'Every day apart is a day closer to being back together again'

At the end of the 2019 season, Sperrin Óg’s Aileen Touhey was facing a football and life crossroads.

Limited game time for Tyrone, a heavy workload as a newly-qualified nurse at Craigavon Hospital’s Accident and Emergency department, fitting in football training with club and county, and just life in general left the 22 -year-old with some tough calls.

A possible departure from Gerry Moane’s squad and move to Australia was all on the agenda but a change in hours, along with a better life/football balance, and things were just starting to blossom for the talented and hard-working defender.

Game time was coming and Aileen was certainly enjoying football again.

Roll on a month, April 2020, and football’s on the back burner again.

The defender has now moved to the frontline, as a key nurse in the fight against Covid-19.

There’s no football, longer hours again, and she’s making decisions she wouldn’t have had to think about a month ago.

“Life is very different now as a key worker, I moved out of home in Greencastle last week, several of us have moved in together and we won’t be back home until all this is over,” Touhey explained.

“It’s a big move for sure but one I had to undertake to keep my family and loved ones safe. There is definitely a lot of added pressure and stress currently but nothing I can’t handle.”

A member of the Tyrone set up now for three years, quality coaching from club and county has given Aileen the resilience to face anything head on, on or off the football field.

Club and county support has been vital for the A & E nurse at such a harrowing time.

Behind the scenes, there has been regular contact between players and backroom staff, and that’s been a huge boost.

“The girls and management have been great, always keeping me in their thoughts and prayers and even sending me lovely little gifts to keep the spirits high,” says Touhey.

“I know Tyrone and the club are always there if I need them and my community is great.

“Tyrone are behind every club member, no matter what we need.”

And Touhey admits that she won’t be taking football for granted again.

“I’m really missing football and the routine I had before all this had started,” she says.

“I had recently cut down my hours at work to suit football schedules, and I was really enjoying the season. The biggest thing is that I really miss the girls from county, they are a great bunch and I can’t wait until this is all over so we can all get out together again, we can’t take that for granted again.”

The sentiments of so many, but Aileen, like so many of her county senior colleagues, have been playing their part away from the day-to-day grind and stark reality of life in today’s hospitals.

While doing some training, albeit frustratingly on her own, getting out the “Stay at Home” message continues to be reinforced by social media content.

“ It’s even more important now than it ever was,” Touhey insists.

“There has been an incline in patients attending hospital and confirmed cases of Covid-19.

“I have noticed with the good weather that the roads are busier and people are out and about more, which is scary.

“It really is too soon and we haven’t even reached the peak of this pandemic yet. People need to stay at home! I know if I had the option, I wouldn’t be leaving mine. No one is safe from this virus, I’ve seen it first hand.”

A reality check from the frontline, if there was one needed, but there are better days ahead for the Greencastle girl, although she is first to admit, sadly it may be some way off.

“If we overcome this pandemic in the next few months, I really look forward to the season starting again.

“However, it is predicted September before everything is back to normal so I would be interested to see what way football would work at that time of year.

“You can train away at home and run the roads on your own so long, it’s not the same.”

But Touhey confirmed: “I’m doing good, still adjusting to being away from home for the first time properly of course but I’ve got great friends, family and work colleagues and we will all get through this together. Again, the players’ teak-tough mental strength shines through.

“I just think every day apart is a day closer to being back together again and that’s what keeps me going!”

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