Torn between Champions League and inter-county football: A day in the life of Sarah Rowe

September 18, 2021 0 By HearthstoneYarns

SARAH ROWE HAS a pretty tough decision to make over the next few weeks, but at the same time it’s a pretty nice position she finds herself in.

Source: Tom Beary/INPHO

Splitting her life between gaelic football in Mayo and soccer and college in Dublin, the 21-year-old decided this year that she should make a decision and stick to one sport or the other.

She chose representing her native county Mayo.

But now, she’s back to square one.

Mayo had quite a successful 2016 but fell short on two occasions, both in the league final to Cork and Sinead Aherne’s last-minute free kick knocked Rowe’s side out of the All-Ireland championship.

“I kind of wanted to focus on one sport and see how I would get on, if my performance would improve,” she tells The42. “Focusing on one sport, being a one-sport athlete, everything meant that when we lost, it was all the more heartbreaking.”

“Normally, when I lose a gaelic match, I’d have a soccer season ahead of me, or I’d have another big match with soccer coming up, so I’d automatically turn my focus to something else.

So when that was over, everything was over for me and I had nothing to look forward to. I was weeks just doing my own training, saying ‘Jesus I do miss the soccer a bit.’

Luckily for Rowe, this lull period didn’t last long as she was approached to rejoin Shelbourne ladies for the remainder of their season.

As she returned, the north Dublin side won the Women’s FAI Cup in the Aviva, and completed the double as they got their hands on the league title for the first time in the club’s history.

Shelbourne now qualify for the Champions League as a result, and Rowe is yet again torn between the two sports.

“I suppose I face another hurdle now in the next few months with decisions – whether I want to play Champions League or whether I want to play for Mayo – so that’s the next thing.

“If I decide soccer I’ll get to go to the Champions League and the World Student Games. If I decide gaelic, I’ll just be playing with Mayo. I think I am swaying more towards the gaelic, I’ve committed to going back this year so I’d say there’ll be no turning back really.

“There’s obviously a thought in my head – ‘will I be able to manage the both?’ more so than picking one over the other – or will I just manage one and focus on that. If there was an opportunity to manage both I would, but I just don’t think at this level now, and how ladies football has improved so much, that I could actually do that.”

Source: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

Rowe, who played with Ballina Town and Castlebar Celtic before moving to Dublin, signed for Raheny before they amalgamated with Shelbourne when she started studying in DCU.

Her international soccer career is a fruitful one, representing Ireland at underage level while also earning her place on the women’s national team squad on several occasions.

She traveled to the Basque Region with the side for a challenge match during her Leaving Cert year, was involved in further challenge matches in Croatia and then was kept in the set-up for training camps at home.

“I decided to take gaelic more seriously, so since then, I haven’t really been in the loop. There’s a new manager coming in this year, things may change, and who knows there might be fresh eyes and that.

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You don’t really know what’s going to happen, but as one of the Irish managers said to me before, ‘you have to be playing soccer for me to be able to pick you.’ I have to be playing day-in, day-out, and full-time to really want to have a chance with the Irish set-up.

Rowe is in her third year of studying Physical Education and Biology in DCU, and is a prominent figure on their O’Connor Cup team.

This year she was also a LIDL ambassador for their ladies football coverage.

“They’ve done so much, I don’t even think it’s describable, the fact that ladies football is now a thing to be talked about. There’s more people coming to games, there’s more funding involved. We can’t thank them enough really.

“It actually wasn’t that time-consuming [being an ambassador]. I wasn’t really working this summer, I was fairly flexible. I really enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to the year ahead to see what they do next year.”

One thing that’s surely time-consuming for the dual player though, is the fact that she has to balance her two sports alongside her academics, as well as spending time with family and friends. The last few months of the year has seen her train almost every night between just Shelbourne and DCU, never-mind Mayo and her home club Kilmoremoy.

“I actually don’t really [find it difficult to find a balance] to be honest. Throughout the year if you manage your time well and do your work during the day, then go training and rest in the evening, you’re fine. But it’s just a matter of how you balance your time.”

“It’s been part of me for my whole life, in school and everything. I probably found it a small bit harder in school, because you’ve to travel from A to B, but then again in school you had your mum cooking you dinners and stuff, so it’s a small bit different too.

“I don’t find it too bad. When the exams are on I’ll probably be a bit stressed, but I always find when I go to training I get a release and think ‘look the exams not the end of the world, relax’ and I’ll go back to it in the evening and my heads completely cleared, so it works in my favour rather than against me.”


Looking back on 2016, it’s been a rather hectic year for Rowe, mainly filled with highs thankfully.

“I suppose, winning the Connacht title, and winning the cup final with Shels in the Aviva were probably my highlights. Also with my club Kilmoremoy, we won the junior county title and the Connacht junior title as well, so that was on top of all with Shels and DCU.

“The lows are more so personal lows when you’re not performing yourself, when you feel like you’re giving everything but things aren’t translating for you in the pitch.

“You obviously go through stints like that in the season where you’re like ‘Jesus, I don’t know is all this worth it to be unhappy’ but other than that, the biggest low then in terms of a team thing was losing out to Dublin by a point [in the All-Ireland semi-final], that was absolute heartbreak, because we felt that we could have went all the way this year.

“2017 looks like it will be another crazy busy year. DCU will still be going, my club will be in intermediate now, so a bit of a step-up. Then there’s Mayo starting very soon and Shels, there’s a lot going on there and maybe the World Student Games.

We’ll see. I won’t be making any rash decisions yet anyway.

For now though, Rowe is looking forward to taking a break and some well-earned time out over the Christmas period, before the mayhem all starts again.

“It will be lovely to get the time off, and just sit back at home and not have to worry about going training in the evening. I’ll definitely do my own thing most days, maybe five days out of the seven I’d say I’ll do a run or a gym session, but I think the fact that I’m not committed to a set time, and it’s flexible I don’t mind as long as that’s the case.

“I’m looking forward to the down time and eating all the chocolate in front of the fire as well – and the jellies!”

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