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This article is part of a series of feature interviews prepared for the Dublin Ladies’ Gaelic Football Association ahead of their All Ireland 2016 final with Cork.

Last year, Deirdre Murphy stepped away from the Dublin senior football team to head to Chicago on a J1, returning just in time to watch her teammates in the county side lose out 0-12 to 0-10 in the final against an all-conquering Cork.

It’s another Croke Park experience that has long formed part of Murphy’s footballing motivation, though, a moment that’s stuck with her throughout her playing career. As captain of Dublin’s All Ireland-winning under-16 side in 2010, Murphy and her side were invited to parade their trophy around the pitch at HQ ahead of the senior final.

After soaking up the applause, Murphy took her seat to watch Dublin win their first (and to date, their only) All Ireland ladies’ football title, hammering Tyrone 3-16 to 0-9 to end five years of Cork dominance. “I remember watching Denise Masterson lift the All Ireland trophy, and thinking ‘that’s going to be my one day,” Murphy said of the day.

Four years later, Murphy was to start on the bench as Dublin built a substantial lead over Cork in the senior final, only to throw it away in the dying stages. This year, having established herself as a starter following her return from that summer J1 in 2015, Murphy’s experience has become strangely cyclical: like Masterson’s team six years ago, she’s looking to help prevent the successive All Ireland wins of a dominant Cork side from extending to six.

Unsurprisingly, football has infiltrated every aspect of Murphy’s life over recent years. “Training is tough,” she admits. “But there are several players from that under-16 side still around me. I don’t think I’d have made it to where I am today if I didn’t have friends from St Brigid’s and from the age-group teams around me. Leah Caffrey, Siobhan Woods, Molly Lamb and Ciara Trant have moved up with me to the senior squad. When you’re out there pushing through the harder moments of training you need your friends around you. It makes all the difference.”

Murphy – a student who returned to college at DCU just a two weeks before the All Ireland final – also reports the sport having a strong impact on the rest of her life. “It helps with structure,” she explains. “It helps me have discipline in all aspects of life. When I’m stressed, the training is a great release, too. It’s something that’s always been there for me, something I can rely on.”

“My dad was always involved growing up,” she adds. “I’ve been around Dublin development squads since the under-11s. I think they’re really important, as they give lots of players a chance. It can be hard to be seen, and it also gives the players a chance to see what’s there for them, the professionalism there is there. The senior managers always showed an interest in the development squads. It’s very much ‘Team Dublin.’ It needs to be that kind of stepping stone”

Dublin GAA logoThis article is part of a series of feature interviews prepared for the Dublin Ladies’ Gaelic Football Association ahead of their All Ireland 2016 final with Cork.

While Dean Rock revels in his role in attempting to take the men’s senior title to the capital for the second year on the trot, with his county season spilling over to occupy weekend’s either side of the ladies’ final, Niamh McEvoy – his partner in both life and lethal forward play – will be having a quiet one as she prepares to take on Cork in the ladies’ finale.

“I’ll be watching the men, but I also have to focus on myself,” McEvoy told us ahead of the first rendition of the men’s final against Mayo. “Dean’s great about it. He’ll enjoy his moment, but I know he’ll be there for me during the week. We had exactly the same thing last year.”

Talking to McEvoy, in fact, you get the sense that the whole process – from training to coaching and the time time constraints around the game – comes extremely naturally to her. There’s almost an edge of guilt to the way the full-forward describes her approach to training, and how it might differ to some other members of the squad.

“I’m a primary school teacher, which could hardly be more perfect for football,” she says. “I turn up to training in the evenings having been home, eaten, and sometimes had a nap as well. The summer fits well with the football season, too. It can be difficult for the younger girls to manage, as lot of them are students and might have an evening or weekend job to worry about as well. I get kids and parents asking me about the games instead, and work starts just a couple of weeks before the final. Both, to be honest, are a nice distraction. I’m really lucky.”

Footballing life hasn’t always been simple for McEvoy, though, who is quick to note the progress the ladies’ game has made in recent years, giving her club environment as an example.

As a star at Malahide club Sylvester’s, McEvoy recalls her early footballing days as “playing with the boys until I was 12, as there just weren’t enough girls interested. You can see by the attendance at Croke Park last year how much bigger the game has become [at a touch over 30,000, last year’s final attendance made it the bigger women’s sporting event in Europe, ahead of the women’s FA Cup Final in England].”

“I sometimes work with the nursery at Sylvester’s now, and there will be sixty there on a Saturday morning. Sylvester’s are a medium-sized club, but it’s just not necessary to mix everyone together anymore. In fact, you have to separate them out because of the numbers involved.”

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