Glenties has fast become the Mecca of Gaelic football in County Donegal with the Jim McGuinness connection. But there is another Glenties star that shines brightly in the firmament and who is well known to Donegal GAA fans at home and abroad..
Aoife McDonnell is 28 years young! A native of Glenties, a past pupil of the local Comprehensive School and a graduate in Sports Studies from the University of Ulster. She also has a master’s degree in management and a teaching qualification in Physical Education. She played on the Donegal ladies team that won the All Ireland Junior Championship in 2003, when just 17 years old, and went on to captain Donegal to a second title in 2010.
From an early age she dreamed of being a professional sports person and this dream shaped her life, her passionate involvement in sport and her studies. Like many before her she hoped to settle down in Donegal, pursue her chosen career and participate in her favourite sports of Gaelic football and basketball as player, coach and administrator.
However, like so many other young Donegal people, by age 20, Aoife realised that there was no work to be got at home and she accepted an internship at the famed Sydney Academy of Sport. She immediately loved the culture and the people around her and when her internship was up and the situation in Ireland remained unchanged, she knew she would come back to Australia.
This optimistic, talented and sports mad young woman is such a loss to Donegal and Ireland, but such an addition to her adopted new home. She teaches in a great school, Gardners Road Public School, where she finds the staff really helpful and where the children are happy and enjoy learning in a safe accepting environment. She counts herself lucky.
“There are definitely more opportunities here than there are at home, even taking into consideration visa restrictions and getting your academic and professional qualifications recognised.”
Aoife plays gaelic football for the Cormac McAnnallens GFC which she describes as a great club made up of all sorts of characters. “It’s like having family away from home!” Her team have had two great years winning back to back championships. Another sign of the times, there are four Donegal women on the McNallens team this year. Aoife names them, “Anna Marie McGlynn, a great footballer who I get to play with rather than against for a change. Yvonne McMonagle and Niamh Hegarty who I have played with for County Donegal since 03 and 04 respectively. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs in recent years so it’s great having some of the gaelic family from home out here.”
Aoife also plays Aussie Rules for the Sydney University Bombers which she describes as, “another great club which has made my time in Sydney unforgettable.” They also have won back to back Premierships.
“It has been a challenge getting used to the funny ball and I sometimes have trouble switching my gaelic brain to AFL but it helps when I get shouted at!” She must be doing ok as she was honoured this year by selection to the AFL Sydney Women’s Team of the Year, an achievement which she characteristically attributes to her knowledgeable and helpful team-mates and her coach.
I will leave the last words to Aoife.
“I do want to go home. I still miss everybody and I also want one more crack at Croker!! The economic situation isn’t great at home though and it is so frustrating to spend your time sitting around and looking for employment in vain.
“It is difficult to see how the situation is going to change anytime in the near future. It is such a shame because Ireland is losing the guts of an entire generation.
“I keep up with everything that is going on at home and it angers me the way people who have worked hard all their lives are being treated.
“For a lot of young people who have come abroad, going home isn’t an option. I consider Sydney a second home now and I will have to wait and see where I end up in the long run.”