Aisling McCarthy: I could not let an opportunity to play professionally pass

It has been a busy time for Tipperary GAA star Aisling McCarthy recently having travelled to Australia as the latest Irish talent to convert to Aussie Rules; joining the likes of Clare’s Ailish Considine & Mayo native Cora Staunton to make the move down-under. Cross Coders is a programme which offers top female athletes the opportunity to become a professional in Australia’s premier football league and as part of the programme, Aisling travelled to Australia and was selected by Western Bulldogs in the second draft. A crucial component of the Tipperary team that gained senior status for the 2018 campaign, the club cited her ‘ball-handling ability and speed’ as key factors behind their decision to bring Aisling into the setup. Soon, she will be returning to Australia for pre-season, meaning she will miss much of Tipperary’s league campaign. Recently, I got in touch with the 2017 Intermediate player of the year to discuss a few things that are of great personal interest to me: the psychology of sport, and mindset. In addition, she opened up on her feelings regarding her move to Australia, as well as her own sporting influences. 

 Sport Psychology 

”There are an increasing number of athletes using sports psychologists in top level sport. I think sports psychology can have a big influence on an individual’s performance, as well as on a team as a whole. As well as that, I think the importance of sports psychology should be increasingly highlighted during a period of time in which a sportsperson suffers an injury. Through my own perspective, being injured can be a lonely place where you aren’t involved in all aspects of the team training sessions and matches. It can have a huge impact on the athlete’s mood and confidence. Goal-setting and psychological input are two areas which could keep an injured athlete motivated during rehabilitation.

Another area I feel it has huge relevance for GAA players, is free-taking. It is definitely important to be strong-minded while taking frees. Having the self-confidence to step up in big games is a huge asset to any team. I’ve read a few books which have definitely enhanced my own mind-set when stepping up to take frees. It is essential to be able to put misses out of your mind and be able to concentrate on the next shot. 

Lastly, team morale after a disappointing defeat could be boosted through sports psychology. This year, we lost out to Cavan in a relegation play-off and our season ended disappointingly.  For me, sports psychology can play a role in dealing with such losses. We are now facing into intermediate All-Ireland championship again next year. That defeat taught us a lot and we have worked hard as a group since.” 

The Pressure of Contemporary Sport

”I think with the increasing media coverage of games, players can be put under a microscope and individual performances are often openly discussed in the media. Players can be slated for poor individual performances. Individuals could feel pressurised to perform after all the hard yards they have put in on the training pitch, in the gym and doing recovery sessions. I think this is more of an issue for male GAA players, who have a lot more exposure in the media than females. However, female players can put a lot of pressure on themselves to have the perfect performance. 

To get that extra edge, players could be seeking the input of sports psychologists to ensure they express themselves on the big stage. However, on the flip side ‘’Pressure is a privilege” and can often lead to players relishing that pressure and preforming.” 

Mental Strength 

”I think players who are strong-minded can have that extra edge over a player who is lacking confidence or who allows mistakes to eat them up (no matter what skill level that player has). It is important to be able to put mistakes behind you and constantly think of the next ball. It is quite cliché for people to say to “think of the next ball” but it is very true. If a player misses a free or losses a ball in a tackle they have to accept that mistake in that split second and then focus on the next ball. 

It can be seen through team performances that mental strength is a very important attribute for teams. From time to time, teams with the finest players can crumble in big games due to a mental block and poor mental strength. It is the teams with a stronger mind-set and ability to win games that see out matches to the very end.” 

Targets 

”I think a Munster final next year is definitely a goal we will all set for the season ahead. Also, we are playing in Division 1  this year so claiming some wins in the top tier would be a nice. In terms of the championship, the defeat to Cavan, as I said, means that we playing intermediate football for this season. The aim is to win the Munster and All-Ireland and get back to senior level. 

Individually, my strength, fitness and speed are all aspects of my game I want to continually improve; as well as consistently working on my skillset to be the best footballer I can be.

For the duration of my time in Australia, my  focus will be on my AFLW career and becoming the best player I can possibly be. However, we have a lot of down-time so I will try to work part-time as well. Also, I am excited to live in a new country and experience new things. Although for now, I am not looking too far past getting started with pre-season”

Australia 

”I received a message from Lauren Spark about the CrossCoders program and she explained that it was a global initiative to give female athletes from other sports an opportunity to be scouted by the AFLW teams. As part of my application, I sent videos of me playing football for Tipperary, and then there was an interview via Skype. Soon after, I was invited on trial for a week; it was an opportunity I could not pass up. The chance to play sport professionally is something that really excites me. 

The training sessions were mostly skill-based and on the second day of the camp, we played a match in Sandringham; a match that we won. It went from there, really” 

Sporting Influences 

”As a Ladies Footballer, the Cork Senior Ladies team were definitely sporting heroes for many young girls. The leaders in the team like Briege Corkery, Rena Buckley, Elaine Harte and Juliet Murphy would have had an influence on me as I was growing up. I remember when Elaine Harte got involved in our minor set-up in 2014 it had a positive impact on our squad. The experience Elaine brought to the table was a huge asset, and we are grateful she is still involved with Tipperary Ladies now.  

Closer to home, the Tipperary Ladies won the Intermediate All-Ireland in 2008. I was playing at half-time for an u12 mini-game and that experience was something special. I was sitting in the stand wondering would I ever be able to play for Tipperary on the big stage. I play with some of the girls from that team now, and winning the All-Ireland last September was a dream come true.” 

 

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