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Mayo ladies stars sit tight in Australia

Sport

Mayo ladies star Niamh Kelly explains how things have changed Down Under

Interview
Ger Flanagan

MAYO ladies football captain Niamh Kelly is handling the Covid-19 pandemic just like every other Irish person — staying at home as much as possible, abiding by social distancing guidelines and washing her hands every minute of every day.
However, the main difference to her life right now is that ‘home’ is in Perth, Western Australia and not in the East Mayo village of Bohola.
Kelly recently signed off her first season in the AFLW, alongside her sister, Grace, with the West Coast Eagles after the organisation were forced cancelled the last two scheduled rounds due to coronavirus.
However, the Kelly sisters have chosen to remain Down Under for the moment after Grace suffered a knee injury in their final game against Gold Coast, an injury that required surgery.
“We had planned on going home as soon as we heard that it was getting serious and the club had told us that they wanted to get us home,” Niamh told The Mayo News.
“But the AFL had not been suspended at that stage and no one really thought it would get that serious until we finished up the season at least.
“But then as it happened it got very serious almost overnight. The last two rounds of the league were cancelled and it went straight to the finals, but only the quarters were played.
“Unfortunately, Grace got injured in one of the games and she got surgery on her knee last Monday, which meant she couldn’t fly for two weeks after that.
“So we’re in a bit of a dilemma here,” she added. “We could potentially be stuck here for longer than we thought, but the club have been great for us in keeping us as comfortable as possible and keeping a roof over our heads.”
Niamh, a qualified teacher, said Grace went ahead with the operation as it ‘was the best thing in the long run’ in terms of her intentions of playing for Mayo and Moy Davitts later in 2020 whenever competitive football resumes.
The Kellys are living together in a two-bedroom apartment and are still in contact with some of their team-mates who have also waited stayed in the city.
The situation in Australia isn’t anywhere near the stages of Ireland right now in terms of contamination numbers, but the seriousness has been ramped as the days have gone on.
“It’s beginning to get more and more serious by the day, with people really abiding by social distancing and only going out to the supermarkets and stuff,” said Niamh.
“In Western Australia at the minute there are about 250/260 cases, with a population of about 2.7 million, so it’s not as serious as Ireland yet.
“They say the hot weather copes with the coronavirus better, so when they go into winter, which is our summer, that’s when they are expecting a peak.
“But it’s definitely a bit anxious right now because we’d like to be home and stuff, but we just have to take it day-by-day. In the next week or two we’ll see if there’s openings for airlines to bring people home on repatriating flights.
“It would be nice to be home, but that’s just the way it is right now. We’re lucky to have each other out here.”
Luckily the talented siblings got to see some of their closest family fairly recently as they  were visiting only a number of weeks ago and got to see the girls in action for the West Coast Eagles.
However, their trip was cut short to return home as the measures to stop the outbreak ramped up in Ireland and Australia.
One of those measures introduced initially by the AFLW were playing games ‘behind closed doors’.
“The family were over here for two and a half weeks and got to see two of our games,” she said. “We were meant to play our seventh game against Melbourne, but that was cancelled and they ended up booking a new flight home before it got too serious, which was lucky as they might not have got on the original flight.
“Our last game was played behind closed doors against Gold Coast in our training grounds and it was very strange. Mam and Dad were among the probably ten people at the game.
“We were told to be careful playing, no high fives and that, because there’s a lot of high fives in the AFL! We had to revert to elbow taps, and we had all our own water bottles and sports drinks as the club made sure we were abiding by the guidelines and measures.”
In an alternative universe they would love to be finishing out their debut AFLW season, before arriving back in Ireland to pull on the Mayo jersey for the last few rounds of the National League, before their focus shifted to championship preparation. 
Now all of that is up in the air.
“We always intended to play the season here and then go home to maybe get a bit of the league and then train for championship,” she said. “But the way it’s happening at the minute, you don’t know what will happen with championship, whether it will go ahead, be pushed out or cancelled.
“I have been getting ready for the transition back. I brought a football over with me so I can kick it around a bit in the park beside our house on my own as I was told the transition back to Gaelic can be a bit difficult, even though you’ve been playing it from a young age.
“Hopefully championship will go ahead now.”
Right now all the Kellys can do is wait it out and see what happens.

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