From preparing for a quarter final in Australia to being on a flight home in the space of days, Joanne Doonan’s Australian adventure was cut dramatically short as the Covid crisis took its toll around the world. Credit to the experienced player and those at the helm of the club the decision to call a halt to her career, albeit heart-breaking was she admitted the correct one.
The Fermanagh attacker from Kinawley had been one of several high profile ladies footballers to join the Winter exodus down under to the quickly growing Australian ladies football league, a high profile contract with Carlton had been secured by her and by all accounts she had been making good progress. Suddenly it all stopped as she explained.
“We were in the middle of training on a Wednesday night and we still didn’t know if we’d a game that weekend or not, mid training it was announced that it was going to be quarter finals that weekend although we still didn’t know who against. My coach pulled me aside after training and just asked how I was and basically just said that they have my health and safety as there number one priority, although I was still a bit laid back about it.”
At the time there wasn’t a lot of talk about the virus in Australia compared to Ireland and Doonan who had been living “down under” with several other Irish players had real thoughts about staying in Australia through the pandemic, she admitted it all changed so quickly,
“It certainly did, I was a wee bit worried but to be honest I felt it may be safer to stay in Australia as it wasn’t that bad there and just sort of played it by ear.
“Australia quickly followed here and the uncertainty over the AFLW season was clear” explained Joanne now into her ninth season with the Erne county.
The attackers approach changed as the days went on and after her conversation with the Carlton coach her move home was inevitable.
“To be honest I was probably a bit laid back about it compared to how worried people at the club seemed, so it made me realise ok there’s something bigger to think about here.
After chatting to the coach I felt there wasn’t much chance of me getting game time in finals as they wouldn’t be changing the winning team so we both came to the decision that it would be safer to get me home as soon as possible. The other girls I lived with that weren’t playing all were going home on the same flight so we were grateful to do the journey together.”
The 25 year old who also dipped her hand into coaching at Queen’s last season alongside Tyrone’s Mark Doran was sad to leave Australia. On paper in in reality it had seemed like a dream move alongside the likes of Donegal’s Katy Heron and Yvonne Bonner, Cavans Aishling Sheridan and Mayo legend Cora Staunton, indeed her career was going in the right direction so she was sad to leave as things went well,
“I loved Carlton as a club from the start and I definitely couldn’t have imagined how much I would progress in them few months. I certainly underestimated how hard it would be transferring the skills across but I really enjoyed the challenge.”
“There is of course a clear transfer of skills and ability through the codes but Carlton boss Daniel Harford was surprised with Joanne’s progress,
“ The coaches hadn’t much expectations as I was completely new to the sport but they were certainly surprised at our fitness levels, eagerness to learn and willingness to do extra, it was great to see girls putting in equally the amount of work and play along side some amazing athletes, it’s hard to argue overall, it was a brilliant experience. “
Despite her trip to a new code Doonan, a key component of the Erne side over the past few years was always keeping an eye on her local team mates in the national league, despite the ongoing crisis perhaps it might be fair to suggest that Carlton’s loss is Jonny Garrity’s gain.
Joanne is delighted that Fermanagh will remain in division three next season, there position in the league has been welcomed by her.
“Yes I certainly think they’ve proved why they should be up there. It was always going to be tough with a relatively young and new team to add to whoever stayed from last years team. I’ve stayed in touch through the league and there’s definitely a brilliant attitude amongst the girls and that competition will set them up brilliantly for championship.”
By all accounts that championship may indeed be a long way off but the mindset in the camp remains positive and the focus on getting together and restarted remains the focus for the Kinawley player,
“ We’re all just hoping we’ll get to play some championship football this year. We’re all still keeping each other accountable through running and work out sessions which I suppose is all we can do for now. It’s a brilliant time to reset and work on anything we felt we needed to improve but maybe wouldn’t have had the time before. “
Joanne remains in good spirits and despite the hasty return is delighted she is back among her own and of course positive too that her 93 year old Granny remains well with her Mother looking after her. That positive approach is clearly underscored as Joanne, her family, the Kinawley Fermanagh and her Fermanagh colleagues are focused on better days.
“Certainly, from speaking to girls from club and county, I think we’ve all a new appreciation of the chance to meet with your friends several times a week.
“I think we’ll probably all still complain when we’ve to layer up to go out in the cold and rain to train, but it’ll defiantly make us more grateful that we’re able to do so. We’re just hoping everyone in the community and afar pull through this together.”