GAA Football

Yvonne Bonner among four Ulster ladies footballers targetting AFL contracts

Geraldine McLaughlin and Yvonne Bonner of Donegal celebrate after the 2018 TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Championship quarter-final match against Donegal at Healy Park in Omagh, Tyrone. Picture: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile.
Louise Gunn

FOUR Ulster ladies footballers have just landed 'Down Under' in a bid to win rookie contracts with an AFL Women's club.

Among them are Donegal All-Star Yvonne Bonner, Monaghan's Muireann Atkinson and Cavan's Aishling Sheridan who are also both DCU O'Connor Cup medal winners and housemates and hoping to follow fellow housemate and Mayo star Sarah Rowe who has joined up with Collingwood, and another Donegal native, Red Hughs' Eimear Gallagher who currently plays AFL with Belfast based North East Kooks. They are four of 11 Irish athletes taking part in a global program - CrossCoders - that will provide just 18 top female athletes from the likes of rugby, camogie, netball, basketball, hockey and ladies football a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become a professional AFL player in the women's league.

The Irish contingent, which also includes Ulster Women's Rugby Amanda McGinn and well know ladies footballers Ailish Considine from Clare and Aisling McCarthy from Tipperary, flew out of Dublin on Thursday evening with Mike Currane who is the part of AFL Women Ireland and an ambassador for Crosscoders, and it all gets underway today in Melbourne and runs until next Friday and they could be returning home as new AFLW rookies ready to go back to Australia for the 2019 season beginning with pre-season in November with competitive games running off between February and the end of March 2019.

The idea for the camp stemmed from the Western Bulldogs and initially the recruitment was solely for them but it has taken off and now other clubs will be on the lookout for prospective new recruits.

Current AFLW player Lauren Spark from Western Bulldogs, who has been involved from the very beginning of the idea, contacted Bonner via social media about the opportunity which attracted 100 applications.

"I very nearly didn't see it, it was only a few days before the closing date that I saw it in my messages. I am not sure how they heard about me but if she had not sent that message or got in touch I probably would not have known anything about it," said Bonner.

"Lauren asked if I would be interested in applying so I thought why not. I had been thinking of heading away at the end of the football season so we will see where this takes me.

"There could be up to two rookie contracts with the Bulldogs but things have taken off in recent weeks and now there will be other clubs who will be scouting during the camp and speaking to us so it is an excellent opportunity."

Despite spending a few months in Australia twice before, Bonner who was a pivotal part of Donegal's success in back-to-back Ulster titles and reaching the All-Ireland senior championship semi-final for the first time ever, she has not played AFL but feels the skills, having watched Cora Staunton successfully try her hand at the sport and now with Sarah Rowe out there for the 2019 season, certainly are transferable.

"The gaelic skills are definitely transferable but it will be getting used to the ball and understanding the rules.

The documentary on Cora [Staunton] gave great insight on the game and how professional it is and this is a great opportunity."

It will be an intense five-day camp that includes classroom-based learning covering the rules of the game as well as physical testing from fitness tests to skills testing to the fundamentals of the sport, game play with pool recovery sessions and a tour of Western Bulldogs' and the MCG.

There will also be interviews on the penultimate day with contracts subsequently being awarded to the successful applicants.

Bonner, having helped her club Glenfin to the Donegal senior final by scoring 1-4 against Termon in the semi-final is missing tomorrow's final against Moville but has every belief her team-mates can do the business.

She is gutted that the county final and the trials clash and but felt this was too good an opportunity to miss.

The offer of a contract for any of the Irish contingent would mean they would be away over the winter and early Spring but would come back home in April and still be able to play for their counties towards the end of the national league and then into championship.

"After our semi-final win I spoke with the manager and the club to tell them of this opportunity. It wasn't an easy decision to make and I would love to be playing but this is a once in a lifetime chance," explained Bonner. "Hopefully the Glenfin girls can go on and have a great game and win it on Sunday."

The 31-year-old is married to Paul and should she win a contract he too will make the seasonal move to Australia with her: "We have nothing holding us back at home. Paul has lots of contacts in Australia and would be happy to get away over the winter.

"I would love to come back home with a contract. I am not going to be picky, if I am offered a contract from any of the clubs I will be delighted. It's a huge opportunity and too good a one to turn down."

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