It was not the ending to the season that Joanne Doonan had hoped for but with the Coronavirus epidemic continuing to grow she made the decision to return home early from Australia.

The Kinawley woman became Carlton’s first ever Irish AFLW player having joined the club as its second AFLW rookie for the 2020 season.

The 25 year old, who captained Fermanagh Ladies last year, quickly adapted to the game and played two games this season. Carlton had also been going well making it into the finals stages at the end of the season but with the situation worsening a decision was made to return home.

“I have to say, Carlton are a very family orientated club. Every day and every hour the news was changing about different airlines and stuff and they came to me and said that they wanted me to think about going home, they were maybe more worried than me at the time but it made me think a wee bit more and I thought maybe I should go home,” she explained.

Doonan says that with things beginning to close down in Australia, there was confusion as to whether games were actually going to be played.

“On the Wednesday we were in the middle of training and it was a bit dead as you didn’t know if you were training for nothing or not. We then got word during training that we were through to the quarter finals and we still didn’t know who we were playing, it was a bit of a mess.”

She admits though that the fact that she was not playing helped her make her mind up about coming back to Fermanagh. Doonan had started the first two games but the second one was a defeat to Collingwood and when the team was changed for the next game they went on a winning run and the manager stuck with the same side through to the end of the season.

“From chatting the manager it was not necessarily anything I was doing wrong it was one of those things where we had a bad loss and tried to change something up to see if we could make a difference and we have been winning since so it was hard to break on to the team.

“Going into the finals we had the same team and then either we lose and we are out or if we win then it is unlikely that the team would be changed.

“He wasn’t saying that I wasn’t involved but he said that if I wanted to go home this was the perfect opportunity to do so,” added the Kinawley woman.

After training on the Wednesday, Doonan returned to her house which she shared with a number of Irish girls and they quickly made their minds up about returning to Ireland.

“The girls I lived with were all in the same boat and when I went home from training they were all saying that they might go home at the weekend so I decided to go to.

“I think the players knew that I wasn’t just abandoning the team, they seen the bigger picture that I wanted to get home to my family and all the girls were saying that if they were in the same situation then they would be doing the same. Once the club were happy, I just felt it was the right time to go home and I was travelling home with girls I knew so that helped.”

And it proved to be the right call to make with flights becoming more difficult to secure in recent days.

“In hindsight now looking back and chatting a few people trying to get home from Australia at the minute it is a bit of a nightmare, so I got home at a very good time,” she added.

Doonan touched down in Ireland on Sunday morning and later that day it was announced that the AFLW season was to finish without a winner while the Mens AFL season was suspended until May.

While she might not have played as much as she would have liked, the whole experience was one that Joanne thoroughly enjoyed.

“As much as there is ups and downs during the year, it was a fantastic experience. The Australian lifestyle is great, you have the nice weather and beaches at your doorstep, and the whole experience with Carlton was brilliant. They were very good to me and regardless of the way it ended it was always going to be unforgettable,” she stated.

And she also feels that it has developed her as a person.

“You don’t go over there to be one of the major players but you also don’t go over there not to play so there was times that it was difficult but you do realise that football, whether GAA or AFLW, is not the be all and end all.

“You have to have a life outside of it and it was good that there was a good Irish crowd out there and we are all going through the same emotions. It has definitely brought me on as person in general.”

Indeed, Doonan is not ruling out a return if the offer is there for next season.

“We didn’t have an exit meeting before we left but if the option was there I would like to go out and give it another crack but if it isn’t to be it isn’t to be and it was still amazing to experience it,” she said.

She is hopeful too that if and when the GAA season returns that she will get back playing for her county.

“I have been in contact with Jonny and the girls even when I was out in Australia to stay in touch and if the season gets back I will hopefully be back in the Fermanagh jersey.”

With sport along with everything else on lockdown though Doonan says the important thing is that everyone remains safe.

“It gives you a bit of perspective. It maybe makes you more grateful for what you have and hopefully everybody stays safe and gets through it,” said Joanne.