Talk about either a famine or a feast. Caroline Conway’s 3,914 days of Roscommon exile ended last month and now she hopes to line out for her native county for the third time in as many weeks.
Roscommon are flying high at the summit in Division 3 of the Lidl National Football League after back-to-back victories and go to Fermanagh tomorrow bidding to make it three from three.
The Connacht IFC champions have been boosted by the return of a 35-year-old veteran.
Prior to her return, Conway’s last county start came on May, 9 2009, kicking a point that helped her side to the Division 3 crown with victory over Wicklow in Kiltoom.
Since then she’s played for Dublin, Ballyboden St Enda’s, and Ballyboden Wanderers.
She also took part in various adventure races and ended up cycling and competing in duathlons for Ireland. But then a serious back injury threatened all her sporting endeavours.
Surgery in July 2016 was the first step on the road to recovery — and to Roscommon football.
“It just makes you appreciate movement more,” she said. “The recovery was long and hard, it wasn’t an instantaneous get-up-and-go.
“I couldn’t lift anything or couldn’t even drive for three weeks. I started off walking again and at the start it was about building up to 100 metres. It was crazy stuff.”
Born and raised in Tulsk, Conway made her county debut in 2001, the same year they went all the way to triumph in an All-Ireland junior decider.
Success came thick and fast; she was part of a UCD O’Connor Cup triumph and won a provincial title with her club, St Mary’s.
In 2005, Roscommon were crowned All-Ireland IFC champions and she bookended the first part of intercounty career with a league title four years later.
Conway had moved to Dublin in 2006 and represented her new county the following year, after linking up with Ballyboden St Enda’s on her arrival.
The club were successful both in their home championship and provincially too, and while Conway went back playing with Roscommon, she eventually called time on that in 2009.
Her club career continued but she began to look for new ways to stay fit, and took up long-distance running before transitioning into elite cycling.
Conway cycled in the Irish development squad in 2011 and went on to compete in duathlons for her country too.
But a freak accident in March that year would have lasting repercussions. Conway was hit by a van and suffered severe back injuries.
“I was unable to put on socks or shoes, or get into the car and sit down at a desk job for a couple of months before the surgery,” said Conway.
“I had tried chiropractors and physiotherapy. I went to pretty exhaustive measures to try and get it back and not go the surgery route,” she added.
When I was gone in for the surgery I was told that I was going to be back running in six weeks. My eyes lit up but it didn’t pan out like that. The recovery was a little more complicated.
Conway got back on her feet eventually and the months of rehab eventually paid dividends.
Within a year of the operation, she returned to her GAA roots with Ballyboden Wanderers.
She admitted: “I was hesitant at the time, I said I would go up and play the challenge match and you never know I might enjoy it. They even bought me a pair of boots so I would play.”
The small Rathfarnham club provided an outlet for Conway to get back playing football.
And once again the success flowed and Conway was selected on the Junior Dubs Stars selection.
Roscommon manager Michael Finneran came calling and in January 2020 Conway was back in her county panel.
“When Mike asked me would I come back playing this year, you have the conflicting thoughts,” said Conway.
“In one ear you are going ‘just because I can, doesn’t mean I should’. Then on the other shoulder you are hearing people saying ‘long enough you will be standing looking out at people playing’.
"You definitely should give it a go while you still can.”