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'Yes, I signed a contract but I won't believe it until I'm over on Australian soil that I'm there'

Mayo star Sarah Rowe recently signed a new two-year contract at Collingwood.

VERY LITTLE IS ever certain in life, and even less so in the current climate.

As Mayo and Collingwood star Sarah Rowe well knows, and stresses over and over again.

lidl-girls-play-too-launch Sarah Rowe launching Jacqui Hurley's 'Girls Play Too – Inspiring Stories of Irish Sportswomen' book, which will be exclusively on sale in Lidl from 20 August to 6 September. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

Having recently signed a two-year contract with her Australian Football League Women’s [AFWL] side, the 25-year-old knows it may mean little to nothing in a few weeks time given the Covid-19 pandemic.

The decision to return to Australia was no easy one, she assures, with the real decisive factor coming when she was given the green light to play both inter-county football and Aussie Rules despite the clash between the championship and pre-season later this year.

“I signed a two-year contract,” she tells The42, “this year is obviously subject to change in so many ways. I was happy to sign the contract in the end and I think the most important thing for me was that I knew that I could play the Mayo season until the very end.

“I felt like I had to make a decision based off what was placed in front of me and the most information that I had is that the AFL season, as of now, will go ahead, Mayo will go ahead until Christmas and then after that, we don’t really know anything else.

“I was like, ‘I have to make decisions based off the information that’s placed in front of me.’ Other than that, you’re kind of waiting and wondering, and you can’t just wait and wonder for what might or may happen. It was the most sensible decision, I think, provided the information I had.”

While Mayo Ladies manager Peter Leahy previously said his players will have to choose whether to commit to the Green and Red jersey or AFLW going forward, it now appears that is not the case for 2020.

The42 understands that Sister Act Grace and Niamh Kelly will play inter-county football before returning to West Coast Eagles while Aileen Gilroy recently signed a new deal with North Melbourne.

Should all go to plan, the Mayo contingent will again miss the majority of the Division 1 league campaign in 2021, but Kilmoremoy forward Rowe is just thinking about this side of Christmas for now.

“That’s the most important thing, as long as I can play the Mayo [2020 inter-county] season. I think with the way life is at the moment, no one knows whether the league will start again in January or February. Everything is short-term.

“Collingwood have given me that approval that I can play with Mayo until this season ends, whether that is an All-Ireland semi-final or the end of group stages, whatever it is, or even if it was the final, I’d fly out on Stephen’s day.

aflw-lions-magpies Sarah Rowe and Aisling Sheridan are the two Irish players at Collingwood. Source: AAP/PA Images

“I just have to fly within around 48 hours of whenever I lose basically. And then I have to do two weeks quarantine over there in the hotel. Then I’ll move into a house or whatever and then depending, I’ll have two or three weeks to prepare for the season.

“It will be really quick turnaround, but again, everything is subject to change at the moment re Australia, re life. It’s one of those things that I’m like, ‘Yes, I signed a contract but I won’t believe it until I’m over on Australian soil that I’m there.’ It’s still a bit up in the air I feel.”

All going well, she’ll enjoy another impressive season Down Under when her inter-county duties conclude, before returning to the Mayo cause after the 2021 AFLW season. “But again, it’s just not going to be as easy to fly and all that stuff,” she adds.

“You’re running a bit of a risk but at the same time, hopefully it’ll all work out. I’m just optimistic in that way, that things just work out the way that they’re meant to work out anyway.”

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For now, Rowe is just grateful she can train and play with her beloved Kilmoremoy — whether that be behind closed doors or otherwise — as she enjoys being back in a group environment, unlike her Collingwood team-mates who are living under tightened Covid restrictions once again.

Despite technically not being ‘in contract’ at the minute, she’s in constant contact with Collingwood and is following gym and running programmes provided by the club.

The 2020 AFL Ireland Irish Player of the Year is also busy with work and starting her own business after studying life coaching, hypnosis and NLP [neuro-linguistic programming] in Australia.

A PE and Biology graduate of DCU, teaching is always in the back of Rowe’s mind too — especially if the Australian dream doesn’t work out this time around. But she’s hoping it won’t come to that, and is looking forward to joining huge Irish representation in the league.

18 were on the books in 2020, and Rowe is one of 15 confirmed for the 2021 season thus far — Louth’s Kate Flood, Fermanagh’s Joanne Doonan and Galway’s Mairead Seoighe aren’t returning — with the announcements coming thick and fast over the past few days.

“It’s brilliant to see all the Irish girls go out,” Rowe concludes. “Obviously with such uncertain times, you would imagine that people took a small bit longer to make their decision. I do believe that whatever decision you make will be the right one for you.

sarah-rowe Playing for Mayo in the 2017 All-Ireland final. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I think it’s Friday, the very last announcements will be made. Maybe there will be one or two more Irish, I don’t know, but at the same time, it’s kind of unfortunate the way things have happened because I do believe there’d be more Irish, like an influx of them again this year, had Covid not have happened.

“Obviously, it’s a bit complicated, trying to get Irish players out there because they have to pay for your flights, they have to pay for your quarantine so it’s that extra expense for clubs.

“I think it’s unfortunate the way things have fallen because there’s so much more opportunity out there for so many more Irish girls and I hope that that continues to flourish and that Irish girls continue to get opportunities.

“Obviously, there’s so much talent here that can do so well over there. So like hopefully anyway, that goes back to the way it was before Covid came.”

***

Lidl Ireland celebrates the launch of ‘Girls Play Too: Inspiring Stories Of Irish Sportswomen’, the first ever collection of stories about Ireland’s most accomplished sportswomen. The book is available exclusively in all Lidl stores across the island of Ireland from Thursday, 20 August to Sunday, 6 September. 

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Emma Duffy

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