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'It might get worse in the next few weeks so there'll be a demand for people to help out in hospitals'

Fresh from her second season in Australia, Tipperary star Aisling McCarthy discusses her experience through the Covid-19 crisis and potentially joining the front line here.

Updated Mar 23rd 2020, 9:49 PM

FROM THE FRONT line of the Western Bulldogs in Australia to, potentially, the front line of the fight against the Covid-19 crisis in Ireland.

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Tipperary star Aisling McCarthy is certainly relieved to be back on these shores after a rollercoaster few days brought her second season in the AFLW to a close.

aishmc Tipperary and Western Bulldogs star Aisling McCarthy. Source: Western Bulldogs.

The long journey home followed, and she touched down on home soil on Sunday. She’s self-isolating in her home in Cahir for 14 days first, but the 24-year-old physiotherapist has also signed up for the HSÉ’s ‘On Call For Ireland’ initiative. 

“It’s a great service, and I think they’ve had a big response,” McCarthy told The42 today. “Even processing all the responses, it will be difficult for them.

“I’ve just put my name and my CV forward for some line of physio or if they need anything else in a hospital over the coming weeks when I’ve got through what I have to do in the next 14 days or so.

“Unfortunately, the clinic that I did work for when I was home last summer had to close its private practice due to the regulations. They just advised me that the hospitals will be looking for people especially, unfortunately, if the situation does go where people think it is.

It might get a little bit worse in the next few weeks so there’ll be a demand for people to help out in the hospitals. Even if healthcare workers or anything get sick or need to be tested, I guess that’s where people like myself can come in and help.

“Anything to help at the moment would be great. I just put my name forward to see.”

The 2017 and 2019 All-Ireland intermediate champion’s field of expertise is physiotherapy, though she knows that she could potentially be catapulted anywhere into the heart of the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.

There’s a chance McCarthy could be seconded into a role as a tester, or she may be required to just give a helping hand alongside medical professionals in our hospitals and surgeries.

Or of course, she could get called to action in her most familiar setting.

“I suppose with the illness at the moment, they’re saying it’s very pneumonia like,” she adds. “Physios would definitely work in the respiratory area a lot so I guess they’d be in demand there.

“There’s people getting up-skilled into different areas like testing and that. I was reading that [Galway star] Tracey Leonard is involved in that line, and she’s usually a nurse.

Definitely, I think if you get a call, it could be in any area to help. I know physios definitely would have a major role in the cases that are going into hospitals at the moment, if they can help they would. Either or, if there’s anything I can do.

The last few days, and weeks, really have been a whirlwind.

One of 18 Irishwomen contracted to Aussie Rules clubs for 2020, McCarthy watched things unfold from Melbourne as the AFLW attempted to finish the season amidst the madness.

Aisling 1 Celebrating Tipperary's All-Ireland win last September. Source: SPORTSFILE.

Last week, it was confirmed that the last two rounds of regular games would be scrapped, and the league would head straight to a three-week eight-team finals series. Western Bulldogs missed out in the curtailed season, which was in turn, forced to a close after one round of finals.

It was a strange period, she says, as some Irish players travelled home and others stayed put.

Last week was a bit of a rollercoaster for everyone. Obviously at the time, you’re over in Australia to play sport and all of us are in that situation, we’re competitive sportspeople. But with developments in recent times, it was important that we thought about getting home to our families and things like that. It puts a lot into perspective.

“Me and Katy [Herron] from the Bulldogs, our situation was a little bit easier when we heard the news last week that the season was going to be cut short. Our club could straight away start arranging to get us home, they had no problem with that.

“The developments in Australia are a little bit behind Ireland so we could see where things could potentially go. I think the Australians were probably a little bit more naive, the girls that we’d be hanging around with, in terms of how serious it could get.

When we saw that Ireland was closing down a lot of public places and restaurants and everything, we saw that effect would come in in Australia as well. Just talking amongst ourselves, to home and the Irish embassy and that, along with our club, it was best that we decided to get home as soon as we could.

Not only was it a weird few days, the past few weeks have been fairly odd.

Precautionary measures were taken at the Bulldogs, with the health and safety of the club’s players and staff and their families understandably paramount. The men’s and women’s teams started using different entrances, hand washing and sanitising was essential at all times, and eating on the premises was forbidden. 

Team get-togethers in the café were cancelled and they weren’t allowed hang out in communal areas. It was just: go into the club, train, and leave again. 

“It was weird. I suppose they were doing their best at the time and following all the guidelines that the health officers in Australia gave. 

aflw-saints-bulldogs McCarthy after scoring a goal in round one. Source: AAP/PA Images

“It’s come to the same extent as Ireland now where everything is going into a bit of shutdown. It’s definitely gotten more serious around the general public in Australia at the moment.

“At the start, I guess it was kind of unknown for everyone. When everything was happening at home first, Mam was saying, ‘Stay in Australia as long as you can because when you come home, everything’s kind of on lockdown.’

“As things started progressing and getting worse on both sides of the world, I think it was just: get home as soon as possible. With the uncertainty around travel, that was the most important thing. It takes 24 hours, at least, to get from Australia to Ireland, so if there were going to be any major changes in a day, it could affect you getting home.”

After getting over the sadness of missing out in the curtailed season — “We were just disappointed that we couldn’t play the last two games as we were developing, but at this stage, it’s probably one of the smallest worries that’s happening around the world” — and accepting that this was all for the greater good, McCarthy was homeward bound.

En route, and on the same flights as team-mate Herron, housemates Joanne Doonan and Mairéad Seoighe, and Clara Fitzpatrick, it was announced that the entire season would be cancelled. No one was overly shocked.

What was probably more surprising was the atmosphere everywhere on the way home. Reality — and the new normal — well and truly hit home.

When we got to the airport, it was a bit eerie,” McCarthy continued. “Everyone just wearing masks and gloves, wiping everything down, and there was definitely less staff and that. Once we got on the plane then, just trying to sleep on the long-haul flight.

“You definitely could see there was a bit of a difference with everything but it wasn’t too bad. Once we landed in Dublin, it was just about getting home. Dad shoved me into the back seat and that was that! You definitely notice a difference, it’s a bit eerie all right.

“Now that I’m home, everyone’s at ease a little bit but I’m still being quarantined to my bedroom and using a different table to eat and everything. I feel like I’m not too loved! I guess that’s just the world we’re living in at the moment, everything’s a bit mad.

“I think everyone — what I saw from my friends here anyway — is just staying at home as well, and going out for walks by themselves or picking up a football. I guess that’s the life that everyone’s living at the moment here so you wouldn’t be feeling too left out or anything. It’s what’s most important at the minute.”

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Screenshot 2020-03-23 at 22.54.55 Source: Aisling McCarthy Instagram.

The Government’s advice is anyone travelling to Ireland is required to self-isolate for 14 days, so McCarthy is self-imposing that guideline in the comfort of her own home.

“I have no symptoms or anything like that, I think it’s just 14 days precautionary. I guess as well with the long-haul flight and the amount of people you’d be in contact with, it’s just hard to trace different things.

It’s not too dissimilar to what anyone else is doing anyway. Staying away from older people in my family, my grandparents and things like that is important.

One thing’s for sure, she’ll have plenty of time to reflect on her stellar second season Down Under as she switches her mindset back to Gaelic football and the Tipperary set-up.

McCarthy was certainly one of the picks of the Irish in the Australian league this year, and caught the eye week in, week out. And the Cahir star was pleased with her progress in season two as she thrived in her more central, midfield, role.

“I definitely thought that I was a lot more comfortable. I guess there were little things in pre-season that I didn’t have to think about, rules and things like that, that would have been very new to me last year. I could concentrate on developing my football more so. 

I really enjoyed it on a personal level, on and off the field. As a team then, we probably didn’t do as well as we hoped on the goals that we set out at the start of the season but when you look back, we probably had a few narrow losses.

“Our team is quite young as well but it’s building going forward. You can definitely see where the club is going in the next year or so but unfortunately, it just didn’t work out for us this year.”

While, like everywhere else, everything is up in the air on the ladies football scene, the focus now switches to her beloved Premier county as they relish their return to action post-pandemic.

“It’s probably a blessing at the same time, it gives me a bit more time to brush up on my skills and that,” she concedes. “Hopefully, this will all pass soon and we’ll be back training.

aisling-mccarthy On the ball in last year's All-Ireland final. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“We’re all really looking forward to playing Cork as well in the Munster semi-final… if championship goes ahead at all, it probably could be a revamped version of it. I’m just looking forward to getting back with all the girls as well because you would miss them.

“They had a good league campaign, they were very competitive so I’m just trying to get into the fold and back onto the team, I guess, as well. That will be another tough one.”

Like everyone, she’s taking it day by day at the minute, and putting plenty of things to the back of her mind. One of those is a possible third year in Australia. With routine exit interviews fast approaching with the club, she’s yet to make a decision on year three.

Cards close to the chest, there’s more important things in the world right now.

“We’ll just have to weigh everything up,” she concludes.

“I’m not ruling out either anyway.”

- We’ll have another in-depth read with Aisling McCarthy on her second AFLW stint later this week.

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Emma Duffy

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