SportLadies Football

Sarah looking for fans to Rowe behind women's game

Sarah Rowe in action for Mayo against Kerry in the Lidl Ladies Football National League earlier this year
Sarah Rowe in action for Mayo against Kerry in the Lidl Ladies Football National League earlier this year

Sarah Rowe wasn’t afraid to stick her head above the parapet already this season so she doesn’t blanch when faced with some tough questions again

The theme for the 2016 TG4 championship is ‘change the record’, which represents the Ladies’ association’s desire to break its attendance record of 33,000 at this year’s September’s TG4 All-Ireland finals. It is also an exhortation to people to stop paying lip service to the women’s game and actually go out and physically support them. Mayo forward Rowe was, literally, one of the poster girls for Lidl’s similar publicity campaign this year .
It’s message was ‘serious athletes deserve serious support’ so, how would the young Kilmoremoy attacker persuade more people that ladies’ football is a game worth going to see in person? She fixes you with a direct look and demands: “When is the last time you went to see a women’s game?

“That’s what I’d ask them!” the 20-year-old PE student says. “I think people are actually shocked, in a good way, when they go and see how good it is, and discover we put in the same amount of work as the men do.
“I’d just encourage them to come out and see the game and see the standard and I’d especially encourage women to come out and support other women,” she adds. “I don’t see why we shouldn’t get the same support as the men. The more support we get, the more money the county board gets and the better it can invest in us.”

Rowe expressed similar views earlier this year in an interview with the Sunday Independent and says her outspoken views did not earn her any flak. “I actually got massive support from everyone, they were delighted I spoke up!
“Things hadn’t been great (in Mayo) for the last few years, everyone was sick of talking about it at this stage, there needed to be action and we’ve got food (after training) one night a-week now so that (article) was a good thing,” she reflects. “We still do a lot of fund-raising ourselves but we had a better crowd at the Connacht final than we’d usually have.”

How they are supported locally is not the only thing that has improved for the Mayo women this season. Having fallen back from their early Noughties’ dominance, Frank Browne’s new-look team look right back on track as they take on Westmeath in an All-Ireland quarter-final next Saturday. They’ve already reached this year’s Lidl Division One final and won their first Connacht title in five years so, are they serious All-Ireland contenders now again?
Rowe says it is still too early to judge them.

“I don’t think the scoreline in the Connacht final really reflected the game,” she says of their 15-point rout of Galway. “It was a lot tighter than that. We got a penalty at a crucial stage and were only up by a point at the time. Then Galways got two sin-binned and we got a goal.”
Winning her first Connacht senior medal was still a thrill. When they won their last, in 2011, she was too young to play but had a role as team water carrier. Now she’s part of a very new-look team, hungry for success.

“Only Martha Carter, Yvonne Byrne, Claire Egan and Cora have won a senior All-Ireland, we’re a very young side,” she stresses. She’s back herself after concentrating on soccer for a while, including playing for Ireland, with whom she got her last international cap in April 2015.
“I started (Mayo) training in January and was still playing soccer and playing with DCU so I was training about 12 times a-week, I just couldn’t sustain it,” Rowe reveals. “Mayo were understanding but I just felt  I had to make a choice. I saw Cora and Yvonne coming back and was delighted, it was clear there was a good setup in place and I wanted to give it a proper go.”

It means she’s now lining out in a full-forward line with one of the game’s true legends, who scored a phenomenal 2-14 in the Connacht final.
“I obviously admire her greatly as a player,” she says of Cora Staunton. “I’ve learned so much from her and she helps me so much. Cora just demands and expects the best of everyone, she’s so consistent herself that there’s no room for playing badly or messing.”

Mayo’s only real hiccup to date was their failure to put away Cork in the league final when they lost their composure in front of the posts.

“We had something like 20 wides,” Rowe recalls. “Cork are obviously a great team but we could have come away with victory and were really disappointed. Cork know how to win when it matters. We beat them in the first game in the league but they’re really good at winning big games

“No one has beaten them when it’s really important and that is the big difference between them and the rest of us.”

The Ladies Football Championship Final will take centre stage September 25th. Be there to show your #SeriousSupport.

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