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'I miss soccer and I am talking to AFL clubs, but Mayo is my priority'

Multi-talented Sarah Rowe weighing up her career options as she eyes All-Ireland title

Mayo’s Sarah Rowe is desperate to go one better than last year after reaching the All-Ireland final – a game played in front of 46,000 fans. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Mayo’s Sarah Rowe is desperate to go one better than last year after reaching the All-Ireland final – a game played in front of 46,000 fans. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

The advice was always the same, the message her grandad instilled sowing a seed that would, later in life, reap a fine harvest for Sarah Rowe.

"Only a good footballer can kick with both feet so get out and start kicking," he'd say. "You'll win nothing unless you can kick with both feet."

"I'm right-footed, but he wouldn't ever let me kick with my right," recalls Rowe, casting her mind back to those informal practices near her home in Ballina.

Who her grandfather was, and what he'd accomplished, left the young girl with no choice but to listen.

Paddy Jordan was a member of the All-Ireland-winning Mayo team in 1951 and in the years before he passed away in 2012, he'd delight in recounting tales from his glory days to a rapt young Rowe.

Little did Jordan know that he was cultivating a talent who would become an international soccer player and who, 66 years after his own historic day in Croke Park, would walk out in front of 46,000 fans to try to emulate his achievement.

Last year was Mayo's first appearance in the ladies football final since 2007, and older members of the squad like Cora Staunton had warned youngsters like Rowe, now 22, that they were in for a shock.

"You can never prepare for what you're going to hear and feel on that day," says Rowe.

"There's never a massive crowd at ladies football so you can usually hear each other on the pitch, but that day we didn't hear anything. It was an unbelievable feeling to look at the upper tier and see it filled."

The final whistle, however, brought her crashing quickly back to earth, a flurry of late goals from Dublin ensuring that history, however unfairly, would see it as a 12-point drubbing.

"We were happy to get there but no-one is happy to get there and lose," she says. "But it motivates you an awful lot more to get back there."

To fixate on a bad ending does an injustice to the tale of the Mayo footballers last year, though.

After all, early in the summer only an outrageous optimist would have predicted an All-Ireland appearance, particularly as they had to go through Cork in the semi-final to get there.

For that Rowe credits the influence of Peter Leahy, who was drafted in as coach midway through the 2017 championship and has since taken the reins as manager.

In his short time working with Rowe, Leahy has been highly impressed by her approach.

"She's an ultimate professional and will do absolutely everything that's necessary," he says.

"Sarah is infectious in her positivity and has that influence on everyone around her. To me that's worth more than anything on the field."

He notes how if he asks Rowe to run up a set of steps 30 times, her inclination is to do it 35 times.

"Sometimes I have to ask her to slow down because she might want to do too much," he says.

"She's a very good role model for young people because she eats right, lives right and has a normal life rather than just being immersed in the game."

And when it comes to that life, Rowe has a kaleidoscope of options now vying for her attention.

She's in her final year studying PE and Biology in DCU. She's unsure what direction her talent will take her after that.

She's had three offers from clubs in the women's AFL who hope to convince her to follow Staunton and use her talents in a professional sport in Australia.

"I've been talking to them the last few months and I'm weighing it up, but I'd have to learn the game," she says.

"I may or may not be cut out for it but it's something I'd love to do, to play professionally."

She's also an international-calibre soccer player who has played for Ireland on several occasions.

And, when she's finished in DCU, Rowe may well accept a soccer scholarship in the US to do a Masters - with universities in Chicago and Atlanta the front-runners.

"I do see myself going back to soccer, I miss it a lot," she says. "But Mayo is my priority."

In recent years she stepped away from soccer to focus on football, and Mayo will open their league campaign against Westmeath in Swinford tomorrow, the first step on a journey she hopes will end in Croke Park later this year - hoping to take that final step to the summit, just like her grandfather.

"There's something about the GAA that keeps drawing you back," she says. "I had so many good days with soccer and travelled so many places, but there is nothing like the GAA - the craic, the people, the family, the friends. It's a community. It's where you come from."

Sarah Rowe was speaking at the launch of the 2018 Lidl Ladies National Football Leagues

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