The Mayo Ladies footballers have had their fair share of the headlines for reasons off-the-pitch over the years - but one of their stars is determined to keep creating good ones on-the-pitch for as long as she can.
Speaking this week, Sarah Rowe outlined her ambition to play for the county for as long as she is able, stating: "My loyalty to Mayo has always been to the forefront and I absolutely adore Mayo and I want to play for Mayo until I can’t walk anymore." The Kilmoremoy player made the comments during a zoom call this week to launch Lidl’s support of the latest phase of the 20x20 campaign - No Proving. Just Moving - which is designed to encourage women of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to get involved in exercise.
Rowe was one of a number of Mayo based players who were plying their trade in the Australian Women's Football League (AWFL ) over the Winter and into the Spring, where she won the AFL Irish Player of the Year for her endeavours with Collingwood. This was her second AWFL stint - but the possibility of doing a third and still playing with Mayo looks a hard one to achieve, following comments from Mayo Ladies Manager Peter Leahy, that players would have to pick which sport they wanted to play as 'you couldn't do both'.
Leahy's comments didn't take Rowe by surprise and she has yet to have a conversation with Leahy on the matter: "We haven’t met up or had a one-on-one conversation. I’m sure that conversation is down the tracks as well.
"But like I said, I just don’t know at the moment. Things are too uncertain, travel restrictions are uncertain, all those kinds of things. Until all that changes, I won’t know what I’m doing. But I completely respect where Peter is coming from and understand the position he’s in. So whatever decision we make will be the right one for us. We’ll see down the line but right now, I’m not sure.
"I’ve kind of known that something like that was down the tracks and I completely understand where he’s coming from. We go off and we play for a certain amount of time, and then we come back and go straight into the team. So it’s just out of respect I suppose for the other girls as well.
"It probably is getting more physically demanding, both ladies football and AFL, so there was always going to be a time where there had to be a decision made. For now, we’ll just listen and talk it out and make sure that myself and Peter and the girls communicate. As long as we’re open and honest, that’s the main thing."
The opportunities that going to Australia has presented and being a full-time athlete for the duration of the season out there, is something Rowe has found very beneficial: "It’s been great, it’s been such a good opportunity. Physically, mentally, self-learning, self-growth, all of that kind of thing has been really good, just to be in a professional environment and pick the brains of elite athletes around you.
"On that side of things I’ve learned so much about myself and what it looks like to be a high-performance athlete. It’s been such a good opportunity and I really enjoyed it", she said.
As for whether she will go back for a third year - that is still up in the air, she said: "The future is still quite uncertain for everyone. The sign-in date is between August 1 and 17 so it’s down the tracks, but there have been no conversations had or anything at the moment.
"People are focusing on Covid and all that stuff, I don’t think there will be any real talk until the start of August. So for now I still don’t know what I’m at. I’m taking it day by day, training with my club and then on to the county next. I’ll try to make a decision then after that."
Improving as an athlete is not the only thing that Rowe used her time for while down under, she also used the time to throw herself in to studies: "I was studying out there and so that’s why this campaign is very close to my heart. I studied life coaching, hypnosis and NLB, which is neural linguistic programming.
"So it is all about subconscious mind-training, training our brains to think a certain way and to be a certain way, habit forming and changing the way we think and look at things; so that’s why I think this campaign is very relevant in terms of habit changing and the way we act and that determining how we feel and how exercise has a huge benefit to our lives.
"I went to a life coach about four years ago, it was kind of like a sports psychology type of thing but it was like anything and everything; and I just liked the way she approached me and how she taught me how to think, those kind of things. I felt really in control of myself. So I found it very beneficial and said I really want to study this or understand it more.
"I planned on doing it this year but when I was over in Australia, the opportunity came up and someone said, why not do it now, so I went and did it.
"Hypnosis is a lot about habit change, for smokers, drinkers, all that kind of stuff. So I wanted to learn more about it. In the process you learn a lot about yourself. It's been brilliant. I found that I've nearly unlocked a secret.
"I'm qualified in hypnosis and in life coaching, so I've started to take on clients over the last three weeks and that's also been brilliant. I love working with other people and trying to get the best out of other people talking things out; coming from a really non judgmental point of view, in terms of the hypnosis itself.
"I'm not in playing season at the moment but normally you would do a self hypnosis type of thing before you go to bed at night, and I find that really works for me.
"Each to their own in these things but in terms of mindset, athletes are constantly trying to do different things and learn more about themselves, in order to better themselves. You can physically train your body and train out to the level you need to be at, but if you can’t train your mind to be a certain way, you're wasting your time as well. So it's very important we do look after our minds, and we know where we're going. and we know what we want to do."
Rowe's Collingwood team was knocked out of the AWFL championship the day before the competition was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic and it took her three attempts to get back home, with her first two flights out cancelled at short notice - something that she took in her stride; but it did worry her parents she admitted and since she got home, she's enjoyed her time with family and friends.
"I’ve really enjoyed the precious time with my family. It’s time that you’ll never get back. That side of things has been lovely. It’s been nice as well to get a break from training, mentally and physically. I don’t think I’ve had that ever in my life," she said.
While the break has been good, she's looking forward to a return to action and has started back training with her club who are stepping up to the senior championship this year and have a few tough tests on a local level before the inter-county game gets going again.
"We have Westport, Carnacon and Knockmore. So it's our first year senior this year. It's a big step up for us to go back training in the last week, it's been great to be back with all the girls. We want to play at the highest level, and senior is where that's at. So we're looking forward to it and the challenge of all that."
In the inter-county game it's a whole different type of championship with no Connacht title to contest for and going straight into a round robin system. "We drew Armagh and Tyrone. It won't be like a year in your usual championship. We don't have Galway in the Connacht final, but who knows we could meet them down the tracks. I am really looking forward to it. There's a lot of young players coming from minor level who have been really impressive in training. There's a great culture within the team and we're just driving standards, trying to do the best we can, every day. We'll take one game at a time. Slow and steady. Firstly we look to Armagh and take it from there."
Sarah Rowe is an ambassador for Lidi's support of the latest phase of the 20x20 campaign, “No Proving. Just Moving”, designed to encourage women of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to get involved in exercise.