All-Star footballer Erika O’Shea chats to Ger McCarthy about her decision to become a professional AFLW player
News that Erika O’Shea has decided to take the plunge and head to Australia for next season’s AFLW is a blow to Cork’s chances of winning this year’s All-Ireland title.
Yet, the instantly likeable and determined 19-year-old could not pass up the opportunity of a lifetime. O’Shea’s destination is expected to be North Melbourne.
Ger McCarthy (GMC): This is a massive decision for any footballer to make but when did you finally decide, in your own mind, that moving to Australia and becoming a professional athlete was what you wanted to do?
Erika O’Shea (EOS): Right up until two weeks ago, I was still torn between staying with Cork or going to Australia and becoming the youngest Irish female to play in the AFLW.
After thinking about it for so long, it was an opportunity I believed I just couldn’t pass up. I’m devastated to leave Cork and it was a really hard decision but I was so lucky Shane (Ronayne, Cork manager) and the girls (Cork players) were so supportive.
Shane has more of a ‘Dad mindset’ towards my decision. He has been really supportive and is looking out for me. Shane put the football aside and has helped me, as a person, in every way possible.
GMC: It is one thing to go off to college but now you are moving to the other side of the world. Obviously, like any parents, your Mam and Dad are delighted for you but they must have some concerns too?
EOS: I sat down with my parents and we talked it through. It was as tough a decision for them as for me because I am so young. We thought about everything including continuing my University of Limerick course online while I’m over there. So, I’m going to continue my degree while playing a professional sport.
My parents are really supportive and I’m lucky that my father is coming out with me for the first six weeks. Dad will help me settle in over in Australia. My poor Mam will be devastated back at home. She will be watching and supporting me the whole time though and is going to hopefully come out and visit me.
My Mam keeps waking up in a panic every morning thinking I’m going. They are her motherly instincts because I’m the youngest in the family. The thought of me going has struck her a small bit but she knows going over is the right decision for me and will (always) be there to support me.
GMC: You have never lacked confidence. From almost walking away from football altogether to breaking into the Cork LGFA underage scene and then becoming a senior inter-county player and All-Star. You are also smart enough to realise that you are taking on a whole new sport. As a professional, you will be straight into the gym and expected to quickly adapt to the basics of AFLW. How much of a challenge is this going to be?
EOS: I am not even going to lie, this is going to be a huge challenge. There are going to be nights I am going to want to go back home, nights I might even end up crying or be wrecked tired.
But this is something I want to do. I want to push myself to the limit. I look up to all the amazing athletes like Katie Taylor or Sonia O’Sullivan. They had to leave Ireland to become one of the best at their sports.
That is why I believe going to Australia is something that has to be done if I want to excel that bit further. This is something I really want to do.
GMC: It is an adventure to become a professional athlete at such a young age. So, is it the lifestyle or the fact you will be training and playing as a pro AFLW player week in and week out that excites you most?
EOS: I will try and put the lifestyle on hold when I get over there even though I know that is going to be hard. Obviously, I will be in Australia and it is an amazing place.
I am there for sporting reasons, I know that. So, I just want to push myself to be the best athlete I can be. I am going over with that mindset and focusing on the sport. Hopefully, I can improve as a player. It is something I love to do; trying new sports.
The fact you get paid for playing as a professional is amazing and I’m looking forward to the challenge. The (Australian) lifestyle is a plus, yes, but we will be keeping that on the down-low and focussing on the sport.
GMC: It must be reassuring to see so many Irish players, like Bríd Stack, Cora Staunton and Orla O’Dwyer, excelling in the AFLW over the last couple of years?
EOS: The success that Orla O’Dwyer had this year was amazing to see. She came from Tipperary and made such a big name for herself. Orla took up AFLW not knowing much about it either. So, it is amazing to see how players have adapted over time. Seeing Orla and the other Irish players doing so well drives me on to do something similar along those lines.
GMC: A lot of people are going to miss you, obviously, but you have so much to look forward to. It is clear you have made your mind up but you know adapting to a new sport will take time, even a season or two.
EOS: Absolutely and the fact I am so young as well. I will be focussing on the physical side of the game first when I go over, getting stronger and bigger.
I never thought, growing up, I’d end up in Australia playing Aussie Rules. This is an opportunity to push myself even further though. It was a big decision to leave and I’m upset to leave the Cork senior squad.
They are a talented bunch and with such a talented manager, I know they will go far this year.