Aileen Gilroy has quickly cemented herself as an integral part of the North Melbourne Tasmanian Kangaroos, citing her AFLW experience so far as “a dream come true”.
Gilroy, who hails from County Mayo in Ireland, represented Ireland at under 17’s World Cup and European Championships in soccer, before moving onto a senior career in Gaelic football and, finally, AFLW.
“I got into the under 17s and we were really successful,” she said.
“We got to a European final and beat Germany for the first time ever which was amazing, and we got to go to Trinidad and Tobago for the World Cup.
“(Gaelic) took a back seat for a little while… but if there was any free time when I could be playing Gaelic, I would be playing Gaelic.”
Gilroy has twice managed to recover from a ruptured ACL, but concerns over her recovery after the second rupture almost stopped her AFLW experience before it began.
“I didn’t think I’d be ready for it… If I was going to come out I wanted to be 100%, I didn’t want them to see me at 70% and think I’m no good,” she said.
“(North) had done all the background stuff on me and told me that pre-season didn’t start until October … They kept in contact and checked up on my knee to make sure I was hitting all the right marks, then I signed the papers and became a Roo.”
Although Gilroy can be seen marauding off the half-back-flank this season, she hasn’t always been a defender.
“In Gaelic I play in midfield or the forward line, but when I was coming back from my ACL with Mayo my manager wanted to have a look at me in the back line,” she said.
“(Gowans) had seen videos of me playing Gaelic… and wanted me sprinting off the half-back line (for North).
“He said they were looking at me for that role and asked how I felt, and I was definitely open to where he wanted to put me..
Although there are skills that transition well between Gaelic and Australian football, there has been challenges.
“The handball is probably the easiest part of the game because it’s the same way as we do it at home, but the tackling and movement are different,” Gilroy said.
“Over here you get it out of traffic and you kick it straight back into traffic, whereas if we were at home you’d never do that, you’d be in so much trouble.
“At home we were taught that you take the ball and move it to where the space is, whereas in AFL you don’t have the time.
“When I came over in October I didn’t even know how to kick a football!”
Gilroy has quickly become popular among North supporters, due to her no-nonsense approach to the game.
That status was cemented as members of an online football forum, Bigfooty, pooled their money to sponsor her for the season, a gesture that came as a huge surprise to the Irishwoman.
“I was so shocked when they came up and told me they were sponsoring me,” she said.
“I was hoping that I’d do OK this year and then hopefully get re-signed for next year. To have people want to sponsor me… I’m so grateful and honored.”
Although the season is just two games old, Gilroy hopes the good times can keep coming for this North team, and is making the most of every opportunity.
“Right across the board from management to players, they’re all leaders. I look up to all of them because they’ve brought me on so much,” she said.
“I didn’t think at 27 years of age I’d be doing this… It’s so surreal and I’m enjoying every single day.
“I want to keep improving and make everyone at home really proud.”