GAA Football

Donegal's Katy Herron back home after cutting short Aussie Football season

Katy Herron of Donegal in action against Niamh Kelly of Mayo during the TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Championship Group 4 Round 3 match between Donegal and Mayo at Bord Na Mona O'Connor Park in Tullamore, Offaly on July 27 2019. Picture by Ben McShane/Sportsfile
Louise Gunn

“There's a lot of panic in Ireland, I wake up to about 50 messages on different WhatsApp groups every morning so It's always at the front of your mind.”

DONEGAL'S Katy Herron touched down on Irish soil with a huge sigh of relief yesterday morning.

She was back home after cutting short her AFLW season with Western Bulldogs as the coronavirus pandemic becomes increasingly more worrying.

She wasn't the only ladies footballer on a busy flight back with four fellow Aussie Rules recruits including Fermanagh's Joanne Doonan, Down's Clara Fitzpatrick and her Bulldogs team-mates Aisling McCarthy.

The AFLW had decided to cancel the final two games of the regular season earlier in the week after playing the previous round behind closed doors.

They brought forward the preliminary semi-finals to the weekend past, which took place, but following the completion of those games, they announced yesterday morning the season was cancelled.

Doonan's club Carlton had qualified for the knockout stages but she made the decision during the week she was coming back home while Dublin duo Sienad Goldrick and Niamh McEvoy had taken the same decision despite their club Melbourne Demons also reaching the play-offs.

Herron's Melbourne-based club, Western Bulldogs, had failed to qualify for the knockout stages, making her decision to come back as soon as she could that bit easier and although she is now embarking on a period of self-isolation, that she can cope with knowing she is back with her family and in particular her seven-and-a-half-year-old son, Joshua.

“I think for me with Joshua being at home already (he left two weeks ago) I didn't want to get stuck here and needed to get back as soon as I could,” said Herron.

“it's been a crazy time with the rapid developments worldwide with Covid-19. Trying to keep your mind on football and other things became difficult in the last couple of weeks.

“I had planned to come home mid April when the season was over but obviously when everything's was thrown up in the air and border restrictions were coming into place/airlines grounding planes it became a big concern as to would the day come that we couldn't travel,” explained the Glenfin player.

“The club were brilliant to be fair and very aware of our concerns and my need to get home as soon as.

That reassures me that even if we had another game to play they were happy to accommodate me and book me on the next flight regardless if that's what I wanted so it was nice to have that support. Once the AFL confirmed that the league was going to be cut short in an effort to get it completed, my flight was booked.”

Herron said the last few weeks were very surreal with the measures put in place to stop anyone involved with AFL contracting the virus. Training continued but clubs were closed to the public and separate entrances were used for the men's and women's teams and they no longer ate at the club or used the communal area, while anyone who had any symptoms of fever or headache or sore throat were asked not to show up to the club.

“Outside of training we did our best to avoid contact with other members of the public because if a player tested positive the league would have had to shut down.

“We all became very sceptical of where we went and what we touched. I've never washed my hands so much in my life.”

Despite not making the preliminary semi-finals with her clubs, Herron certainly was making her mark on the game and featured regularly in the top five Irish players each round so it was an obvious disappointment that things have ended the way they have.

“I have been living the dream...nice weather, no job, doing what I love and getting money for it. Doesn't get much better. It's been great.

“Don't get me wrong a lot of challenging days but I have loved it.

“I feel like I was improving steadily so it's a pity I didn't get that bit of extra experience under my belt but it's something we couldn't control.”

As she embarks on her period of self-isolation it will also be back to home-schooling Joshua, who she took out of school to join her as she embarked on Aussie Rules adventure.

He went back to Donegal just a couple of weeks ago where he has been staying with his grandparents, Katy's mum and dad.

And she will swap the kerrin for the O'Neills ball once more with hopes of pulling on a Donegal jersey some time this year.

“It was tough saying goodbye to him but we had such a fun time and will have these memories forever.

“He was mascot for the Pride game so it was a very special day and he loved coming into the club with me.

“The girls and staff made a huge effort with him so he had a brilliant time.

“I've got a head start on everyone now [home-schooling] so I'm well prepared. Mum will be delighted to see me return, she didn't sign up for that part,” added the Maths and PE teacher in Holy Cross College, Strabane.

“Obviously there's a lot of concern of it will go ahead this summer but I'm trying to remain positive and will get the round ball out now when I'm self isolated upon my return.

“I will have plenty time to get my skills back on point before we meet again as a team so I will have no excuse.

“And who knows what will happen next year.

“It's funny you come out promising yourself it is only a one year gig but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted. “Exit meetings will take place now which I will do over the phone so we will see what happens!”

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