The last few months of new Collingwood recruit Murieann Atkinson’s life have been full of surprises.
The Ireland native, who arrived in Australia this August on what was planned to be a four-week holiday, this week signed with the Pies for the next two AFLW seasons following a whirlwind second half of 2023.
A star Gaelic Footballer since the age of 16, Atkinson is no stranger to sport, qualified as a Physical Education teacher while also completing a Masters in Strength and Conditioning.
But her holiday, which saw her travel around the country visiting friends, didn’t have an AFLW contract on its bucket list.
Many of Atkinson’s friends also happen to be AFLW listed players having made the switch from Gaelic Football, which allowed the ball to start rolling when she arrived.
“I actually came out here at the start of August on a holiday just to see Australia and then I met up with a few friends involved in AFLW,” Atkinson said.
“There were clubs that invited me to have a kick with them which I wasn’t really expecting when coming over here, but I was really fascinated to see what even the clubs look like, and the way things are in Australia.
“I went for a kick about and it was my first time kicking a Sherrin and I really liked it and then they invited me to watch the trainings and a game and at the MCG.
“I went to a few clubs and then got asked to go up to Sydney as I had friends there that I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. I went up and then they offered me to stay on as a train-on.
“I was too late to sign for the season as the competition started the next week so I just stayed and trained with the team and got used to the sport for the next 10-12 weeks and hopefully get drafted come December.”
So, after perfecting her craft in a sport that she has now been practicing for little more than three months, Atkinson’s plan was to be picked up in December’s AFLW Draft.
Speaking to multiple clubs, including the Pies, the uncertainty of her position began to heighten.
But, when she travelled to the AIA Vitality Centre for what she believed to be a medical screening last week, all her fears were put to bed.
Greeted by friends Sarah Rowe and Aishling Sheridan, who she previously played Gaelic Football with, the Irish trio were reunited as Atkinson was surprised with the news of a two-year deal.
“It’s still hard to believe just the way it happened.
“The girls surprised me there at the airport but it’s hard to believe because I felt like it was going to happen, I just didn’t know where I was going to end up.
“I knew that I had the nicest and strongest feeling towards Collingwood and would rather go there but I was preparing to go to the Draft where you don’t have that certainty of where you’ll end up.”
The surprise was extra special given the presence of Rowe and Sheridan.
Not only had the three played Gaelic Football together and won the prestigious O’Connor Cup in 2018 for Dublin City University, they had lived together at the University and formed a special bond.
Rowe then made the switch to AFLW the following year, while Sheridan did so in 2020, with the duo heading up the 30-plus strong contingent of Irish players in the competition.
Playing AFLW has always been on Atkinson’s radar. She said she’d always craved the professionalism provided by the competition in Australia, while her two former roommates’ leap of faith inspired her to take one herself.
“As a female athlete, I’ve craved that professional environment that we don’t have back at home and to be able to put in a serious amount of hours to be good at your craft.
“At home, you’re only working part-time or not at all and to be able to just concentrate on footy, you have the absolute best opportunity to become your best.
“I was that, always trying to become my best, but certain things back in Ireland hindered that but out here it’s just a free roll, you have no excuses not to reach your athletic potential.
“Now there’s 33 or so Irish girls in the competition at the minute so it is a trend for a reason. Every girl is probably thinking along the same lines and obviously Sarah has been here as one of the original players coming out and once you get into this system it is so hard to leave.
“Since she came over here it reignites a bit of fire in me to be like ‘God, this could be something really good’.”
While the reality of her place on the Pies’ list is still sinking in, Atkinson is excited to bring a tenacious brand of football to the Club.
Not afraid of the physical side of the game, the utiltiy is primed to join and contested group of players.
“I’ll probably be strongest at aggression and intent going for the ball and tackles.
“My kicking since I came here has improved given it was the first time I’d handled the Sherrin ball. The Irish girls can struggle with kicking a bit but it is something I’ve really worked on the past 12 weeks because of how important it is.
“If you perfect the skills of it, you’re giving away less possessions which is so important, but it’s probably that aggression and kicking ability.
“To know that I’m going to be calling this place my home for the next two years is even nicer.”