Tipp star Orla O’Dwyer reaping the reward of early return Down Under as she targets AFLW Premiership title

Orla O’Dwyer has scored 13 goals in 44 games for Brisbane Lions
Orla O’Dwyer has scored 13 goals in 44 games for Brisbane Lions Orla O’Dwyer has scored 13 goals in 44 games for Brisbane Lions

Tipperary dual star Orla O’Dwyer has attributed a brutal early programme of pre-season training in the scorching Australian summer heat as the secret to her AFLW success this year. 

The Sydney-born forward usually returns to Ireland to play football and camogie during the off-season, but she decided to reverse the trend in 2023 in order to hit the ground running in February, when most of her Brisbane Lions teammates had their collective feet up on holiday. 

The 2023 AFLW season kicked off on September 1, allowing O’Dwyer the best part of seven months to work on her fitness and skill levels. 

"I really wanted to focus on AFLW, so I came back out a bit earlier, in February, and hit the ground running," she said. 

"I really wanted to work on my kicking and be more consistent. I worked on it a lot. 

"The main thing is just getting a footy in your hands.  

“When you do running, or come to the club, make sure you can get in 20, 30, 40 kicks when you can. 

"Over the past couple of seasons, I can see that escalate. It's just about practising and getting the girls around to help me." 

Read more:

  • Tipperary's Colin O'Riordan appointed head coach of the Sydney Swans academy
  • Yvonne Bonner's Adelaide Crows fall in AFLW Preliminary Final as North Melbourne and Brisbane make Grand Final

O’Dwyer, the standout Irish player in women’s Australian Rules, proved she meant business by knocking 20 seconds off her personal best for a 2km time trial, which is the most feared pre-season session to help coaches determine the fitness levels of their charges following the players' festive season break. 

At the age of 25, the brilliant forward is heading into her peak years as a footballer, having barely picked up a Sherrin for the first time four years ago.

In 2021, O’Dwyer was a key component of Brisbane’s Premiership team, and that same year she became the first Irish woman to be named in the All-Australian Team of the Year. 

O’Dwyer, who has since gone on to boot 13 goals in 44 games for Brisbane, is now determined to make No.45 one of the most memorable when she lines-up against the North Melbourne Kangaroos in Sunday’s Grand Final at a sold-out Ikon Park in Melbourne. 

A second premiership would make Brisbane the second most successful AFLW side in history, behind the Adelaide Crows who have notched three premierships since the competition’s inaugural season in 2017. 

"My first few seasons I was probably more of a listener, whereas now I feel like I can be more of a leader on the field," she said.

"Coming into my fifth season I think I have that bit more experience and understanding and I think my teammates see that." 

Fresh in O’Dwyer’s mind is the pain of losing last year’s Grand Final to Melbourne when Armagh’s Blaithin Mackin memorably booted the opening goal for the 2022 premiers, the Melbourne Demons, who won 15-19 at the Brighton Homes Arena in Queensland. 

“The Grand Final didn't go our way and it was a game we could have won,” O’Dwyer explained. 

“It's just about getting back to what we do best and playing the style we know we can play.” 

On Monday, Mayo midfielder Niamh Kelly made history when she became the second Irishwoman to be anointed as an All-Australian player. Kelly was named as one of 11 debutants in the 2023 team of the year. 

The Moy Davitts clubwoman is one of the first names on the Adelaide Crows team sheet every week and has established a close friendship with Donegal’s Yvonne Bonner.

The Crows lost their preliminary final by just a solitary point last week. 

Yesterday, Tipperary’s Aishling Moloney won the 2023 AFLW Players' Best First Year Player Award. 

Moloney averaged an impressive 10.5 disposals, 7.5 kicks, 3.3 marks, 1.5 tackles, and 0.8 goals per game in her debut season for the Geelong Cats who were narrowly defeated by Brisbane at the preliminary final stage. 

The tall forward won two All-Ireland Intermediate Championship sides and was the 2019 Players’ Player of the Year before moving Down Under. 

Blaithin Mackin is also in contention for honours at the Melbourne Demons end of season awards on Saturday. The speedy winger has been one of the 2023 semi-finalist's most consistent players this year.