The path from Ireland to Australia in search of job opportunities is well trodden across all walks of life. Even in sport; GAA players from this island represent one of the AFL’s most reliable stream of imports.
Yet Kim Garth didn’t uproot her life because of her background in Gaelic games, but instead in a sport at the opposite end of the Irish popularity spectrum. In a previous life, Garth was a minor footballer for Dublin, but it was the stick and ball game that drew her down under – not hurling, but cricket.
Garth, who debuted in cricket for Ireland aged just 14, gave up playing for the country of her birth when professional opportunities came up in Australia in 2019. The problem was that, as an Ireland international, she would be classed as an overseas player and slots for those were limited. In order to make the process easier, she gave up her Irish eligibility for the three-year period it took to become a local. With no pro contracts available in Ireland at the time, the move was a no-brainer.
As of last September, Garth is officially an Australian local. She was named player of the year for the Melbourne Stars, which placed her firmly on the radar of the Australian selectors. Come Australia’s tour to India over the last fortnight, Garth was debuting for a second time in international cricket, this time in front of a crowd of over 25,000 in Navi Mumbai.
A far cry from the wall benches at Pembroke Cricket Club in Sandymount, where it all began for Garth. It’s the type of transformation that takes a while to sink in.
“I don’t think it quite has to be honest,” admits Garth from her hotel room in India. “It’s been absolutely incredible. Being back playing international cricket, it doesn’t get much harder as a reintroduction on that wicket, on that ground and against some of the best players in the world. It’s been tough but it’s been really cool.
“I definitely don’t feel out of my depth. It’s tough, but I feel like I’m competing quite well and have had good battles with some of the Indian players.”
Aside from playing in front of massive crowds in the world’s most cricket-mad nation, Garth has been propelled into social media notoriety by Cricket Australia’s communications team. Unbeknown to her, both the moment she was told she would be playing and her cap presentation were recorded.
It was a cleverly edited piece of work. “There were a few swear words in there but it worked out really well,” jokes Garth of her censored film career.
Ellyse Perry, the Australian star all-rounder and a friend of Garth’s, did the honours of presenting the cap. In the video, Garth’s parents Anne-Marie and Johnny make a brief cameo, having travelled to India from Dublin and subsequently been invited into the team huddle to witness the poignant moment.
In her speech, Perry asks Garth not to lose her “Irish white-line fever”. Australia is the country that invented sledging; Garth must have made quite an impression for arguably the greatest player the women’s game has ever seen to say the Aussies find her both hard as nails and, much more importantly, fairly sound.
“I don’t think I abuse anyone,” chuckles Garth. “I think I more get angry at myself. Anyone who knows me knows, as a cricketer, I can be quite hot-headed and emotional at times, I wear my heart on my sleeve a little bit. It was nice of her to throw that in.
“She’s [Perry] been a good friend and very supportive of my cricketing career over the last two years especially.”
To have Perry do the honours is the equivalent of moving to the United States to play soccer and having Megan Rapinoe award you your first cap – that’s how dominant she and this Australia team have been in recent years.
And now Garth is in that elite inner circle. Out of the five games in India, Garth played three. She took her first wicket for her adopted country while bowling inexpensively.
Her form saw her retained in the squad for a home series against Pakistan in January. The next challenge is to make the panel for the T20 World Cup in February.
If Garth does go to the tournament in South Africa, an emotional reunion with Ireland will, somewhat fortunately, be avoided initially with the two sides in different groups, something Garth describes as a “relief”.
Regardless, the development of the Irish team while Garth has been gone both legitimises her decision to leave and offers hope her story won’t be repeated. Last spring, Cricket Ireland introduced the professional contracts that were unavailable to Garth before her move. The likes of Gaby Lewis and Orla Prendergast, the talent that has stepped in to fill the void, now don’t have to relocate to be pro athletes.
[ Prendergast and Lewis star as Ireland beat Pakistan in Lahore ]
Yet Garth reached the Australian ranks just months after those contracts came in. Poetic timing and all that.
Ireland are on the right track, but Garth is now where her talent dictates she belongs, playing with the best team on the planet. There could even be a world title in the coming months Such a prize vindicates her bravery to travel across the world and leave family behind amid the strictest of Covid lockdowns, all for just an opportunity.
“From the moment I’ve got over here I haven’t regretted it at all. There were times over Covid when it was difficult but never a time when I considered going home.
“I always had that element of guilt being away from my family for so long, them not being able to see me. For all this to come together and be rewarded with Australian selection has made it worthwhile.
“It’s pretty cool and something I’ll have for the rest of my life. If I play another 50 games or I don’t play again, I can be really proud.”