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.
For Sorcha Furlong, one of the most experienced players on Dublin ladies 2016 senior panel, this season has been very much about change – changes in roles, changes in her position and changes in her approach to the game.
One of an ever-dwindling number of survivors from the county’s only All Ireland win in 2010, Furlong gave serious consideration to her role before the season started this time around, before deciding to sit out the league stages of the season, and take on an eight-week coaching role at the county’s under-21 side ahead of their All Ireland tournament instead.
With the under-21s going on to win an All Ireland, Furlong’s decision was not only a success, but had the benefits of a change of pace, helped forge still stronger connections with the senior team’s management and gave her a break at the relatively blunt end of the season. An added bonus came in the make-up of the under-21 side, many of whom are also involved in current senior panel, allowing Furlong to firm up her own senior relationships.
“I really enjoyed the change,” Furlong said of the experience. “It’s great to see the younger players come through, and a lot of them have a role on the senior panel now. I could see what it’s like on the sidelines, which has given me a greater understanding of what’s going on the pitch. It can be quite a narrow view when you’re playing.”
“It helps a good deal in terms of relating to Greg [McGonigle, Dublin senior manager] and Bobby [McNulty, the first team coach and selector],” Furlong added. “I was trying to avoid doing things for the sake of it, because I’ve been doing this a while now. I want to do what counts.”
“I told Greg I wasn’t keen on a full season,” Furlong said of the decision, made shortly after the final last year, “but I kept training myself, I kept going with the fitness work.”
Furlong, in fact, has been playing at various age-groups in the Dublin set up since around 2003/2004, which means her county involvement is now approaching half of her life. Outside of the sport, she’s a P.E teacher, though despite her school having a football program, she prefers to take a step away, and is currently involved mainly in teaching volleyball.
“The important thing is to see that they’re learning about how to play, but also about the wider context of sport – health, nutrition, things like that,” Furlong explains of the role. If there’s an argument for the success of such teaching, perhaps it lies in the ladies’ club game, which has unquestionably seen an increase in participation over recent years as the profile has developed.
“Foxrock Cabinteely have really pushed us on,” Furlong admitted of the ladies’ club champions and Dublin’s outstanding side, who narrowly overcame her club St Brigid’s in the county final a couple of weeks ago.
“There’s some serious teams out there. The underage set up at Kilmacud Crokes, for example, is something else. They have seven or eight players with the Dublin under-21s.”
“The underage coaching is getting better and better, and the game isn’t as physical as the men’s, so they can come through that bit earlier. We have younger players this time around who might start as subs in the final, and some of them have already started in All Ireland finals. It feels like it’s a bit more open, with people trying to keep up. On their day, any one of about nine teams could win the Dublin club championship. There are a few up there for the county title, too. That gives an idea of how competitive things have become.”
With the future looking bright, though, Furlong is keen not to dwell on the past, despite her achievements.
“The 2010 win was one of the best days, my best day in a Dublin jersey,” she says of the county’s previous win. “It’s the peak, so it’s something you want to achieve, but we try not to dwell on the past. If anything I think winning in 2016 would mean more.”
Another notable feature for Furlong in the current championship has been her move to a holding role in the Dublin midfield, a role that she’s long played with her club side, but a shift from her more regular defensive role at county level. The move will bring her face to face with the two longest-serving stars of the all-conquering Cork panel come final day, in Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley.
“I was excited about playing somewhere else,” she says. “I used to dream about playing in midfield, and played there all through the underage set up, so it’s not a big ask. It sits fairly naturally to me, but it’s been an experience.”
Furlong is yet to make a decision about her role in the panel next year, calling her involvement a “huge commitment,” and the future “hard to call.”
“I’ve made no definite decisions about next year, and I won’t until after the final. I’m still playing though,” she concludes. “That probably says everything you need to know. I don’t fit football around my life. It’s a serious commitment. I fit my life around football,” she argued.
After 12 years at the sharp end, it would be hard to argue with her decision should Furlong choose to step away from county football. She’d be a huge loss, and while she could equally be back, having a 2016 All Ireland medal around her neck would unquestionably be a fine crowning moment.
Written by James Hendicott for (and reprinted with permission of) the DLGFA.