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Dublin: 15 °C Saturday 23 August, 2014

Ciaran Sheehan: ‘Living in Australia is an experience, being an AFL player is a challenge’

The ex-Cork player writes for TheScore.ie about adjusting to a new sport, enduring pre-season training and making his debut.

CORK FOOTBALLER CIARAN Sheehan announced last November that he was set to move to Melbourne to join AFL club Carlton Blues. 

The 23 year-old made his move in January and here writes for TheScore.ie about adjusting to a new sport, enduring punishing pre-season training and making his debut in the Victorian Football League in recent weeks.

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DSS_9499

Ciaran Sheehan in action for Northern Blues.

Source: Dave Savell.

I’M NOW THREE months into life as a professional AFL player life in footy mad Melbourne. It’s been an unbelievable experience but this adventure Down Under goes further than an “experience”.

Growing up in Farran back in Cork, I was always a competitive person. It didn’t matter if it was playing football or hurling with Éire Óg or a light-hearted game of ‘nods and volleys’ with friends that turned into a desperate fight late in the evening. There always had to be a winner and I’d enough friends around who were equally determined to win. It’s an approach that has served me well.

I’ve kept that attitude during my sporting career. I see this move to become an AFL player as more of a challenge than an experience. Living life here in Australia is an experience, being an AFL player is a challenge.

It’s a challenge that I am relishing and enjoying. I spent four weeks here back in the summer of 2009 when I was 18 but homesickness proved too much and I ended up moving back home. To get the chance once to become a professional athlete is a dream come true. To get the chance a second time is like getting a slap in the face and someone shouting, “don’t leave this opportunity pass you by”.

Landing In Melbourne

I arrived here in Melbourne on the 6th of January with my girlfriend Amy and Ciarán “Casey” Byrne from Louth. I played with Ciarán last year for Ireland in the International Rules and got to know him. It was good starting out with a familiar face and Zach Tuohy from Laois is another.

We arrived in Melbourne at around 6pm that Sunday evening but any thoughts of relaxing were soon dispelled. We were told that we were straight into training at 8am the following morning. My first thought was ‘I’m not going to be able for this’. Jet lag was starting to kick in. I felt quite weak and tired.

The following morning I arrived at the club at 7.30am and received a quick tour of the club. A lot of the facilities had changed since I’d last been there five years ago. I was in awe turning every corner and couldn’t believe that all of this would be available to me.

Ciaran Sheehan 3

Source: Carlton FC

They were the most prestigious and professional facilities that I’d ever seen. Under water treadmills, a swimming pool, an altitude training room and an enormous gym. It was a lot different to Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the training base that I’d been used to.

Playing senior football with Cork for the last four years, the coaching, physio and other facilities we were exposed to were all brilliant. As players, we constantly reminded each other of the quality of what was available to us and that we needed to utilise them.

What shocked me so much when I got the tour of Carlton was the high standards which the club had set for its staff and players. They had to be met. The players were welcoming from the start, helpful and positive towards me. It’s very much a club based on unity and team spirit.

‘Zombie-like’

That first morning we had to do a 2km time trial. I was still in a zombie-like state from the journey over but I survived and got through it. That set the tone for the next couple of months of pre-season.

Torturous 12km sessions on the field followed by bike conditioning and boxing with some weights wasn’t out of the ordinary for a typical pre-season session. Training was very tough at the start as there was a heatwave for the first couple of weeks after I arrived. The temperature climbed to 36 degrees during some sessions but I struggled through and eventually began to acclimatise.

Source: Carlton FC

I was constantly seeking feedback from our coaches and I soon found out that they were watching my every move. A player camera follows you for the full session. Hiding was out of the question. The camera caught me a couple of times strolling into position for the next drill. This was not acceptable.

You must get to the next drill with intent, if you don’t the coaches won’t be happy and will let you know it. It was all a steep learning curve. Safe to say, I haven’t made that mistake since.

After a couple of months of heavy training, I finally got to play my first game. I’m playing for Northern Blues, the reserve team for Carlton. They play in the Victorian Football League. I started off playing during the pre-season in the back line but was put in the forward line to fill numbers for one session. I got involved in the action more and have stayed there.

I’m finding this much easier as our running patterns in the forward line are similar to those of GAA. I always preferred to be chased rather than to be the chaser. My first game was in the back line and I got a few touches.

For the next game I played in the forwards and failed to score but got more touches than the previous game. The third game was on St Patrick’s weekend against Box Hill Hawks. I managed to kick two goals and two points, a return I was much happier with.

Ciaran Sheehan 2

Source: Carlton FC

Catching the ball is proving to be a lot more difficult with AFL. Body contact is allowed before the ball is played into you, which makes it much harder to time your jump and field the ball.

Many people think that the shape of the ball is be the big problem when adapting to AFL from GAA. I haven’t found that. Kicking and hand balling (hand passing) seem to be the easier part. Understanding the structures and how the game should be played is proving to be more difficult.

I’ve started to understand it and it’s happened at a good time. On the first Sunday in April I made my competitive debut as we defeated Williamstown 101-97 in our league opener at Visy Park.

The game went well, I scored a goal and loved every minute of it. We’re in the midst of a hectic schedule. Last Saturday we defeated Frankston 102-99 and this weekend travel to play Footscray. Northern Blues are a proud and passionate club. I can’t wait to be involved with them.

I haven’t forgotten my roots. I’m in regularly in touch with my family and constantly keeping an eye on how the Cork footballers are doing. We’re nine hours ahead out here in Melbourne. On the days of Cork’s league matches, I’ve got into a routine of checking Twitter every morning when I wake up to find out their results. Back at the start of March, I got up at 6.30am to see them defeat Dublin and they’ve been in good form.

I’d be in touch on Skype with Daniel Goulding, he keeps me up to date on how everyone’s getting on in the squad. I’m delighted for them all and Cubby (Brian Cuthbert) at how well they’ve started. It’s going to be an exciting summer for them and I’ll be keeping track of it.

Ciaran Sheehan, Patrick Kelly and Michael Shields

Ciaran Sheehan with Cork teammates last summer.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Cork’s Ciaran Sheehan marks his Aussie Rules debut with a goal and a win

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