As we gathered for our pre-match huddle, and I scanned the focused faces staring back at me, I knew we were in a good place.
The doubts had been festering in the lead-up to Tuesday night’s game against Carlton; it had been 16 days since our previous AFLW outing, a large cohort of our squad had only just been cleared to play after a sweeping Covid-19 outbreak, and we were still unsure where we stood following our heavy Round 1 defeat to Adelaide.
We might be the reigning champions but enough had gone wrong in the early part of the season, including serious injuries to a couple of key players, to plant the seed that our luck just wouldn’t turn this year.
The bad news kept coming after our opening loss to the Crows – positive Covid tests seemed to emerge in our camp every day for the following week.
My housemate – one of three team-mates I share a house with in Mount Gravatt, a 10-minute drive south from Brisbane’s CBD – saw the dreaded double lines on the Tuesday, and the rest of us soon followed suit as we collectively headed for a week of isolation.
I was anxious about it having already completed two 14-days stints in hotel quarantine. But, thankfully, the time flew by at home – we kept each other’s spirits up and stayed on top of our fitness and mobility work as much as we could.
I was only symptomatic for a couple of days – thankfully, none of our players got particularly sick – but in the two training sessions I had before this week’s Carlton game I didn’t quite feel 100pc, a bit fatigued and short of breath at times.
Whether that was from Covid or being cooped up in the house for a week, I’m not sure. What I am certain of, however, is I’ve got the pep back in my step after Tuesday’s 63-24 success at Metricon Stadium on the Gold Coast. I’m testing negative and feeling positive again.
It was a massive night for our two debutantes, Zimmorlei Farquharson and Ruby Svarc, and an equally if not more special occasion for a true legend of the club – which helped to focus our frazzled minds.
Sharni Webb was part of the Lions set-up when the AFLW side played their first game in 2017, and she has been a leader on and off the field since.
She missed all the 2021 season while pregnant ahead of her daughter’s birth last June, but Sharni was back on Tuesday night – Billie was in her arms as we ran out onto the field – and it was like she had never left. Twenty-two months out of action and there wasn’t a sign of ring rust, she’s an incredible woman.
It’s fitting that she’s the first mum in our group because Sharni is the maternal figure in the dressing-room – the mother hen who always looks out for those a bit wet behind the ears. She’s a geography teacher by profession so her caring instinct comes naturally.
I’m in awe of what she has achieved, playing footie again seven months after giving birth. She’s hardly missed a session since she’s come back. She always makes it in for the morning training even if she’s been up all night.
Her husband Andrew is at every session with Billie too. The odd time Sharni will have to excuse herself from a meeting to breastfeed her baby girl, only to come back into the room with the minimum of fuss. How can you not be inspired by that kind of commitment?
That she returned, and featured so prominently, on Tuesday night made our first win of the season extra special.
We stormed out of the blocks against Carlton, putting the Blues under major pressure and moving the ball at speed to assume control early on. And we continued in that vein, blowing off a few cobwebs in the process.
I got on plenty of ball – picking up 20-plus disposals for just the second time in my career, the first was in Round 1 against Adelaide – and really enjoyed myself out there.
The groundwork of pre-season really stood to me – I had no problems with fatigue – and I feel like I’ve finally got to grips with my role on the wing, which has taken some adjustment.
Thankfully, Tuesday’s victory brought a difficult few weeks – including the postponement of our Round 2 game against the Western Bulldogs, due to Covid outbreaks – to a close.
It also allowed us to focus on the football again; we have eight remaining regular-season games across the next two months, starting tomorrow at home to Geelong – who have Mayo’s Rachel Kearns doing damage from the half-forward line.
Rachel smashed her county team-mate Sarah Rowe with a thumping tackle last weekend, dislocating the latter’s finger in the process, during Geelong’s loss at Collingwood, so I’ve been warning our defenders about her all week.
It’s frightening how quickly Rachel has taken to the game, her skills and reading of the play are so far beyond where I was in my first season – so it’s much more than her physicality that we’ll need to be wary of in Maroochydore tomorrow (6.10am Irish time).
However, if nothing else, the last fortnight has proven we’re a resilient bunch in Brisbane. Hopefully, it’s onwards and upwards from here.
⬤ Orla O’Dwyer is one of 14 Irish women who are competing in the AFLW, and the Brisbane Lions star – along with Sarah Rowe (Collingwood) and Cora Staunton (GWS Giants) – are reporting back on life Down Under in the Irish Independent and independent.ie throughout the campaign