In September 2017, DCU PE and Biology student Sarah Rowe took to the field with Mayo to contest the LGFA Senior All-Ireland Final in Croke Park. In this interview, she shares the secrets behind her success and how the DCU Bank of Ireland Sports Academy has helped her to excel academically and in sport.
Growing up in Ballina as the youngest in a family of three girls, Sarah was ‘mad into gymnastics’…that was until she started playing soccer at the age of seven and Gaelic football at age eight. “As soon as I got into the football, I realised this was my newfound love,” she says.
Hugh Lynn, her school principal in The Quay National School in Ballina noticed something special about Sarah’s sporting abilities and took her under his wing.
“He was a great coach and he pushed me to the absolute limit of my abilities from day one. He made me compete in athletics to keep me fit for football and encouraged me to kick with my left foot which is much harder to pick up as you get older. With his help, by the age of ten I realised that I could really pursue something in this area.”
Sarah started playing with Mayo at under 12 level and went on to play at under 14, under 16, minor and under 21 as well as playing competitively with the Mayo senior ladies team from the age of 16 too.
Balancing school and sport
However in Sarah’s home, school work wasn’t allowed to take a back seat to sporting success.
“Growing up my mum and dad always said school comes first – it was driven into me to work hard. By 5th year I knew I wanted to study PE and Biology in Dublin. I worked really hard for my Leaving Certificate and I always managed to balance my school and sports. My secret was to become very efficient with my time. I made sure to get 2 – 3 hours study done every day. If I needed to, I would get up early in the morning or if I was away at a training camp, I would study in the middle of the day when we had down time.”
Moving on to university
Sarah was drawn to her PE and Biology course in DCU but was also influenced by the University’s strong sporting ethos.
The Sports Academy was a massive factor in choosing DCU. I was in contact with Michael Kennedy and other players in DCU before filling in the CAO form and got a really good feeling. DCU is extremely personal – if you have a problem you’re always looked after.
Through the Sports Academy, elite athletes can get into their chosen course if they are within 60 points of the course entry requirement. Although Sarah didn’t need this level of points reduction for herself, she believes it is a great help for people who are dedicating so much of their time to sports.
Adapting to college life
“The Sports Academy has been very helpful to me, they have put in place a lot of structures for me to do well and excel academically and in sport,” she says.
“Moving up to Dublin, I was given the option to live on campus with other sports people. Going to college is a big transition but being with people in the same mind frame was a huge help. At least when we’re all training we’re doing it together or in off-season we know when we can have the craic together.
If I lived with other college students it would have been hard for me – you can see how people would go off track in situations like that.
Supports for sporting success
“We also had other supports like full access to the gym in DCU which was great to have the pool to recover after training or the gym to work on strengthening, power and speed.
“We had access to a nutritionist and a physio too. The access to the physio is really brilliant when you’re training with your county and DCU and your body is sore.”
During her three years at DCU so far, Sarah has been kept busy with her course work which in 1st and 2nd year involved 30 to 40 hours per week of lectures. On top of this she was training 10 hours per week playing Gaelic football with DCU and Mayo together with a further seven hours training playing soccer with Shelbourne – not including travel time between Mayo and Dublin.
“I realised at one point that I had no evening to sit down and chill out, something had to give. Now Gaelic football is my number one priority during the season and when it is finished in September, I focus on my soccer more then.
I try now to have a balance in college – to know when to take sport seriously but also to know when you can switch off and enjoy yourself every once in a while.
During her time in DCU Sarah has won one league final with DCU and reached an O’Connor Cup final but she is hoping to go all the way next year for her final year. Once her degree is completed, she has plenty of exciting options to consider. She is interested in doing a master’s in the area of nutrition but has also had offers to play football in the United States for a year – the world is truly her oyster for this hard working and talented Mayo woman.