It won’t be long now until Orla O’Dwyer is counting down the days to her return home.
No flight has yet been booked, but the plan is to be wheeling her luggage through the arrivals lounge of Dublin Airport either at the end of this month or the beginning of June.
And with six months having passed since she said her latest goodbye to dad Brian, mam Mary, and her three siblings, there’s an understandable longing to land back in her native Rosegreen.
Those six months on Australia’s east coast saw O’Dwyer become the second Irish person to win an AFLW Championship, her standing within the successful Brisbane Lions set-up highlighted by her runner-up finish in the champions’ end of season vote for the player of the year award.
But before we reflect on her “surreal and special” season with the Lions, let’s look first to the summer ahead.
O’Dwyer’s knowledge of the start and finish dates for the All-Ireland ladies football championship speaks to her eagerness to rejoin the Tipperary fold. And with the Camogie Association reversing their initial decision to opt against a split season, O’Dwyer will reprise her dual status over the coming months.
Beyond the summer, the 22-year-old has a couple of decisions to make.
AFL commitments these past two years has seen her twice defer her third year of PE and Irish at University of Limerick. She’s conscious not to keep putting education on the long finger. At the same time, however, she struggles to see herself stepping away from the AFLW for the next two years while finishing her studies here at home.
Efforts are ongoing to find a happy medium, whether that be studying online or transferring to a college in Australia.
“AFLW is only in its fifth season and it has already grown drastically. Just seeing how much I can improve - like last year compared to this year - is huge and to step away from that completely, I don't think I'd be able to do it,” she says of postponing her AFLW career until 2023. One would imagine Brisbane are similarly keen not to lose her services.
In her second season in the sport, the two-time All-Ireland intermediate football winner developed into an influential figure on the wing as the Lions finished second in the League ladder before overcoming Collingwood and Adelaide in the finals series to take the Championship.
Last month’s Grand Final win over Adelaide was the culmination of O’Dwyer’s transformation from nervous onlooker to a player confident in their own ability.
“Last year, I was lucky enough to play all the games. But I felt, and when I talked to the head coach he said the same thing, I was on the fringe, watching and observing the game a bit more than actually fully getting involved. This year, I was getting more involved around the footy, tackling more.”
Her appetite for improvement ahead of season number two saw her cut short her involvement with Tipperary’s football and camogie sides last winter, the latter preparing for an All-Ireland quarter-final when O’Dwyer flew out to Brisbane in early November so as to be present for the Lions' entire pre-season and to not again be playing catch-up.
This willingness to upskill goes back to her early teenage years when O’Dwyer regularly found herself lining out on the B and C teams in various Tipp development squads, unable to garner a place on the A side.
“Definitely a slow, slow-starter,” she quips, in reference to her mother’s comments to TG4 on the eve of the Grand Final.
“Underage, I never was the gifted athlete or had that natural kind of talent. I don't think it was until I reached minor and adult level where I really improved.
Placing second in Brisbane’s Best and Fairest Award was the latest example of O’Dwyer’s workrate enabling her master a game she knew very little about all of 18 months ago. Even presently, she has fallen in with AFLW club side University of Queensland to continue her education in this her adopted sport.
“To be second in Best and Fairest was such an achievement for myself. I think it shows the consistency in my game. That was what I was worried about last year, always thinking, ‘did I play good enough’, ‘am I going to start next week’, ‘am I going to get dropped’, ‘I didn't do this, they are going to drop me’. There was so much self-doubt last year.
“This year, I backed myself. It shows how much you can jump in one season to the next, and I am excited to see, hopefully, where it does go next year and how much better I can get.”