Ailish and Eimear Considine talk to Owen Ryan about Clare football, professional support and their ‘sixth sense’
HAVING made their name in GAA, Kilmihil sisters Eimear and Ailish Considine are now stars of rugby and Australian rules football, having diverted onto two roads less travelled.
Ailish is now home from Australia ahead of Eimear’s wedding next month and the two sisters took turns talking to the media via Zoom last Thursday morning.
Undoubtedly a huge loss to Clare football, Ailish admitted that county manager Evan Talty has been in touch with her about possibly lining out in the saffron and blue this summer, during her off season.
“I’m still a bit undecided on what my plans are. I’ve just been here a week yesterday, still pretty fresh off the plane, a little bit undecided in terms of gaelic football and stuff.
“With the season moving forward it’s a little bit more difficult to make a decision. If I did decide to play I would potentially miss the business end of all competitions.
“It’s something I need to look into in the next couple of weeks to see if it would make sense for me as a player and for the squad if I was to take part, and potentially leave mid way through. It’s something I have to look at in the next couple of weeks,” she said, leaving the door slightly open.
However Ireland international Eimear, who is getting married next month, said that for her the football door is shut and will have to remain so for a while.
“I’d prefer to be good at one thing than trying to do everything little bit by bit. Our schedule doesn’t allow us to do that.
“We only have six weeks off season, I’ve probably gone for only four runs and maybe four gym sessions in the last four weeks because your body needs time to rest.
“My goal since the 2017 World Cup has been to get in the Irish squad and qualify again. What I’m doing now is prepping me for that World Cup Qualifier in September.
“Playing football probably wouldn’t be the best preparation for that, because my off season is really important to me. We have two weeks left before we have some collective training again and then it’s full steam ahead for September.
“I want to be the best rugby player that I can be. I don’t want to overtrain. County teams train at such a professional level, that there isn’t time to do both, you’d have to do one or the other, and I think you have to choose one or the other.
“Yes, I always dreamed of playing football for Clare, I grew up wanting to play football for Clare, and I did that. Since the 2017 World Cup the aim has been to play in the next World Cup.”
For an Irish woman it’s virtually impossible to stay in this country and become a professional sportsperson in a team game.
Ailish is a very rare thing: an Irish woman paid to play a team sport, and she is delighted the opportunity came her way and that she seized it.
“I was fortunate enough that Australian football is quite a similar game to what we play, it’s the closest thing I can get to Gaelic Football, and I can play professionally and have it as my job.
“It is a bit daunting to have to go across the world to play professionally, but I think overall, with the life experience that comes with it, moving countries, seeing a new culture and getting to travel the world, I’m lucky to be in this position. It’s something I would have regretted if I didn’t try and go for it.
“It’s disappointing that there aren’t more professional opportunities at this point in time for females in Ireland but I think we are starting to move in that direction, things are starting to change.”
Going so far away to start a new career in a new sport had to be very daunting, but she credits her club for recognising how potentially unsettling it could be, and giving her what she needed. “In fairness Adelaide have been superb since I went over, especially in my first year, they took me under their wing.
“They knew I didn’t have a support network in Adelaide, didn’t have family or friends or anything like that. They really put in a strong effort to make me feel like I was at home. They really look after you personally and professionally, when it comes to injuries and that kind of thing. They have the resources and they’re all there in front of you.
“There’s great people in the club and there’s such genuine care for everyone. Throughout any injuries, or whatever, you’d have family members here worried you won’t be okay or you won’t get the right support, but there’s never any fear with Adelaide, they’ve been brilliant with any injuries or knocks that I’ve picked up. They’ve really supported me through my time there.”
Ailish was in a relationship with her teammate Anne Hatchard for a period of time.
In a world where many employers have an issue with co workers getting together, was there concern at the club about two players being together and the potential impact on the team?
“The club has never had an issue with any team mates being in relationships or anything like that, they’ve been very supportive in that regard.
“That’s something you need from your work environment and team environment. They have been pretty okay with everything that has gone on.
“There are a couple of relationships within the squad. I guess it’s just the nature of the sport, when you spend so much time together people form close relationships, really good friendships, you spend a lot of time together, go through some good times and bad times, some tough times and relationships do form.
“Myself and Hatch are no longer seeing each other, but we’ve had great support from the team and the coaches and we’ve remained friends, and it’s been a very amicable time throughout the season.
“It’s great to have that support network within the club professionally and personally.”
A teacher as well as one of the country’s top rugby players, Eimear hasn’t the luxury of preparing for her sport full time, but she believes that not being paid doesn’t mean she isn’t professional in her preparation.
“Professional is just a name. Everything I do in my life is professional. I mightn’t have the title or I mightn’t have the payment, but everything I do is professional.
“Everything that the girls on my team do is professional. It’s literally just a name. Ask a GAA player and they’d tell you the exact same thing, it’s just a label. Every decision they make goes around the game they play even though it’s a hobby.”
Thirty years of age now, the increase in prominence of women’s rugby has probably come too late for the structures to change to allow her dedicate herself to the game full time.
“I’m a player that would have loved to be professional eventually or would have loved to start my career as a 21-year-old professional, but you have to be realistic.
“We all have careers, all have jobs, all have partners, all have lives. If it happened in the morning I don’t think a lot of us would be able to do it either. It’s a long-term thing.”
She says that rugby is now an option for many more girls than in her own youth, and she feels Irish teams will see the impact of it in time.
“I started playing when I was 23, there wasn’t an option when I was six or seven. Now in Clare alone you have Ennis Rugby Club and Kilrush Rugby Club and women weren’t on TV playing rugby when I was growing up.
“Between the visibility of us in the media and the availability of rugby underage, its more possible and I think that’s where it needs to start.”
Eimear feels that the approach taken in Australia as the AFL embraced the women’s game has been a success, as they started the semi-professional league in the hope and expectation that interest and money would follow.
“The AFL took a big loss originally financially by bringing in the women’s game, they took the risk of making them semi professional and putting them in big stadiums. They filled those stadiums and they got more and they have a bigger player pool.
“Because they pumped some money into the game the standard is now higher, people want to watch it, want to play it. They’re having a lot more people attending games, it is growing and growing. There are new teams every year.”
Closer to home, she was glad that the Women’s Six Nations fixtures got decoupled from the men’s, allowing for much greater interest.
“I did like the standalone fixture. Unless you’re a real diehard fan you’re not going to watch three games of rugby over a weekend, the under 20s, the women’s, the men’s. It’s a lot of your weekend gone if you watch them all.
“Having us as a standalone fixture, it was a good time when there wasn’t much other sport on, we got quite a good following. It was good to be in the limelight, at the time.”
Ailish and Eimear are very close, and Ailish says that she gets a lot of support from her big sister.
“I think she has a sixth sense when it comes to me, she knows when something is up with me. We’re always checking in on each other, she always knows the right thing to say to me when I’ve had a bad game or a bad week or something, she knows exactly what to say, whether it’s to give a pat on the back or say you need to get yourself together.
“For me, I don’t need to say much to her, she’s the older sister and has looked after me, she’s someone I’ve always looked up to, she’s always been my rock and my support.
“I try to give her as much support as possible, but she always seems to have everything together. I don’t know that she takes much notice of me when I’d be telling her things!” she laughs.