Six months after becoming a mother for the first time, Roscommon ladies footballer Alice Kelly has committed to the inter-county team once again.
Last August, baby girl Neala Dowd was born, but with a club championship up for grabs, there was no slowing Alice down. Five weeks after giving birth, mother and daughter togged out for the day as Kilbride won a fifth county title in a row, but the turn of the new year saw her trade that ceremonial event for a full-blooded return to the top of the game.
New Roscommon manager Diane O’Hora is well-versed in what it takes to end the year with silverware from her playing days with Mayo, and taking charge of a team with three consecutive TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Championship semi-final losses suggests much of the groundwork is in place. Coaxing Kelly back could be the secret ingredient.
“I was a bit apprehensive about going back playing until Diane rang me. She spoke with me before I committed to anything,” said 30-year-old Kelly.
“I had spoken about it with my husband, Kieran, and he is very supportive. He bought me a new pair of football boots for my Christmas present just to show support for me to go back and give it a go.
“Then my father said to me: ‘You won’t be playing forever Alice; play while you can and go for it’. They were all there to encourage me.
“Clare Noone is part of Diane’s management team, and she said her teenage daughter would be more than happy to mind Neala at training any time I needed.
“That was the real turning point in my decision, seeing how supportive everyone was from the get-go."
While maintaining a level of fitness throughout her pregnancy, the notion of putting on the training gear didn’t take long to reappear for Alice after she gave birth. By the start of September she had dipped her toe in with Kilbride, and despite feeling the effects on her first day back, she is keen to show pregnancy does not mean the end of a sporting path.
“Sometimes I think I am a bit crazy trying to do it, but I want to give it a go. I want to show it to myself and others that it can be done, that you don’t have to give up everything once you have a child. I want to see if I can do it for myself, see if I can get back to that level again.
“Coming back from having a baby, I suppose it’s really like rehabbing from an injury. You have to do it right. I was really glad I did that, just for peace of mind, just to build myself back up in the right way.”
The long nights and days of being a new parent have coincided with a similar pattern for everyone else in lockdown over the winter, but Alice says time has flown by for her new family, especially with husband Kieran – a pilot by trade – grounded more often than before.
However, she says lockdown has had major downsides for her family too as Neala’s grandparents, uncles and aunts are missing out.
“We’re living here in Moate, but we still don’t really know anyone around, and that has been challenging. She is the first grandchild on both sides and they're all mad to see her again.
“I have a sister a pharmacist in Dublin and she has been doing testing for Covid, so the priority has to be to keep our baby safe as much as possible.
“And then my father actually had a stroke in December, just after Christmas. He was in hospital for a month. We couldn’t even visit him. I’m a speech therapist and I’m on maternity leave. I felt that I could have helped him if I could have gone in. That was hard.
“Thankfully, he’s home now and doing well, but at the same time, we can’t go down and help as much as we’d like. It’s the same for a lot of people; people are living away from home and find it challenging. We spend as much time as we can on the family WhatsApp group, but it’s not the same as going for a visit.”
Like the rest of her teammates, Kelly has ramped up her training in recent weeks as the Roscommon panel aims to be ready to give 2021 a real shot when collective training resumes.