Friday 20 October 2017

Small town girl aiming big

Carla Rowe inspiring whole Naul community ahead of ladies final, writes Aisling Crowe

Carla Rowe: 'I don't remember the nights out I've missed, I remember the games I've won.' Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE
Carla Rowe: 'I don't remember the nights out I've missed, I remember the games I've won.' Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE

Aisling Crowe

'Small village, big dreams". Two summers ago, as the Clann Mhuire ladies' football team tuned up for their championship campaign, one of their younger members jokingly came up with that phrase about their home village. The little football club from Naul has ambitions larger than its physical size and what started life as an amusing throwaway remark has come to embody the club.

Today a different girl from the small village that dreams big is moments away from fulfilling the greatest dream of all.

Carla Rowe is one of football's nascent stars. In a Dublin team brimming with talent, the 19-year-old student shines brightly even though she only took up the sport seven years ago.

The rest of the country sees Dublin as the vast metropolis, gobbling up the people and resources, tearing the spotlight away from the other 31 counties. This image of the dominant city leaves no room for an idea of Dublin the county, the rural areas outside the urban heartland ignored or simply forgotten about.

Some might be surprised to find there is a rural part of the county but the countryside around the capital has much the same social landscape as the rest of the country. The GAA is the plain stitch knitting the community together, just the same as in parishes and villages the length and breadth of this island,

That was Rowe's experience when her family moved to the village from Lusk when she was 12. The GAA is the beating heart of Naul and soon her pulse chimed with its rhythm. Now it is the north Dublin community which is beating to Rowe's rhythm.

"The whole village is so excited about the match. Everyone I see is wishing me luck and asking how I'm set so they're all getting excited about it. They are really proud of me and they are getting behind the whole team. I got a tweet on Monday to say that the club had 100 tickets bought for the match and it said 'Supporting Carla Rowe' so it's really nice that they are all getting behind me," she smiles.

The Dundalk IT health and physical activity student had no footballing experience until her family moved across the Dublin countryside. The four Rowe children weren't that interested in football either. Her older sister played a little when they first joined up and her younger sister plays in school but none of her three siblings share her love of it. Her immersion in the game brought her father along on the current and he is daughter's strongest supporter and most fearless critic.

"He has always been there. I always want to be told out straight when I come off after a match or training how I did," says the bubbly teenager, who has a steel that her open demeanour and chatty candour hide.

"You might say to some people, 'Oh I wasn't great,' and they'd say, 'No you were fine.' Well my dad has always been the person to say, 'You did this right but you did this wrong so you need to work on it'. I love when he says it out straight to me and he is there all the time, no matter what, if it's good or bad. He never played football but once I started playing he loved it and he loves going."

When she speaks of the training and dedication needed to climb this close to the summit of the sport's highest peak, it is easy to forget she is just 19. Like so many women, Rowe watches what she eats and drinks but not out of reasons of vanity or a desire to acquire what they are told is the perfect body.

The footballer must log her hydration and nutrition for each day. On top of lectures, tutorials and assignments along with the car pool commute she undertakes to Dundalk daily, is gym work, analysis sessions and training, and that's even without considering the club games and inter-county matches she plays.

The hectic social life of a college student is denied to Rowe. While friends are planning their nights out, she is planning how to overcome Cork or whatever fixture happens to be next on the list. Her friends are hugely supportive and will be in Croke Park shouting themselves hoarse for her today but, occasionally, there is the fleeting feeling of missing out on that carefree life.

"1 think everybody has that at some point where we have said, 'Oh I'm committed to this but all my friends are going out or on holidays,' but then you get to something like this and you realise that none of that matters. I don't remember the nights out I've missed, I remember the games I've won."

The professional approach extends to psychology. In the lead-in to the biggest game of her life so far, she has employed techniques to keep the outside world and expectations from impinging on her internal equilibrium.

People say to me, 'Are you all set?' and 'Oh I think you're going to win it,' but you have to block that out. You just put on the smile and say, 'yeah we are all set,' and that's it really," she says of the anticipation that is growing in her friends and neighbours. "We were told this thing that we have to be like a traffic light so we are on red till the game starts and that's how I'm working it, keeping the excitement in. If I need to talk to someone, I go and talk to one of my friends Maria, whom I'm very close to, or my dad or to Greg (McGonigle, Dublin manager) but I just make sure that I keep a level head. It's not going to be an easy game and we are going to have to dig deep to come out on the right side," she smiles, her face betraying not the merest hint of anxiety.

And why would there be? Although Cork have had a monopoly on the All-Ireland title in the last decade, the younger Dublin girls have no fear of their Rebel rivals. Earlier this year the under 21 team, of which Rowe was one of the leading lights, defeated Cork in the All-Ireland final. Along with the Clann Mhuire half-forward, a number of other members of the team graduated to the senior squad. Success and confidence electrifies the panel, generated by a manager in his first season and sustained by the desire to add to Dublin's only All-Ireland crown, won in 2010.

Their professional approach has no room for dwelling on dreams or imaginings of future events but for a second she allows herself the space to contemplate an All-Ireland win.

"It would mean everything, just from all the hard work all year. This is where we aimed to be all year. We were told just focus on one target and move on, but always in the back of everybody's minds we knew this is where we wanted to be. It would mean the world to win it but I haven't thought about it yet," she quickly snaps back to the reality and the present, but Carla Rowe remains the girl from the small club with the biggest dream of all.

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