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'You could never repay your parents. I'm just so grateful for them, I mean that from the bottom of my heart'

Sarah Rowe’s parents, Gráinne and Alan, have had a huge influence on the Mayo star’s glittering career so far.

Updated Aug 29th 2020, 10:27 AM

SARAH ROWE CAN’T help but laugh when her mother comes up in conversation.

Screenshot 2020-08-26 at 16.45.25 Sarah Rowe with her mother Gráinne, and sisters Lorna and Fiona. Source: 20x20.

Gráinne — or ‘G-Bomb’ as she’s lovingly referred to by the Mayo ladies football and Collingwood Aussie Rules star — became nothing short of an Instagram sensation overnight this summer.

Appearing on camera alongside her daughter and sharing words of wisdom with Sarah’s almost 40,000 followers on a daily basis, Gráinne became one of the faces of the 20×20 and Lidl Moves ‘No Proving Just Moving’ campaign.

Its aim? To get women of all ages, shapes, sizes, abilities and backgrounds moving and recognising the many benefits that come with exercise.

Sarah helped Gráinne document her journey, and her followers across the globe fell in love with this ‘typical Irish Mammy’ and her ways.

“Stop… ah, G-Bomb,” Sarah giggles. “She’s a celeb in Ballina at the minute. We can’t go anywhere and she’s getting stopped, every single time.

“She doesn’t get the whole Instagram thing so she doesn’t even realise how exposed she really was. She’s just so herself, I think that was the funny thing about it. That’s exactly what our conversations are like in the kitchen in the morning when we’re having our breakfast.

Nothing changed when I put on the camera. You know how people put on acts, people sometimes aren’t as they seem on social media, but no, what you saw on social media is who Grainne Rowe is.”

The messages came from far and wide, up on 100 people replying to the Instagram stories on a daily basis.

“I had people messaging me in different countries being like, ‘I’m so homesick at the moment and your mum is making me more homesick but is also really comforting in another way,’” Sarah adds, with a definite smile breaking out on the other end of the phone.

“And then so many people being like, ‘She’s given me such inspiration, you seem to have such a normal home.’ Like everyone, we had our fair share of craic in this house, and trouble and everything!”

The Rowe household has always been a busy one. While 25-year-old Sarah has already carved out a glittering career between Gaelic football, AFLW and international soccer, her older sisters Lorna and Fiona have also enjoyed their fair share of sport and exercise.

And they’ve been encouraged by their parents, Alan and Gráinne, each and every step of the way — through the ups and downs. They’re a special pair, Sarah nods, and they’ve helped her become both the person and the athlete she is today.

She, more than anyone, knows she has a lot to thank them for.

Oh, like I couldn’t… you could never repay your parents. Everyone says, ‘I have the best parents.’ Everyone thinks they have the best parents in the world… I’m just so grateful for them. I really mean that from the bottom of my heart. They could not be more supportive of me.

“Dad is the person who would drive me around to the games, who gave me feedback, helps me with anything, shows me hard work every single day of his life by the way he lived his life — and has taught me that from a very young age.

“I distinctly remember when I was younger, me sulking over playing a bad game, and Dad coming in and saying, ‘While it’s okay to be disappointed in your own home, you can’t show that after a game.’ We had won the game but I was disappointed with my own performance.

“He was like, ‘It’s not about you, it’s about the team and you’ve to always remember that.’ Things like that stick with you forever and you don’t realise how much you’re taking in as a child.”

Gráinne, on the other hand, did more of the behind-the-scenes work:

“She’d literally be cleaning my boots, my gear would be washed, everything would be ready at the door for me, she had me absolutely spoilt. Cooking me food, running and racing around.

“She never really understood a penny of the stuff, in a really refreshing, funny way but would be always really supportive regarding mindset stuff and saying, ‘Everything is fine, but you just need to work really hard.’

That was always their ethos: it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do your best.”

sarah alan Sarah Rowe with her father, Alan. Source: Sarah Rowe Twitter.

Gráinne has provided some serious comedy relief through the years too, just as she did on Instagram over the past few weeks.

“Mum would come to a game and she’d crack me up after,” Rowe recalls. “She’d be like, ‘That was faaaabulous game.’ I’d be like, ‘That’s not really the vocabulary I would use for a game but if that’s what you think, fair enough!’

“She said it the other day on a Ladies Football video [interview]: ‘Football is quite cool at the moment, it’s kind of trendy.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah Mum, fashionable, trendy, fabulous… they’re all the words that I associate with football.’

It’s so refreshing. One game as well I came home, again sulking because I wasn’t happy with my performance, and she just said, ‘I’m sorry lovie now, but life doesn’t revolve around football and no one else cares so you need to get over yourself.’”

“Fair enough,” Rowe laughs. “They always had this funny way of just keeping your feet firmly on the ground.”

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They’ve been with their daughter every step of the way along an extremely colourful sporting journey. With strong Gaelic games roots — her grandfather Paddy was a member of the famous 1951 Mayo All-Ireland winning team — Sarah soon found herself lining out for Kilmoremoy and then wearing the famous Green and Red herself.

As her star rose, she begam splitting her life between Gaelic football and soccer, playing for Ballina Town and Castlebar Celtic before moving to Dublin for college in DCU, where she joined Raheny, who later amalgamated with Shelbourne.

Her underage international soccer career was a fruitful one, and she was a pillar of the history-making U19 Ireland side who reached a European championship semi-final. While she has a handful of senior caps too, she focused on Mayo football over the past few years, along with undertaking a new challenge of AFLW in Australia.

Currently preparing for her third season with Collingwood, Rowe finds it difficult to reflect on a glittering sporting career, and to really assess where she finds herself today.

lidl-girls-play-too-launch Rowe, Jacqui Hurley and Katie Mullan launching Girls Play Too. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

“This is a funny one,” she concedes, preferring to look forward rather than back. “I think with sports people, you’re just never satisfied.

“Sport’s great and everything, but the one thing about sport is there’s not that much of a switch-off with it because you’re always trying to figure out new ways, you’re always staying curious as to how you can learn and be better.

“All the time, I’m asking questions, I’m like, ‘Okay, I need to get faster, who can I go to?’”

And that brought her to training with Irish sprint sensation Phil Healy and her coach Shane McCormack as lockdown restrictions loosened on these shores.

“It was so nice to even just pick her brains on her mentality as an individual athlete, listen to her and see how she trains, how her coach Shane is with her all the time. She’s more or less lived in his house over lockdown. I just found it a really cool story.

“It’s so interesting to see what they do. Even today, being up at this [Girls Play Too] launch and talking to Katie [Mullan, Ireland hockey captain] about what her training consists of when she was in Germany playing hockey, when she’s in Ireland. You can learn so much from other athletes and experts in their field.

Training with Phil and her coach was brilliant because it’s just interesting to see the different things that they do. The way athletes train is so different to the way footballers train but I think we can all learn things from each other.”

“You’re just constantly wanting to pick other people’s brains and learn and grow all the time,” Rowe adds. “You kind of forget to look at yourself or reflect on anything because you’re so focused on what’s next.

“It’s something we should probably do more often but it’s not something I really do.”

Likewise, she remains in close contact with several of her Irish soccer team-mates, picking their brains on training as well as staying in touch on a personal level.

Herself, Katie McCabe, Clare Shine and Chloe Mustaki keep a “very active” group chat, talking all the time.

“We’re just always chatting about training and like any significant events in any of our lives. We had such a lovely bond, that team, and it’s one that will stick with me forever.

the-republic-of-ireland-team Rowe (13) with that history-making Ireland U19 side. Source: Anders Hoven/INPHO

“While you don’t see them people, you just look at them and you’re so proud of what they’re achieving. Katie being at Arsenal, at the start having one or two rough years and then becoming captain of Ireland, to see that and to know her family and all her background.

Chloe and Clare, they’ve been through the wars and to see them come out the other end of all that is just amazing. I’m just so proud of them, genuinely.”

Rowe is currently enjoying her club football with Kilmoremoy before her attention focuses to the inter-county scene ahead of the All-Ireland senior championship in late October.

She’ll remain in the Mayo set-up as long as they’re involved, before returning to Collingwood for pre-season training there.

Away from sport, she’s busy with her new business after studying life coaching and hypnosis. Also with a PE and Biology Teaching degree, Rowe recently took on 20 clients on a one-on-one basis — though she’s looking into speaking to groups in the near future as her website gets up and running — and is loving her new venture.

“It’s about we are who we are because of the experiences we lived,” she concludes. “It’s about figuring out where we come from and why we are the way we are.

It’s about present and future, how do you get past them blockages, how do you move forward because at the end of the day, we can’t do anything about what’s happened in our past only learn and grow from it.

“It’s reframing the way you’re thinking about things, having a voice, having a sounding board to bounce things off and just being there for them.

“It has been extremely enjoyable for me. It’s very rewarding when you get messages from people saying, ‘You’ve really helped me with my mindset.’ It’s kind of a two-way street.”

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 in Ireland until Sunday, 6 September. 

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About the author:

Emma Duffy

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