More than luck: The Irish influence in AFLW

Season 8 has seen a record 33 Irish players make the trek over to Australia spread across 13 of the 18 clubs to play AFLW. It's a far cry from the first two seasons when only one player made the trip over.

GWS Giants legend Cora Staunton is often seen as the one who kicked started the Irish domination in the AFLW; the season after she joined the competition a further nine players did the same, including Magpie Sarah Rowe and Bulldog-turned-Eagle Aisling McCarthy.

While Staunton wasn't the first Irish player to join the AFLW, she was the first to make the move straight out of Gaelic football and the first to reach the 50-game milestone. Her impact on the game and the Giants almost speaks for itself.

In Round 7, Rowe became the second Irish player to reach the impressive milestone in Sunday's game against Carlton, and Orla O'Dwyer is in line to become the third Irishwoman to bring up the half century when the Lions take on the Adelaide Crows this week.

So to celebrate these milestones, ESPN looks at some of the biggest Irish recruits (past and present) in the AFLW and the impact they've had on their clubs.

As mentioned already, there's no bigger name when looking at the Irish recruits in AFLW than Staunton. The 41-year-old was the centre of the Giants' forward line during her time at the club, kicking 55 goals across 50 games in the orange and charcoal.

While she could be that marking option when needed, some of her best work came when she brought out her natural spark and creativity in front of goal. Staunton won the Giants' leading goal kicker award for four consecutive seasons from 2020 through to Season 7 -- the end 2022 -- which was her last season.

The most recent milestone getter, Rowe joined the Magpies back in 2019 from Mayo in Ireland. She joined during a time where Collingwood were going through a transitional period having just lost fellow strs Jasmine Garner, Emma King, Jess Duffin and Moana Hope to expansion team North Melbourne. Since pulling on the black and white for the first time, she hasn't looked back, quickly becoming an important member in the side's midfield.

Rowe has taken her game to a new level in 2023, after spending the offseason playing with Melbourne Victory in the A-League Women and Bohemian FC in Dublin, which has helped enhance her game for Collingwood. Rowe has been averaging 18.7 disposals and 307 meters gained this season and is able to use her speed to her advantage to deliver the ball inside forward 50 or in front of goal.

Looking up north, Orla O'Dwyer is one of four Irish players to win a premiership, with the 25-year-old a part of Brisbane's premiership side back in 2021. An All-Australian on the wing in Season 6, her speed and game sense is one of the best going around.

When Brisbane take on Adelaide next week, she'll become the third Irishwoman to reach the 50 game milestone after first joining the Lions ahead of the 2020 season, and being a mainstay ever since. In 2023, O'Dwyer has averaged 16.1 disposals and 4.1 tackles, with the latter showing the physicality she brings to the Lions outfit.

It wasn't an easy journey to the AFLW for Fremantle's Aine Tighe, recovering from two ACL injuries across her first two years in the competition which saw her AFLW debut pushed back to Season 6. Since then, though, she's been an important member of the Fremantle setup, having only missed one game since her debut.

Tighe has kicked 22 goals across those three seasons and took out the club's leading goalkicker award in Season 7 with 11 majors. The match against Hawthorn back in Round 3 showed what Tighe is capable of, kicking three goals while taking a career-high 12 marks in the club's 13-point win.

So far in 2023 Tighe has averaged 13.9 disposals and 5.1 marks. She is dangerous in front of the big sticks, with a strong goal sense and plenty of tricks up her sleeve often catching defenders off guard.

Niamh Kelly first joined the AFLW in 2020 and pulled on the royal blue and yellow along with her sister Grace for West Coast. The pair set the Eagles' forward line alight with their fast ball movement and speed across three seasons before Niamh made the move to Adelaide and Grace moved to St Kilda.

It took Niamh a bit of time to make her mark on the Crows with a shoulder injury restricting her to only seven games in Season 7. But she quickly became a key part of the Adelaide lineup in 2023, recording 28 disposals in a Showdown Medal-winning performance against Port Adelaide to kick off the season, and she hasn't looked back.

Then you've got the likes of Erica O'Shea and Aisling Moloney who have only just started in the AFLW over the last couple of years, with O'Shea joining North Melbourne for Season 7 and Moloney joining the Cats ahead of this season.

One thing is for sure, the Irish players are making our game better, whether it be their speed, physicality, or extra bit of spark in front of goal.