'She was really, really ill' - Pearl Slattery on her partner's Covid-19 battle and her mission to inspire on and off the pitch

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Shelbourne captain Pearl Slattery. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Shelbourne captain Pearl Slattery. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Shelbourne captain Pearl Slattery. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

For Pearl Slattery, a person who lives and breathes football, the lockdown experience was always going to be challenging.

The Shelbourne player also works as a women's football development officer for the FAI and assists with the Irish U-17 team.

There really is no distinction between her work and her hobbies and both were curtailed by the shutdown.

But there was another dimension to the Covid-19 experience, when her partner Siobhán contracted the disease.

That's Siobhán Killeen, a former Shels team-mate and Ireland international who is now better known as a Dublin GAA star.

Killeen (27), a radiographer at the Mater Hospital, was brought into a Department of Health briefing post-recovery to sit next to Dr Tony Holohan and highlight how a healthy young athlete could be impacted by the virus.

"She was really, really ill," admits Slattery. "When your partner gets Covid, it's a bit weird. And, believe it or not, the day she got ill, she wasn't supposed to be in work. She got called in and went in as she always would, willing to give a hand.

"But then she came home that night and was really ill. She got sick and I couldn't see her, which was strange, she was bed-bound for a week and a half and couldn't move really, but thankfully she came out of it and she's stronger now."

Slattery was speaking at the announcement of children's charity Barretstown as a partner to the Women's National League ahead of the August 8 kick-off.

The captains of the competing clubs also wore rainbow wristbands to show support for the LGBT community.

Slattery has never spoken publicly about her relationship with Killeen before and there's a simple reason for that. "I've never been asked about it in an interview," she laughs. "This is the first time I've really talked about it."

In a strange way, she acknowledges it's a good thing that it's no longer a really big deal to make what some might consider to be a revelation.

Last year, Irish team-mates Katie McCabe and Ruesha Littlejohn went public on their long-term relationship as part of Pride week and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. That was significant in its own way.

Everyone important in Slattery's life has long since known about her sexuality, yet she accepts that the value in talking about it is normalising things for the next generation.

"Katie and Ruesha were very brave, and that's the stage we are getting at now," says the 30-year-old. "Trying to inspire people on the pitch and off it as well. Being yourself is a big part of it off the pitch. I've no hiding to do. Just be yourself.

"When I came out, it would have been a bigger deal but now, with younger girls or anyone, they are coming out a lot more. Times are changing, with social media and everything. Katie and Ruesha got a good response, and I just don't think it's a shock any more really. It's starting to become a normal thing, thank God."

The former team-mates make for a potent sporting couple, with their very existence centred around their commitments. With a grin, she suggests that Killeen's decision to switch codes might actually have made things a bit easier.

"We were team-mates at Shels and seeing each other constantly so when she moved to the GAA it was nice, I was probably wrecking her head talking about Shels all the time," she says.

Revolve

"We try and have evenings now where we say 'no sport allowed' and sit and enjoy each other's company, but it's hard.

"We'd been doing a lot of working out together, she's been trying to keep fit for the Dubs and I was trying to keep fit too so we were out three times a week running together and then she got sick. We had to forget about working out for those weeks, which was weird when our lives revolve around sport. But we're back now fully fit, she's back training too."

A welcome kind of routine is around the corner with Shelbourne looking to bounce back from a narrow title defeat to Peamount in 2019. Slattery thought about hanging up the boots but has opted to continue playing, much as she has taken the baby steps into the coaching sphere. Her development work has opened her eyes to the untapped potential that exists for the game here.

Travelling to the Women's World Cup in France led to natural daydreams about what might unfold if Ireland could reach a tournament.

"Football has been the only interest that I've ever really had," she said. "When I was growing up, there weren't that many role models but now you have them."

Those who know Slattery best will tell you she'll have no problem making her voice heard.

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