Day in the life: Sarah Rowe on the appeal of Australia and making sport her job

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Day In The Life: Sarah Rowe On The Appeal Of Australia And Making Sport Her Job Day In The Life: Sarah Rowe On The Appeal Of Australia And Making Sport Her Job
Mayo's Sarah Rowe joined Australian Football club Collingwood in 2018. Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
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Muireann Duffy

Reluctantly waving goodbye to the summer and facing into Ireland’s inevitably cold, dark winter, the draw of Australia’s sun, sea and sand is understandably appealing.

But for Mayo’s Sarah Rowe, it was the draw of the AFLW that sent her to the other side of the world.

Keen to fill their game with talented athletes, Australian Football began setting its sights on GAA players in what became known as the ‘Irish experiment’ back in the 1980’s, leading the likes of Dublin’s Jim Stynes and, more recently, Laois’ Zach Tuohy to hugely successful AFL careers.

The establishment of the semi-professional women’s league - the AFLW - in 2017 has seen the women’s code follow suit, with Tipperary’s Aisling McCarthy, Clare’s Ailish Considine and Rowe’s county teammate Cora Staunton among its top Irish recruits.

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Such is the Irish contingent in the league, TG4 is continuing its coverage of the AFLW season this year, showing highlights each weekend.

I was blown away by the professionalism of everything

Having played for Mayo all the way up through the underage ranks before making her Senior debut in 2012, as well as playing soccer for the national squad, Rowe's decision to leave Ireland was not easily made.

However, she admits it was a preseason trip to Oz that cemented in her mind that it was something she needed to at least try, initially signing a one-season contract with Collingwood in 2018.

"I was blown away by the professionalism of everything," she says, adding that the club had "everything you could possibly want", covering all areas of coaching, nutrition, strength and conditioning, recovery - the list goes on and on.

Aware that she was in uncharted waters, the 27-year-old used her rookie year to learn as much as possible: "My first season when I went over, I remember doing everything meticulously well.

"I remember sitting in the gym thinking: ‘This is my job now, it’s my duty to look after myself on and off the pitch."

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As far as her day goes, Rowe says the fact that sport is now her profession means it’s a consideration in everything she does, from food to sleep, training to recovery, and everything in-between.

There’s no switch-off, she says, because "everything you do in your day impacts your performance".

"There are stats on absolutely everything we do. You have to make sure that you’re doing absolutely everything right off the field, as well as everything on the field.

"The pressure makes you do small things better, because I have to, it’s my job."

The pull of home and wanting to represent her own country is still strong for Rowe, but she believes it doesn’t feel right to return to the Mayo set-up when the AFLW season allows, knowing that other girls have been working hard for a spot on the team while she, in her own words, has been "putting her energy elsewhere".

"You want to build something from the start," she adds.

Sarah Rowe celebrating with her Mayo teammates after their win over Cavan in the 2018 All-Ireland Championship. Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

And her energy has been well spent with Collingwood.

Now a fifth year player, Rowe's decision to commit to the AFLW and build connections within the club means she has skin in the game and wants to help drive her team and, as a consequence, the sport forward.

"In order for us to get the game to where we want it to go, full-time professional, the hours need to be put in by the players now.

"I think we’re putting in that full-time effort to hopefully reap the rewards in the coming years."

The debate rages on over whether the departure of some of our best sporting talent to Australia is having a negative impact on the standard of our own game, but perhaps we shouldn’t begrudge the AFLW for giving our players what we cannot.

Having been an ambassador for the 20x20 campaign, Rowe is aware of how representation and support of women in sport can impact young girls.

"It’s amazing to see the opportunities that girls can get over here," she says.

While playing Australian Football may not be the dream of every young Irish girl, it’s creating a possibility where previously there wasn’t one.

"If girls know that if they work hard enough they can play professionally, that’s amazing."

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