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Best of both worlds for now, but Mayo star Rowe understands growing fear of AFLW

Sarah Rowe has re-signed for Collingwood for 2020, but remains committed to the Green and Red after refusing a two-year contract.

Sarah Rowe at yesterday's Rowing Ireland announcement.
Sarah Rowe at yesterday's Rowing Ireland announcement.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

AFTER TURNING DOWN a two-year contract at AFLW side Collingwood, Mayo star Sarah Rowe says she understands the growing fear in ladies football circles of the lure of life Down Under.

The 23-year-old recently re-signed for the Melbourne outfit for the 2020 season but is fully committed to the Mayo cause, having returned to Peter Leahy’s set-up for the latter stages of the Division 1 league campaign and this summer’s championship action.

With the AFLW season finishing in plenty of time for inter-county players to get home for championship, the opportunity to do both is there. 

“It’s just how long you can do it for,” as Rowe says herself.

There’s the question of how one makes a living when they return to Ireland, but also the fact that the two sports’ seasons may overlap in the near future with the expansion of the AFLW.

That will bring the need to choose one or the other.

Kilmoremoy sharpshooter Rowe has stressed time and time again that she’s committed to the Green and Red, and reaffirmed that once more over the past few weeks when she refused to sign a two-year contract at Collingwood.

“I didn’t sign one because then you’re tied,” she said at the announcement of Kinetica Sports Nutrition as the official headline partner of Rowing Ireland yesterday.

“They could say, ‘Well, we need you for the VFL [the league's second tier that runs when the AFLW season finishes]‘. Technically they have full control of you. You’re theirs when the contract is signed. If people want to have a bit more stability and sign two-year contracts, it becomes a bit messier as well.

“They’d have said to me, ‘Oh we’d love if you could play for the VFL season’. I said, ‘Well, I’ll be playing for Mayo, so unlucky’.

Sarah Rowe On the ball in the 2017 All-Ireland final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I want to play for Mayo, I know that that’s what I want to do. That’s where my loyalty lies.

“Obviously, there’s still such a good opportunity out there, but I can’t see myself living in Australia full-time and upping and leaving my life in Ireland. Definitely, as a short-term thing, it’s a massive experience.” 

Last week, it was confirmed that two of her Mayo team-mates, Niamh and Grace Kelly, signed for the West Coast Eagles ahead of the new side’s first season in the Australian league.

Both emphasised their commitment to the Westerners in conversation with The42 afterwards, so it’s expected that they too will return to the fold along with Rowe when the 2020 season finishes up.

There are seven Irish players confirmed for next year already — Rowe, the Kelly sisters, Cora Staunton, Ailish Considine, Aisling McCarthy and Yvonne Bonner — with deals signed, sealed and delivered, and more expected to join them.

While Rowe and McCarthy are back on home soil for the summer ahead, Bonner and Considine remain Down Under after their exploits last season. There is that fear here that players won’t return, and there’s only a certain amount of time that the opportunity to do both will continue.

And Rowe fully understands that.

“Absolutely,” she nods. “It definitely is going to affect to GAA which is unfortunate.

“At the moment, the way it’s working, we’ll all be back for championship. That’s where people want to be at.

“But you can’t take the league for granted either, it’s not just a willy-nilly competition. You want to put your best foot forward for that as well. It does set you up well for the championship, having that amount of games under your belt.

AFLW MAGPIES KANGAROOS Celebrating a goal for Collingwood. Source: AAP/PA Images

“I don’t know how much longer it can be done for. I do see that there will be a good few more Irish going out next year. But after that…

“Obviously there’s four new teams this year in the AFLW, I don’t think they’ll be allowing any more into it any time soon after that. The quality isn’t high enough yet to have that many teams. Even adding four teams this year, I don’t know if that’s a great idea, but it is what it is.

“That means the season is going to be longer. We’re hoping that the season will start earlier rather than later. It probably won’t affect us in Connacht, we’ve such a long layover, but people in Munster could miss their first championship game. That’s when there’s a bit more of a blurred line.”

She adds: “I would like to think that Niamh and Grace will come home as well. They’d be like me: we live and breathe Mayo football all the same, even though it’s every athlete’s dream to go and play professional.

“Even if it’s not at your chosen sport, it’s at something. You learn a lot about the culture of a team, being an environment like that and what works for you and what doesn’t. There’s a lot to be gained from it.

“Hopefully they’ll come back and bring something new back.”

Fully back into the swing of things with Connacht championship looming, Rowe’s full focus really is on Leahy’s set-up, especially considering the fact that she’s a ‘lady of leisure,’ as she puts it, at the moment.

Aifric Keogh, Sanita Puspure and Monika Dukarska with Sarah Rowe and Anne Dalton At yesterday's announcement. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

A teacher by trade, she’ll technically begin summer holidays over the next few weeks, so she’s in the process of figuring out what to do work-wise.

She won’t get too worried however, and is happy to live in the moment.

“As a person I just take every day as it comes,” Rowe concludes. “Who knows? I could get injured and who knows, not go to Collingwood. I don’t know what’s around the corner.

“I’m with Mayo now, fully with them. When I’m there [Australia] I’m all there. I’m just focusing on the season with Mayo.

“Come September once that’s all over, I’ll get back to the oval ball. I think if I thought too far ahead, my mind would be muddled.”

Mayo star Sarah Rowe was on hand to announce Kinetica Sports Nutrition’s headline sponsorship of Rowing Ireland yesterday.

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Emma Duffy

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