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Merrimac's Geoghegan shines at Aussie 'footy'

By John Vellante
Globe Correspondent | August 8, 2010

The event received very little, if any, attention in this neck of the woods, but the US and Canadian women’s national teams squared off in the Australian Rules Football 49th Parallel Cup last weekend in Toronto.

For the record, Canada won, 34-15.

Eileen Geoghegan of Merrimac (above) suited up as a rock rover for Team USA and at game’s end, got honorable mention in the MVP voting.

Not bad for a young woman who played footy — as the game is commonly known — for the first time just a year ago and who, because of a limited number of full-fledged women’s teams, plays with the Baltimore-Washington Eagles men’s team. She earned her way onto the national team after a string of impressive performances at tryouts in Denver and New York.

What impressed US coach Wayne Kraska most about Geoghegan was her ability to punt and/or throw the ball downfield.

“Who would have thought the skills I acquired playing soccer in high school and college would be so beneficial,’’ said Geoghegan, a soccer standout at Pentucket Regional (Class of 2003) and Holy Cross (2007). “I was a goalkeeper and accustomed to punting the ball or throwing the ball downfield. Knowing how to punt and use my feet kept me a step ahead of some others.’’

Australian rules football is a variant of football played outdoors between teams of 18 players, plus four interchange players. It’s usually played on a large oval grass field with a ball in the shape of a prolate spheroid. The object: score points by kicking the ball between the middle two posts, and players may use any part of their body to advance the ball.

“Most of the time we’re playing on a field much smaller than regulation,’’ said Geoghegan, “so usually we play with a dozen or so women. There wouldn’t be enough room on the field if we used 18 players. It’s a growing sport in the Baltimore-Washington area, and I’m out there recruiting women players as often as I can. I began playing, and still train with, a women’s group, but play for the Eagles of the US Australian Football League. I’m just biding my time until we have a full women’s team.’’

Geoghegan admits the recruiting process has been a bit difficult.

“Men don’t have a problem recruiting because they’re used to American football. It’s difficult getting women to tackle. A lot of people look at Australian rules football and think it’s like rugby. It’s less tough than that. There are more rules to protect the players. If you touch any part of the body above the shoulders or below the knees it’s a foul. Tackling from behind is illegal.’’

The 25-year-old Geoghegan, who is studying for her doctorate in microbiology at Johns Hopkins University, sees playing Australian rules football as a continuation of her soccer career.

“I played soccer almost my entire life, growing up, in high school, in college, and I knew I had reached my peak,’’ she said. Australian rules football “is a sport that I have a lot of good basic skills to play and one in which I can improve. Even though I made the national team, I still have a lot of learning to do. It’s a challenge to improve. It’s also fun to travel to other venues to play. I’ve played now in Denver, New York, Toronto, Milwaukee, and next year there’s a chance to play in Australia.

“Being selected to play for the national team was exciting and an honor. I think my ability to kick the ball so far made me stand out. Each player brought a different skill level to the field and that was mine. Even though we’re playing a relatively obscure sport, it’s a privilege to be part of a national team.’’