There was a buzz about Kardinia Park in July when a new Irish signing was announced.
Mayo All-Star striker Rachel Kearns became the first Irish AFLW signing for Geelong, joining the bottom-of-the-table side at the end of the 2021 season.
It was a break from the norm that the internationals have seemed to settle into. Most in 2021 had the benefit of having their countrywomen beside them.
Cora Staunton and Brid Stack donned the orange at GWS, sisters Niamh and Grace Kelly were joined by Aisling McCarthy at West Coast, and Sarah Rowe and Aishling Sheridan were thick as thieves as ever at Collingwood.
Kearns found herself instead taken under the wing of Geelong men’s players Zach Tuohy and Mark O’Connor, who have helped make her transition to life in Australia, and footy, as easy as possible.
Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, it wasn’t long after landing in Australia that the Mayo champion found herself with a Sherrin in her hands.
“I met Zach [Tuohy] and Mark O’Connor my first week out here and we just went out for a coffee,” Kearns said.
“[Zach] said he was going to be at the club and he was going to be running, we ended up texting and I met them there for a session. It’s literally just 15-20 minutes practicing and getting tips off him.
“It’s quite similar the way we strike the ball just because of GAA. It’s been really beneficial so far, so I’d say I’ll keep that up for a few weeks. He said he’s enjoyed it as well, he doesn’t mind helping out any of the Irish!”
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While it’s helped Kearns accelerate her footy skills, it’s more importantly given her a crucial connection in her new home.
Particularly in a world where international travel is still feeling the effects of the pandemic, being so far from home comes with more challenges than usual.
“They [Tuohy and O’Connor] messaged me straight away when they saw that I signed, and as soon as I came over we met up and caught up straight away,” Kearns said.
“They’ve been so good, because they understand that it’s a challenge even just being away from family and friends. It can be difficult.
“The majority of Aussies wouldn’t really understand, because Ireland is so far away. It’s great for them to be there to talk to and purely understand what you’re going through.”
It’s not just her male counterparts that have helped Kearns settle in, but her new teammates in the AFLW team too.
She’s leant on captain Meg McDonald, who is her explainer for the harder to understand rules of the game, her translator of obtuse Aussie slang, and her new roommate.
“The different terms… for instance, we’re at a meeting and [coach] Dan [Lowther] will be like ‘take territory’,” Kearns recalled with a laugh.
“I’d be like, what does he mean to take it? Even just the boundary line, there’s loads of different terms that come so natural to them and they just completely understand it, where I’m just asking Meg all the time ‘what does that mean again?’
“She’s been really good as well. Anything I need or any questions, she’s always willing to help.
“It’s really easy to fit in, I’m finding settling in quite easy. I’m not really homesick at all, which is great. It’s purely because they’re making me feel really at home here.”
The 2022 AFLW season is set to start on January 6, 2022, with a fixture to be announced in the coming days.
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