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'I couldn't believe it' - unlikely Australian adventure to look forward to but football first for now

Lauren Magee is heading for Melbourne after her involvement in Dublin’s four-in-a-row bid.

Dublin star Lauren Magee.
Dublin star Lauren Magee.
Image: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

THE FOCUS IS firmly on Gaelic football matters on these shores, but the Australian adventure down the line remains in the back of the mind.

While this weekend’s All-Ireland semi-final against Armagh is all Dublin star Lauren Magee is thinking about right now, a quick look further ahead is welcome.

It’s all systems go for Breffni Park on Saturday [throw-in 4pm, live on TG4] as the four-in-a-row bid roars on, but the Kilmacud Crokes defender-slash-midfielder will soon be swapping the round ball for the oval one in Melbourne having recently signed a professional contract.

Magee, the daughter of Dublin and Crokes stalwart Johnny, casts her mind back to late last year when the lure of Down Under first came on her radar.

“Someone got onto my Dad about the first Irish Combine in December: it was being held in UCD and would I be interested,” she tells The42. “I was like, ‘I may as well go and see how I get on.’”

The 23-year-old got on just fine, impressing throughout and catching the eyes of many. Two scouts were present, and video footage was sent back to clubs in Australia — one in particular taking a keen interest. As we now know it was Melbourne FC, the adopted home of Magee’s Dublin team-mates Sinéad Goldrick and Niamh McEvoy.

She soon linked up with the Dees’ list manager, Todd Patterson, and the process began. “Everything looked quite positive from then,” she smiles. 

But of course, it couldn’t be plain sailing. 

While Magee was in flying form for Dublin in the league, she broke her collarbone after an innocuous tackling incident against Cork.

“I think the last time I broke a bone was when I was like four or five,” she recalls. “I literally just landed straight on it. I knew straight away, I was like, ‘It’s broken, it’s broken.’ It was really badly broken, not a nice experience.”

libby-coppinger-with-lauren-magee Cork's Libby Coppinger with Lauren Magee of Dublin. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

But there came a silver lining with that injury as she used her time out wisely. “I got the opportunity to go to Melbourne, I just went on a trip myself to see what it would be like if I was to live there. It was great, it was somewhere that I could see myself living if I did get the opportunity.”

And then came the bane of 2020: Covid-19.

Two steps forward, one step back. Everything was all but put on ice.

“Ah, I won’t have a chance of going back over here,” Magee remembers thinking, with the inter-county season’s restructure a significant worry considering the clash with matters in Oz. 

“I was like, ‘Sure, pre-season is November, December. I’m a new player, I don’t think they’d take someone over if they’re missing two months of pre-season, especially not having the skill set.’

“It’s different for Goldie and Maccer, they played with them and, and other players that would miss the pre-season that have already been over.

“I was hopeful to get an opportunity to go over. Getting the opportunity to even travel with all this going on is amazing. I was hopeful, but I didn’t get my hopes up either.”

And then the dream was well and truly dashed, with word from Patterson that he didn’t think the move would be feasible. Understandable, given everything that was going on. Fair enough, she said. Until everything changed overnight.

“I remember he text me one day and I was like, ‘Ah, he probably just wants to talk.’ I didn’t think anything of it. The next day he was like, ‘Really keen to talk to ya.’ I was like, ‘What do you want?!’

Her as a new rookie, was ultimately the answer.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Magee can’t help but smile as she thinks back. “Literally the week or two before that I had been told they didn’t think that they’d be able to take me over.

“I was disappointed, but I couldn’t be that upset because of everything that happened. It wasn’t like it was just ripped away from me. There was so much going on. I just took it. I was like, ‘Thanks for the opportunity you had given me.’

image8 (2) After signing for Melbourne. Source: Melbourne FC.

“When they got back to me again, I couldn’t believe it. It’s really exciting and obviously getting to go over with the two girls is, I think, even better. Not having to go over and try and settle on my own and stuff. I can’t wait now.”

Her excitement is palpable down the Zoom call, building with each and every sentence as she lets her mind momentarily wander to the next chapter in Melbourne. One she’ll share with Goldrick and McEvoy, who are preparing for their second season at the club.

They’ve been helpful with advice and dos-and-don’ts around packing and money, and have shared nuggets of their own experience, which has been invaluable for Magee.

“I’ve never lived away from home,” as the former DCU student, who’s now covering classes in a secondary school in Tallaght with intentions to go back and do teaching, points out.

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“I don’t think I’ve ever been away from my family for more than two weeks. To have them there as well to help… I’d be well capable of living on my own, it would just be a bit weird.

“To have two friends there is just a massive thing for me because I’ve never done anything like this ever — obviously professional sport, but in the sense of living away from home, and on the other side of the world. It’s something so new to me, but I can’t wait.”

She, too, is looking forward to the Sky Blues’ last four battle with Armagh this weekend, though still coming to terms with how quickly it’s come upon them.

Having beaten Donegal and Waterford in their group, Mick Bohan’s side are gearing up for a stern test against the Orchard, who produced a first-ever win over Mayo two weeks ago to seal their passage to the semi-final for the first time since 2015.

“It’s weird how fast it’s come, it’s obviously the end of the year but it doesn’t feel like that. It just feels like we’ve only started playing and we’re in a semi final. That’s where we want to be, so we’re delighted to be back.

“Armagh beat Cork last year and then obviously beating Mayo this year just shows how good they are and how much of a threat they are. We literally have to be at our best when we come up to them, and do our homework on them.

katie-murray-celebrates-after-the-game-with-leah-caffrey-and-lauren-magee Celebrating the 2018 win with Katie Murray and Leah Caffrey. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“It’s exciting to play a new team. It’s nice to play a different team and to have a different experience. A lot of them wouldn’t have played a semi-final so it’s an amazing opportunity for them. It’s a different one but it’s really exciting.”

“They have threats,” Magee adds, when asked about star forward Aimee Mackin and 2015 Footballer of the Year Caroline O’Hanlon, in particular, though Bohan’s Dublin have been boosted themselves over the past few weeks.

“There’s big names and they have players that have played really well in the in the last two games. But we’ve a good panel and we’ve so many players pushing on to start, and if not start, to come on.

“It’s been amazing to see Nicole [Owens] back, it just shows the player she is. She was just so determined to get back on the pitch and she’s been doing so well in training and stuff, it’s great to have her back around us as well.”

The defending champions tag is something they don’t think about, nor is the talk of four-in-a-row with the Brendan Martin Cup long gone back into the LGFA office.

They enjoyed their few months with it, but when the news season starts, you must realise, “You’re not that year’s winner.” It’s a matter of game one, game two, game three and so on; you can’t get caught looking too far ahead, she says.

It’s a sensible approach, of course, as is Magee’s attitude towards being a role model with small acts of kindness having a huge impact.

She saw that best this year as she sent a birthday card to a kid during lockdown. Both their birthdays fell in April so the mother reached out. Now, there’s a story about it in a book, Magee having likely made the young girl’s year.

“It just shows… it’s so cute, the fact that like some little girl… I think back in the day, I wouldn’t really have looked up to a lot of sporting girls or women, because I would have followed my Dad and [uncle] Darren [Magee] in football and it’d be more than men’s side.

“The fact that any girl or a few girls could even [look up to you]. You never think of yourself like that, you just play your football but then when you see stuff like that, it hits home.

“It was so nice that literally just going in, buying a card and sending it to her meant so much. The Mam sent me the video of her opening it and like, it was beautiful. It was amazing for something that I would think would be so small to mean so much for someone else.

“It was really nice. Those type of things don’t cost anything. You always have to be humble with whatever you do, whether you’re the most famous person in the world or not – in sport or anything. If you give anything to anyone, respect them and show them that you appreciate their support, it just goes a long way.

“It was really nice and I couldn’t believe the book and all for the school. It was really cute, really nice.”

As she says later on, if you’re not humble, you won’t get anywhere in life in general. You have to give back, and that’s drilled into this Dublin team. “It doesn’t cost to be kind,” Magee concludes, a nice note to finish on.

- Another feature with Lauren Magee will follow tomorrow morning.

***

Dublin star Lauren Magee was speaking at the launch of the Beko Club Champion, a competition open for all Leinster GAA clubs. 

People are asked to nominate their club to be in with a chance of winning €1,000 worth of equipment. For more information visit the Leinster GAA wesbite

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Emma Duffy

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