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'Loads of girls on our team had previously suffered from mental health issues - I wanted to help them'

Mayo and Collingwood star Sarah Rowe on her recent AFLW award and subsequent donation to charity, and her plans going forward.

A GLITTERING MAIDEN campaign in the AFLW rounded off nicely. 

sarah rowe 1 Sarah Rowe donated some prize money to Headspace Australia after winning AFLW Multicultural Player of the Year. Source: Collingwood Women's Twitter.

She’s home now but Sarah Rowe capped a brilliant first year with Collingwood in the AFLW with the Women’s Footy AFL Multicultural Player of the Year award.

It’s a pretty significant feat considering the fact that the Mayo star scooped the accolade ahead of every other athlete in the league born outside of Australia. Many, she explains, fall into that category.

“It’s a fraud of an award,” she jokes, in conversation with The42, “because they all lived in Australia and played all their lives. I was pretty sure they made it up.

“I was like, ‘Did you make up this award for me, or what’s the story?’ They were saying, ‘No, no, no, Australians were eligible if they were born outside Australia.’”

But yes, a pretty significant achievement to land such a prestigious honour in her first year playing the sport.

“It’s lovely to get an award, of course. You’re honoured to receive any type of award especially it being my first season.

“But it’s more for all the people around me that made me better, the club were so good and so helpful. I feel that it’s more a testament to them than it is to me. They’ve been so good.”

And not only was it a nice piece of recognition for the 23-year-old and a fitting way to cap a brilliant spell Down Under, it comes as a huge boost to an organisation close to her heart.

Tobin Brothers Funerals, the business that sponsored the award, matched Rowe’s $2,500 prize money, donating the same amount to a charity of her choice: Headspace Australia, a non-profit organisation for youth mental health.

“The reason I picked Headspace was there were loads of girls on our team who had previously suffered from mental health issues, and I thought it was really relevant,” she added.

“I suppose just hearing different athletes’ stories and stuff over the course of the six months, I got to know a lot of the girls. A lot of sportspeople do suffer from mental health issues.

“When there’s that pressure for performance, people always need others to talk to. Sports psychology and all that is a big part of the game now. I just thought it was really relevant.

“I wanted to help them girls on my team. That’s why I felt it was kind of personal to me and the girls, and why I gave to them.”

While she speaks enthusiastically about her ‘massive experience’ in Melbourne and how much she learned by living a professional lifestyle, it’s all over for now and her entire focus is back on Mayo.

For now being the key words there.

There’s no denying from speaking to her that Rowe would love to go again next year, but it’s not just as simple as that. 

AFLW MAGPIES KANGAROOS Rowe celebrates scoring against the Kangaroos. Source: AAP/PA Images

With the expansion of the AFLW and the addition of four new teams in 2020, it was understood that it would lead to a longer season — meaning Irish players would ultimately have to choose one or the other should the lure of inter-county football sway them.

But now, the option of starting the league earlier is being explored so as not to overlap with the AFL season, meaning the AFLW would finish at the same time and allow ladies footballers to do both.

Rowe is well aware that she has a big decision to make should she be offered the opportunity to go again with re-signings imminent.

“As an athlete, you dream to play professional at whatever sport it is,” she says. “That’s the part that I absolutely loved and something that I’d find hard to say no to.

“I suppose there’s that other part of you that’s played Gaelic football all your life. You want to be able to do that for as long as you can. It pulls on your heartstrings a bit, I suppose. Loyalty never leaves you.

“I now have to weigh up whether I can do both next season, to have a chat with Peter [Leahy, Mayo manager], the girls, my family and friends and see where it takes me after that.

“Hopefully I can do the both of them but we’ll see how things go over the next few weeks. I’ll have to make my decision over the next probably two weeks.”

Rowe’s well used to making big decisions though, and accustomed to living life in the fast lane. The former international soccer star returned to home soil two weeks ago on a Thursday night, and she was at Mayo training less than 24 hours later.

Martha Byrne with Sarah Rowe On the ball with Mayo. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Her focus is firmly on the Westerners once again, having come on as a substitute in their last two Lidl Ladies National League Division 1 fixtures against Cork and Monaghan. She even managed to sandwich a holiday — a much-needed ‘mental break’ — in between. 

Now, she’s well and truly tuned in to all things Mayo and getting back into a normal routine. Yesterday, Leahy’s side came from 12 points down in a dramatic final group game with relegated Monaghan, and Rowe popped up with one of two added-time goals.

“I was just glad to get a few minutes under my belt,” she smiles. “It’s great to finish on that kind of high. We were delighted to get the draw after being down for much of the game. It was a great comeback. 

“We have a 10-week block now ahead of us, a lot of hard training to go in between now and the Connacht final. We’re looking forward to that.

“It’s so good to be home to the girls. They’ve put in so much hard work over the last while and it’s so good to see where they’ve come from to where they’re at now. To become a part of that and for me to completely switch my focus and change my thought process to football now is great.”

While she’s had to park the Aussie Rules dream, she still can’t but look back with fondness — and feel proud of herself and the four other Irish players that flew the flag with such distinction in the third edition of the AFLW.

11-time All-Star Cora Staunton and Donegal ace Yvonne Bonner starred for Greater Western Sydney (GWS) Giants, Tipperary’s Aisling McCarthy plied her trade with 2018 champions Western Bulldogs while Clare native Ailish Considine’s Adelaide Crows were victorious this time around.

Sarah Rowe celebrates with Rachel Kearns and Sarah Mulvihill after the game Celebrating with Mayo team-mates. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The Banner forward scored an early goal in the Grand Final as the Crows eased past Carlton in front of 53,000 at the Adelaide Oval. 

And that really pleased Rowe. Irish pride, as we’d say.

“It was so good to see Ailish…” she concluded. “…looking at her Instagrams and that, she seemed to have the best experience ever.

“She absolutely relished it and nearly came out of herself. I think it’s so good to see that sport can do so much for people. For her to get such a good opportunity… Playing with Clare at home and not having as much success as that, it’s class that she could go over and experience so much success in such a great environment.

“They were a team that I really admired. She was really lucky to be a part of it but she did herself justice as well which was great.

“Scoring a goal in the final too, I was absolutely delighted for her.”

A fitting way for her to round off year two, perhaps? Should things go that way, of course.

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Emma Duffy

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