Noelle Healy reflects on 'unbelievable' journey travelled
By John Harrington
There was a moment on the Dublin Ladies Football team’s recent holiday to Andorra where the conversation turned to just how far they’d all come together in the space of a couple of years.
Previously labelled as a ‘nearly team’ after losing three All-Ireland Finals in a row from 2014 to 2016, they now occupy a very different place in the nation’s sporting consciousness after winning back to back All-Irelands in 2017 and 2018.
Noelle Healy played in all five of those All-Ireland Finals so knows better than most the extent of the journey they’ve travelled.
“We kind of took stock and were thinking back to 2013, it was probably the first time most of this group of players came together,” she told GAA.ie
“The difference between our first training session in that time under Pablo (Paul Gilheaney), who was the caretaker manager at that stage, from the way Dublin football was at that time to where we are now.
“It's unbelievable, it's been a very fast few years and to think you played in five All-Ireland finals in that time and won two is really special.”
Dublin lost the 2014, 2015, and 2016 All-Ireland Finals to Cork by a cumulative total of just four points.
That’s the same Cork team rightly regarded as one of the greatest in the history of Gaelic Games, so even though Dublin were falling short they had undeniable quality.
They needed something a little bit extra to go the extra yard, though, and the appointment of Mick Bohan as manager would give the group that vital impetus they needed to fully realise their potential and develop as people as well as players.
“When Mick came in first we were just looking at him waiting for him to give us instructions,” said Healy.
“We were laughing thinking back to one of the drills he did, we were saying he almost walked off the pitch.
“He was just like, 'How can ye not understand this?' He was probably thinking we'd never played football before and he'd just walked into a team of rods.
“But then coming up to the final last year, he was doing something with the backs. The forwards were together and he came in and was like, 'Right, this is what we're going to do.'
“We said, 'Mick it's fine, we talked about it we know what we're doing. Just leave us alone, we'll go off and do it.
“And he said, 'Well ye wouldn't have said that last year anyway!' So I think we have taken responsibility for the team and that's what you want. In Croke Park you're not going to hear what's going on from the management.”
There was some speculation after last year’s All-Ireland Football Final win over Mayo that Bohan’s success with the Dublin Ladies team would see him snapped up by a men’s senior inter-county team, with Roscommon specifically mentioned in some dispatches.
But Healy and her team-mates knew that was never likely to happen such is Bohan’s commitment to their shared cause.
“No, not really, because he came down the day after the Final and said he'd already watched the match and done analysis on it,” said Healy.
“He was like, 'We've a few things to improve for next year.' So you're going, 'Well I guess he's staying.'
“He has a huge passion for Dublin football. He has two young girls himself and I think he sees the way that we interact with them and the way they look up to us.
“I think, does he feel there's more of a bond there or that he was more of a bit of responsibility to try elevate ladies football to create more role models for young girls like his two?
“A lot of his coaching style is reminding us of why we play football, who we're playing it for and what we represent and the style of football - be it men or women who have gone before - played in the Dublin style that he talks about. I think for him he's Dublin through and through.
“As much as people would see ladies football as a stepping stone, I don't think he sees it that way. I think he knows not only the bond but the environment and standards that we have and also the desire to improve and to see what we can do. Thankfully he saw it as good enough to stay.”
There has been no significant retirements from the Dublin panel since last year’s All-Ireland win, and Healy doesn’t mind admitting that they’re all highly motivated to by the challenge of winning three-in-a-row in 2019.
“We were saying that thankfully the Cork ladies have set a very high standard - there's not as much pressure on us,” she said.
“Last year was such a historical year for us in that it's the first time we've ever won the league: it's the first time Dublin has ever won back-to-back; I think it was a record number of Dublin titles as well.
“We know that we have a very special group of players, both in terms of attitude and application and also talent. It's not going to be there forever, there's always going to be another county coming along. We're just trying to do as much as we can while we're there.
“I think everytime you start a season you're going to want to win a trophy. Galway are going to be going out there, Cork are going to be going out there - everybody wants to go and win. To say that, 'No, we don't want to this,’ it's not very believable.
“For us, just like Mick said, we’re just trying to improve the type of football that we play because everybody is going to have improved from last year; if we stand still, we’re just going to get overtaken. We just need to see where we can improve.
“We have the added benefit that there are a lot of young players coming up which will always reinvigorate us and boost the competition.”