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'It was definitely a hard decision' - Tipp triple-threat back in Australia and missing business end here
It’s a time of mixed emotions for Orla O’Dwyer, who will be watching her camogie side in an All-Ireland quarter-final from afar.

THIS IS BITTERSWEET, a time of mixed emotions for Orla O’Dwyer, who’s back in Australia after saying goodbye to life in Tipperary once again.

ood Inpho / Brisbane Lions. Triple-threat: Orla O'Dwyer. Inpho / Brisbane Lions. / Brisbane Lions.

One of the country’s top dual stars, O’Dwyer set off for Brisbane last week ahead of her second season in the Australian Football League Women’s [AFLW]. With the ladies football and camogie championships in full flow here, she was the first of the 17-strong Irish contingent to make the journey as pre-season starts Down Under.

It’s come at a cost, though: the 22-year-old missed out on Tipperary’s football championship meeting with Monaghan on Friday night and she’ll be a notable absentee when the county’s camogie team face Waterford in their All-Ireland quarter-final on Saturday.

O’Dwyer will be glued to the action from thousands of miles away, though, following each and every puck of the ball from her hotel room as she continues self-isolating.

While she’s excited to be Down Under once again and looking forward to the season ahead with Brisbane Lions, O’Dwyer admits it was hard to leave home — especially given the rich vein of form she was enjoying in both codes.

“With the camogie, we were going very well,” she tells The42. “We won our first match against Clare and then Dublin, and they’re out in a quarter-final this weekend against Waterford so I’m sickened to be missing that… and training, I was loving going training.

“That’s all I was looking forward to, it’s all I could look forward to back home; training every evening with the camogie and football. I was delighted to get some games in and then with the football, I played the Galway match but missed the Monaghan one last Friday. They lost by a point so that’s the football finished.

It was great to get back and play with the girls especially after missing the league, and I was delighted to get back training and back to sport that I knew well and that I’ve been playing for so long.”

But an early return to Australia felt like the right move for O’Dwyer given the Covid-19 situation, and the fact that she’s again put her college studies on hold.

Born in Sydney, her Australian citizenship and passport made planning much easier as other Irish players faced the lengthy process of securing travel exemptions. 

“I could kind of go back whenever so I think that’s why I decided to leave earlier,” the UL PE and Irish student explains. “As well as that, I deferred my college year so at home, I wasn’t really doing much. I kind of wanted to get back out and not miss much pre-season.

“I knew I needed to catch up on some AFL skills and stuff so yeah, I was delighted once I got a flight. Two of my flights actually got cancelled so I got this one last minute, it was great.”

The clash is an unfortunate one with Irish women’s Aussie Rules players enjoying the best of both worlds up to now; based Down Under from pre-season in early November until the campaign’s end in March before linking up with their respective county set-ups for championship action.

orla-odwyer-celebrates-after-the-game Oisin Keniry / INPHO After last year's All-Ireland quarter-final. Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

But it’s one that cannot be avoided, though many clubs have allowed players conclude their inter-county commitments before returning to Oz.

This is 2020 after all, and O’Dwyer certainly won’t complain.

“There was so much uncertainty this year. Even decisions I had to make, everything was changing on a day-to-day basis that I didn’t even know myself half the time when and if I was going to get out here, and what way the season would go back home; if it would get pulled or cancelled or how that would turn out.

“I think it was just kind of a chance I took. With missing college too and finishing up my job, I was just at home training away and I felt like my season was starting out here at the start of November. I didn’t want to miss much of that.

It was definitely a hard decision and obviously I didn’t want to let down any of the team. Even just leaving home as well was hard to do. But hopefully now, going into the season here, I know what to expect.

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“I know what pre-season looks like and we have a few new girls as well, I’m looking forward to meeting all of them and hopefully we have success as well here.”

The 2017 and 2019 All-Ireland intermediate ladies football champion has experienced plenty of that through her sporting career so far, and particularly appreciated the full-on club window this summer with Cashel and Boherlahan.

Her individual contributions to Tipperary in the past few weeks were also priceless, before she headed off once again. And she’s extremely positive about the future, and potential within both set-ups.

The back-to-back one-point defeats suffered by the newly-promoted footballers show “we’re well able to compete” however sickening they were, and will “make us a lot stronger” going forward, while O’Dwyer be keeping a keen eye on camogie proceedings at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday.

Against Waterford as well, who we usually get caught playing in quarter-finals somewhere along the way,” she points out. “That’ll be a great game and I’ll be definitely watching from here and linking up to that.

“Hopefully now we get over the line. The past few years with camogie, we’ve been there or thereabouts, getting knocked out at the semi-final stage. I really hope that we can go further this year.

“The first step is trying to get over the line of Waterford, who we know are a very good team and have excellent players. But hopefully we come out on top on the day.”

The opportunity to tune in will surely come as a highlight through a strange, but necessary, two-week isolation period before O’Dwyer immerses herself fully into life at the Lions once again.

Screenshot 2020-11-11 at 13.54.03 AFL Photos / AFLW. O'Dwyer gets a handball away for the Lions. AFL Photos / AFLW. / AFLW.

Though she’s been confined to her hotel room for the most part, she’s got a feel for the city through the pandemic and it’s a “breath of fresh air” to see people going about their normal lives once again, with less emphasis put on masks and business premises open and busy.

“It’s definitely foreign to me,” she concludes on her isolation stint. “They have it very under control here and it’s it’s a very strict regime but it seems to be working. I’m into day five now, I think you have to have a structure and routine each day.

“I’m still not adjusted to the whole Australian times yet so I’m still getting up pretty early. We get to go outside as well so I’d do a run or walk around, it’s lovely to get the sun and fresh air in. Breakfast, dinner and lunch all come at certain times so you’re kind of waiting for the meals to come, you’re excited for them.

“The club have been very good, they brought me a foam roller, an AFL ball, some weights and a Watt bike as well so kept busy with doing that kind of stuff with lots of Netflix on top of that. It’s fine, I get time to call home and call people here as well. The club and the girls have been very supportive, which makes it a lot easier.

“I’m delighted now and once I’m out of here I’ll probably be happier.”

- Another feature with Orla O’Dwyer will follow on The42 this weekend.

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