you should be able to play both in the same season. I believe there should be a rule that says they can’t come back in the same year. If they go to Australia and play there until April they shouldn’t be allowed to play championship here.
“That way the AFL has to financially secure them for a full year, instead of giving them silly contracts of $15,000 to $20,000k (€9,266 to €12,354) which gets you nowhere in Australia really. Some of them are working over there as well.
"If we had this one-year rule then the only people going would be those who want to take a year out and go to Australia and the AFLW would have to take them on for a year and take care of them properly.”
Leahy believes such a rule would also make life easier on remaining Irish players and on managers because, “the way it is now, we’re creating stop-gaps only for other players to come back in for championship.
“We have a faster, more skilful game than most other games in Irish sport right now but it’s being diluted and we need to understand and deal with that,” he insisted.
Former Mayo superstar Cora Staunton was the first active Irish inter-county player to get an AFLW contract. Other teams losing key players to the AFLW for this year’s NFL are: All-Ireland champions Dublin (Sinead Goldrick, Niamh McEvoy); beaten 2019 finalists Galway (Mairead Ni Seoighe); Tipperary (Aisling McCarthy, Orla O’Dwyer); Donegal (Yvonne Bonner, Katy Kerron); Cavan (Aisling Sheridan); Louth (Kate Flood); Fermanagh (Joanne Doonan); Down (Clara Fitzpatrick); Leitrim (Aine Tighe) and Clare, whose Ailish Considine won an AFLW title with Adelaide last season.
Lidl’s continued sponsorship of the NFL will enable one game from each of the seven rounds to be streamed live on Facebook this season, starting with Sunday’s clash between All-Ireland champions Dublin and newly-promoted Tipperary, while the schools’ Senior A final will also be streamed live.
Sunday’s stream will also feature a video report from Saturday’s opener between defending Division One champions Cork and Westmeath, the first time the Rebels have ever played a competitive fixture in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and also a double-header with their men facing Offaly in the Allianz League.
Both of Galway’s Allstar sisters, Nicola and Louise Ward, are currently out after knee surgeries. Dublin will also be without a host of big names as Sinead Aherne and Lyndsey Davey are taking an extended break, Noelle Healy has upcoming exams and Nicole Owens and Siobhan Killeen are both still returning from ACLs. Tipperary have lost Niamh Lonergan to retirement and Anna-Rose Kennedy to a cruciate.
Mayo also have two players based abroad but are flying Dayna Finn (in Valencia on Erasmus studies) and Danielle Caldwell (studying in Manchester) home for Sunday’s opener against Donegal while Dublin boss Mick Bohan welcomes back Leah Caffrey, Sarah McCaffrey, Deirdre Murphy, Laura McGinley and Rebecca McDonnell. This year’s leagues also have a new straight ‘top-two to final format’ with just one team promoted/relegated.