Niamh Kelly during her guernsey presentation ahead of her debut for the Adelaide Crows (Picture: AFL Women's/Twitter, Design by Will Cuckson)

It’s not uncommon for Irish Gaelic football stars to come to Australia to play in the AFLW. Ahead of the 2020 season, Niamh Kelly didn’t know a lot about Aussie Rules football before she made the long flight over to Perth. Being signed to West Coast in their infancy in the AFLW, she has impressed with her trademark pace and agility which has seen her go to the Adelaide Crows for a different opportunity.

Playing for Mayo in the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association), Kelly was following in the footsteps of GWS Giant Cora Staunton and Collingwood’s Sarah Rowe. She came out to Australia alongside sister Grace knowing nothing about the game for an opportunity that was too good to refuse.

She speaks about her journey to the AFLW, learning the game and the move south to the Adelaide Crows in Season Seven.

“When I first stepped foot over in Perth in 2019, I didn’t know a whole pile about AFL at all to be honest,” Kelly told The Inner Sanctum.

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“So [for me] to be getting up to scratch with the rules, especially at the start, I wasn’t too great but I definitely had to put a lot of time in and one-on-one coaching.

“[For that] first season [in] Gaelic football there are parts that are similar like you hand pass the ball and you kick pass the ball in Gaelic. It’s quite an athletic game as well but obviously the different shaped-ball and the physicality of the game of AFL at the start were the main two things I had to get used to.

Looking at Kelly’s first season with the Eagles, she played six games averaging nearly nine disposals, 1.5 marks and 2.3 tackles. Over the past few seasons she now averages over ten disposals, two marks and two tackles a game, which will continue to grow inline with her growth in the game considering she’s only played 23 games.

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Her ability to learn and grow in the AFLW is a testament to her hard work and determination to make the most of the opportunity at both West Coast and Adelaide. Kelly admits she has more to learn at Adelaide and sees her growth coming from being around the best in the game.

“I feel like I’m kind of learning all the time and because obviously gameplans and structures are different from team to team.

“I’m hopefully a better player than I was at the start in my first year but I just continue to improve and [I] look at Doc (Matthew Clarke) and the girls around me to keep improving [with the] likes of Ebony Marinoff, Anne Hatchard, Chelsea Randall, they are all fantastic players that I can learn from.”

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With transitioning from one sport to another comes strengths that are applicable, Kelly speaks about those transferable skills and how she plans to work on her weaknesses in Season Seven.

“Coming from Gaelic football, I suppose my fitness and speed would be my main two [strengths] and being competitive as well, just getting stuck into the contest as well,” Kelly said.

“My fitness and speed would be my two strengths but I hope bring a lot more than that into the rest of the season.”

After playing 22 games for the Eagles for three seasons, Kelly decided a change in scenery would help with her football. The lure of working with some of the AFLW’s biggest talents and in the most successful team was too strong when she came to Adelaide.

“The transition has been really good, I’m really enjoying my time here in Adelaide,” Kelly explained.

“I’ve been here for about seven weeks now and just still settling in. I was in Perth for the last few seasons at [the] West Coast Eagles [and] I really enjoyed my time there.

“I suppose from my first two conversations I had with Adelaide at the end of last season with Doc, the coach and Phil Harper, I just knew it was an environment I’d love to be in and thrive in.

“I thought i’d learn so much in this environment and I’m really glad I made the move and I’m really enjoying it so far.”

Coming from a relatively unsuccessful club, Kelly spoke about stepping foot in Adelaide and what their culture is like inside the four walls at West Lakes. She gives a special mention to her captain Chelsea Randall and her head coach Matthew Clarke.

“The culture is incredible, from the moment that I stepped foot in Adelaide,” she said.

“I arrived at the airport and nearly all of the team welcomed me at the airport, along with Doc, the coach and the background team as well, so right from the start they’ve been very welcoming.

“Chels is an incredible leader and an incredible captain, she’s pivotal to the group and the culture that’s here at the club so all the girls have been fantastic and I’m really enjoying my time here outside of football and out on the ground with the girls.”

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