Many players get into Australian football through playing Gaelic football, but for one member of the Great Britain squad it was the inability to play the Gaelic code that led to her picking up a Sherrin for the first time.
“I hadn’t played Gaelic football since I was 14 or 15 years old,” said Nicole Hagan, who grew up in Portadown, County Armagh. “And I decided to pick it up again. I was told that it was their offseason, so instead, I googled if there was an Australian football team near me, and oddly enough there was one in Cardiff. I went down to training and now they can’t get rid of me.”
Originally a rover, and now playing her football at half-back, Hagan graduated this year in strength and conditioning from the University of South Wales, and was played for the combined Universities of South Wales team in the inaugural National University League (NUL) season.
“It was awesome to have been a part of growing the university team and to be able to play alongside the girls. I think even after our first season of playing in the NUL, we as a team already have some definite rivals.”
Despite the Universities of South Wales team failing to make it through to the Grand Final, Hagan’s exploits were rewarded with selection in the NUL All-Star team which travelled to Ireland to take on a team representing Irish universities.
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Initially, Hagan says, she found it strange considering she was from Ireland, but playing with her teammates that she played with weekly, she says she wouldn’t have changed anything.
“I consider them my best friends,” Hagan said. “It felt like a privilege to play alongside such a talented group of girls against an equally group of talented girls. It’s probably the highest level of football I had played and it was amazing.”
And after her first taste of 18-a-side football, it wasn’t long before the Great Britain leadership team came knocking.
“I was invited to a training session last year; I loved the commitment, passion and intent of all of the training and the girls involved! I was trying to make it to all of the sessions to commit myself.”
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However, GB selection was almost a non-starter after a phone call from the GB Head Coach. The issue was that Hagan wouldn’t be eligible due to her Northern Irish background.
“I was prepared to fight, but I convinced myself that I wasn’t going to [be selected] to avoid disappointment.
“After a short back and forth, there was a huge push to finally sort this out and they finally got it! I couldn’t believe it and I was absolutely buzzing.”
Hagan has experience on the international stage, and not just with the All-Stars, after competing for the Welsh Wyverns.
“This is only their third season and they’ve grown massively,” said Hagan. “Last year was the first time we were able to field an ‘all Welsh’ team in the Euro Cup, however with only two substitutes which was difficult.
“This year we had a full squad of 15 which was amazing. We can only hope to grow this in the future as well!”
Now fully focused on the Euro Cup’s 18-a-side older brother, Hagan says there is a mixture of emotions around the squad.
“Some girls are a bit nervous but buzzing to have been picked and some of the others seem really ready for this. I think it’s cool to have the confidence to on the team but to also stay humble about it!”
Pictures courtesy of Bob Given Photography