"I was thinking, 'Oh my God, how am I supposed to play beside them?'"
"Some people say that I'm a late starter."
Carla Rowe was not interested in GAA when she was growing up in Lusk. It was only when, at the age of 12, her family moved to Naul that the sport came into her life.
"The Naul is a very small village community," she tells SportsJOE, "and at the centre of that is Clann Mhuire, the Gaelic pitch. Eventually I found out that all my friends were going down there to the local club. I started it around then and just loved it... there was no getting me out of it."
Naul finds itself only a few hundred metres from the Meath border, in North County Dublin. Rowe remarks that several of her Dublin teammates were surprised when they came out to play at the Clann Mhuire pitches.
"They were like, 'Where are you living?!' It's cows and fields and countryside with a lot of friends being farmers and coming from farming backgrounds."
Clann Mhuire is 'heart of the community' and it was where she found a home away from home. At the age of 13 she was lining out for the club's U16 side and, not long after, playing for the senior ladies side, albeit in Division 9. That ladies side won a Dublin intermediate title and is now playing in Division 2. Their progress has been almost as rapid as their star player.
It did not take Rowe long to make a mark in the game and her first involved with the inter-county game arrived when she was called in the Dublin U16s panel. She then played minors and was promoted to the Dublin senior team in 2014.
"This is my seventh year with the senior team," she says. "I was there for the three [All-Ireland final] losses and then the three wins. Into year seven now."
The 24-year-old was still a Dublin Minor when she was first called into the senior panel for training sessions. Her first senior game does not stand out but those first training sessions certainly did. "I'd go into the dressing room and I was seeing all these players. So many of them were role models to me and I was thinking, 'Oh my God, how am I supposed to play beside them or mark them?' But I was welcomed with open arms."
Rowe's undoubted talents saw her play a key role in Dublin's forays to finals in 2015 and 2016, twice falling to an all-time great Cork side.
She picked up All Star awards in 2015, 2016 and 2019 but she cherishes those All-Ireland triumphs of 2017, 2018 and 2019 more. Having finally tasted success, Rowe can still keenly recall the devastation of defeat. It is no surprise, then, to hear her talk of going on to even greater deeds in 2020.
"If the team doesn't have hunger, you know that we're not going to achieve. We know that our places are constantly up for grabs, that things are constantly changing and that you have to try and be at your best... there's definitely a lot of competition there, and that's good. A team that is very competitive and biting at each other's throats, or pulling at each other's jerseys and trying to get them off, is a team that will develop the most."
Rowe is involved in Montessori and childminding but is also involved in Lidl's #SeriousSupport programme, which brings her to schools and clubs across the province once a week. Add to that training four nights a week with Dublin and staying in with her club and the level of commitment to the cause is clear.
"The winter can be that bit harder," she says, "because you're going out and coming home when it's dark but you just have to do it. But the league is what really helps it as you get into that routine of playing games each week."
Rowe was at a midweek event, at Lidl's headquarters in Tallaght, to mark the commencement of the 2020 Lidl National Football Leagues. 'The Battle of the Champions', Tipperary and Dublin, will be the first game of the Ladies Gaelic Football Association's live coverage of the league. A game from each of the seven regulation rounds of league fixtures will be broadcast live on the LGFA's Facebook page.
"It's going to be a fairly competitive match and we're looking forward to it," she said. "Tipperary are a very good side and they're a great team, as well as having some great individual players. We'll have to do a bit of homework on them an we'll see how we go."
"Our hurlers probably got abused last year. They came back, won an All-Ireland, the whole of Tipperary loves them."
Earn your respect 👊@MoloneyAishling and @CarlaRowe18 discuss the @LadiesFootball launch this weekend and the clash of @TippLadiesFB and @Dublinladiesg 🗣️ pic.twitter.com/fuE69TdFTg
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) January 24, 2020