QUARANTINE was exactly what Sarah Rowe needed.
After a frantic 12 months, bookended by two chaotic trips around the world and filled in between by football, work, study and seemingly endless stints behind the wheel of her car, the two weeks of isolation provided by Australia's quarantine system was the perfect opportunity for the Collingwood star to finally have a moment to herself.
When the global pandemic brought the world to a standstill and the AFLW season to an abrupt end back in March last year, Rowe's life went into overdrive. A flurry of flights back to her homeland of Ireland were cancelled, and the journey she went on to eventually return was punctuated by a series of eight-hour stopovers in foreign lands. So many, she can't even remember the exact amount.
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"The season was cancelled and then there was a big rush to pack our bags and go because our flights kept getting cancelled," Rowe told womens.afl.
Rowe and her Collingwood teammate, fellow Irishwoman Aishling Sheridan, eventually made it home. They would return to the strict lockdown measures being implemented across the entire world. But there was no chance to stop and consider the whirlwind journey she had just made.
Instead, almost as soon as she returned, Rowe would resume her work as a full-time biology and physical education teacher in Dublin. For three days a week, she would finish her school shift at 4pm, drive the three hours across Ireland to Mayo for training with her Gaelic side, complete a two-hour session, and then undertake the return three-hour trip to be home by midnight.
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She estimates she played around 20 Gaelic games while home, before eventually returning to Australia to begin pre-season training with Collingwood just prior to Christmas. After all of that, it's little wonder she was excited about the opportunity to sit back and take a breath for two weeks.
Sitting in a car for six hours on a Tuesday evening, it just can't be good for your body. It does take its toll on you, for sure. But it's what I've done my whole life
"Because my life was so hectic in Ireland, I was half-looking forward to quarantine," Rowe laughed.
"I just thought it would be nice to have that time to switch off and be kind to myself. Uber Eats became my best friend, online shopping became my best friend. I came out of it with an extra suitcase, so that was good.
"I used it to reflect on what's happened over the last year and look forward and plan on what I wanted to get out of my experience out here and put things in place to do that."
And the sun comes out just in time for the song ?? ?? pic.twitter.com/btLJPlKgBz— Collingwood AFLW (@CollingwoodAFLW) February 6, 2021
Rowe filled her fortnight in hotel quarantine with bike sessions in the morning and weights sessions in the evening. In between, the 25-year-old put her degree in neurolinguistics programming – undertaken while in Australia last summer – to good effect, taking clients via Zoom calls.
Then there was the constant flow of voice messages with her Magpies teammate Sheridan, rooming next door.
"We actually weren't allowed to see each other," Rowe said.
"The only time we'd see each other was when we both ordered a coffee or Uber Eats at the same time. We'd open our door to collect our food and we might peek our heads around.
"I was tempted a few times to ask whether there was any chance I could sneak across. If I was in Ireland, it wouldn't be as strict, but there were security guards standing there. We had no choice but to stick to our own rooms.
"We were voice mailing each other back and forth all day, we might as well have been in the same room. It was, 'hey, how are you? Are you having your breakfast now?' It was as if we were chatting normally, except we were in separate rooms."
So, after a rollercoaster ride home, a hectic stint in Ireland, a stay in hotel quarantine on her return to Australia and a nagging shoulder injury that kept her out of Collingwood's round one victory over Carlton, simply getting back on the park last Saturday afternoon was a relief for Rowe.
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The highly talented playmaker collected 14 disposals in the win over Geelong, set up her skipper Brianna Davey for a wonderful goal with a right-foot pass early in the fourth quarter, then iced the game with a calm finish on her left just moments later.
It was the perfect moment to celebrate a wild 12 months.
"It's been mental, absolutely mental," Rowe said.
"You only realise how mental it is when you step back and into a professional environment, like I've got over here. Playing with Mayo, working full-time and living three hours away. I was doing about 20 hours of driving a week, with a full-time job, and also trying to train as hard as I could.
"Sitting in a car for six hours on a Tuesday evening, it just can't be good for your body. It does take its toll on you, for sure. But it's what I've done my whole life, so I know no different. If that's what I have to do, that's what I have to do.
"It's made me appreciate the moments that you do have when you can play and when your body is right. I was very excited about playing and really looking forward to getting back over here to play again."
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