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Doonan: I had to end my Aussie adventure and flew home



Down Under: Joanne Doonan during a Carlton Blues AWFL training session

Down Under: Joanne Doonan during a Carlton Blues AWFL training session

Getty Images

Down Under: Joanne Doonan during a Carlton Blues AWFL training session

After cutting short her Australian sporting adventure, Fermanagh ladies' Gaelic football captain Joanne Doonan is at home in self-isolation.

The Kinawley woman left Northern Ireland in late October last year to pursue a contract in the semi-professional Australian Women's Football League with Carlton Blues, but with rising concerns around the coronavirus crisis she decided upon an early return.

As it happened, Carlton's scheduled game against West Coast last Saturday was cancelled. However, some matches did go ahead and there was Irish interest with Cavan's Aisling Sheridan and Mayo's Sarah Rowe playing for Collingwood against North Melbourne in a two-point defeat. Despite other sports around the world cancelling their programmes, the AWFL have opted to play on behind closed doors.

The realisation of the gravity of the pandemic hit Down Under just as Doonan departed, with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison ordering the closure of pubs, casinos, gyms and cinemas, although schools will remain open for now.

The world looked on in horror when images from Bondi Beach, the popular tourist attraction in Sydney, was shown to be packed out throughout last week.

That incident was a reflection of the wider attitude in Australia that Doonan experienced.

"We were saying when we were in Australia that they were nearly behind the times. At home, it seemed a lot worse and people were taking things a lot more seriously, so we felt that maybe we should stay in Australia as long as we could because there are more people at home that could infect you and you were going to avoid them as long as possible," she explained.

"When it came to it, every hour at home things were changing and every day there was new news coming out and it became a lot more serious and we needed to do something before things went into lockdown.

"I was sitting worrying about where I should go and what I should do. My parents said to come on home but you just would be worried about it.

"There maybe wasn't the appreciation of what this was for a time. There was joking and laughing and some teachers among us who were talking about getting off work anyway.

"But whenever we were talking to people at home and they were talking about lockdown, I suppose the priorities changed. It genuinely was a strange situation and you were living in two different lives. You understood how serious it was getting at home but the Australians weren't taking it seriously just yet."

Doonan had been living in a house with three other girls who were playing in the AWFL, but after consulting with the club it became clear that she wished to return home and reached Dublin Airport by Saturday.

Not all were so lucky. A number of girls had been talking to Doonan and sought advice from the Irish Embassy, who said to go home.

In the meantime, flights soared in price while a number of others were cancelled and some airlines' customer service proved difficult.

However, Doonan managed to get out in time and travelled back with some of the other players returning home.

"A few of us were leaving together, the Irish girls, and when we landed at the airport we saw people with masks," she explained.

"You would think about it when you are sitting beside somebody for a 14-hour flight and then somebody else for an eight-hour flight. It is hard to avoid it. I think we were just being as wise as we could - don't touch your face if you were handling anything, washing your hands regularly when you are on the plane."

Doonan's partner is the Fermanagh men's footballer James McMahon. After he collected her from Dublin Airport, they returned to his home, where she will self-isolate for the next period, mindful of her own high-risk elderly relatives.

"They have a spare room and I am hibernating there," she said.

"I would just be cautious. My mother cares for my granny and she's not well, so I will not be going home for a while anyway.

"We have a spare bathroom here and everything so I don't have to be in contact with too many.

"If I go down to the kitchen to chat to the family, I am not coming in hugging them or anything. You can still chat, but be cautious. Anything I touch, we wipe down. I am hand sanitising and being smart about it."

Belfast Telegraph