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Deirdre Murphy – “I remember watching Denise Masterson lift the All Ireland trophy in 2010, and thinking ‘that’s going to be me one day’”

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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”

Niamh McEvoy – “I had to play with the boys until I was 12”

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.”

Sorcha Furlong: “I’ve gained a greater understanding from coaching the under-21s. It can be quite a narrow view when you’re playing.”

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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.

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.

Bobby McNulty: “There are two players on this panel I remember coaching at under-13 level”

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.

Always a football lover, Dublin ladies’ first team coach and selector Bobby McNulty got into the managerial side of things early: he’s been coaching for longer than he’s been an adult.

Starting at his own club, Thomas Davis in Tallaght, McNulty  – a garda outside of his love of football – worked his way up the sidelines of a number of underage panels before moving on to minors, under-21s and the senior men, as well as working with a number of Dublin age group sides. His Dublin minor side, alongside Conor Barry, won two Leinster titles and made an All Ireland final in 2013, before losing out to Galway in a replay. And then came the ladies’ seniors.

McNulty joined Greg McGonigle with Dublin senior panel in 2015, with the pair setting their eyes firmly on the All Ireland, a prize that had proved – by the narrowest of margins – elusive for the capital county over the previous couple of years.

“A few years ago, we wouldn’t have won that game against Mayo,” the coach says of the county’s recent semi-final victory. “Sinead Aherne having the confidence to put aside her earlier miss to put over that [match winning] point is the mark of a major player. We didn’t have a good second half, but we always knew it would be close.”

That semi-final saw Dublin snatch a last-gasp winner against the Connacht powerhouse through a break that was finished by the brilliant composed Sinead Aherne from a tight angle, with the westerners having earlier whittled away a substantial halftime lead and looking to be edging into control. McNulty believes that the days when these narrow games went against Dublin are a thing of the past; that the girls in blue are mentally tougher; composed and better equipped for the battle.

“We are very, very closely matched,” he says of the forthcoming finale against Cork. “If we get everything right, we could come out the right side of a single score game. The midfield battle is key, especially as Cork have two serious players in there; Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley are highly experienced. Obviously they’re a challenge.”

Why Dublin women’s football feels like it’s on a massive high

Dublin GAA logoAt the turn of the year, Dublin women’s football manager Greg McGonigle commented on the state of women’s football. “There are great footballing teams around,” he said, simply, but was quick to zone in on the reason that’s so apparent: a difference in rules.

“We’re at a stage where it’s different to the men with the pulling and the dragging, because a yellow card is a sin bin in the women’s game,” he explained, “and we can’t afford to have players sitting on the bench for ten minutes.”

The women’s game is arguably at its highest ever ebb. The addition of a well-known German supermarket chain on sponsorship duty and substantial coverage on TG4 have raised the profile substantially, with county players occupying billboards throughout our cities and increasingly recognisable as a result.

Last season’s All Ireland Ladies’ final was the biggest women’s sporting event of the year in Europe in terms of attendance, attracting just over 31,000 attendees, and topping the women’s FA Cup Final in England by a few hundred. If recent trends are anything to go by, this year should be still bigger.

The game, admittedly, tends not to be quite as physical as the men’s game, or quite as fast-paced, but there’s a purity to it: a focus on technical aptitude and fluid gameplay seems to be the dominant feature. While there are still thrashings, they’re becoming rarer, especially at the game’s upper echelons.

It’s hard to imagine a better advert for the game than Dublin’s last-second game-winning point against Mayo in the semi-final a week ago, in a game that went to the absolute wire. Dominant county Cork were given a serious test by Monaghan this weekend, with the Ulster side shooting 14 wides and still finishing only three points short.

Convinced on the strength of the county game, I decided to spend a week watching the Dublin championship club finals. The experience was one of the best adverts for a sport you could hope to see:

Senior Final: Foxrock Cabinteely 1-13 St Brigid’s 2-9 (my report).

An athletic, pacey Foxrock Cabinteely side powered by playmaker Amy Connolly appeared in charge throughout much of the game against their gritty rivals. St Brigid’s needed incredible late input from county goalkeeper Ciara Trant to reach this stage, with the goalkeeper making a number of point blank saves against Ballyboden St Enda’s in their semi-final before stepping up to score a penalty that forced extra time.

The sheer grit was on display again here, with Trant, Sorcha Furlong and Leah Mullins the stars in a late comeback, after Connolly and Amy Ring took charge for Foxrock. Trailing by six points with five minutes left on the clock, Brigid’s harried their way back into things to get within two as the clock ran down. The game ended with a series of frees that saw half the Foxrock Cabinteely squad lined up along the goalline. Defensive pressure eventually forced a last-gasp goal effort just over the bar.

Goodbye glamour: a trip to Aston Villa’s last home premier league game

“Are you here for the funeral?”

It’s 7am, and I’m strolling through customs at Birmingham International Airport on the second to last day of Aston Villa’s 2015/16 premier league season. I’ve been a Villa fan for as long as I can remember. A massive perk of my choice of university – Warwick, based in Coventry – was the opportunity to switch from regular trips up to Villa Park with a friend of my dad’s to a fully-fledged season ticket holder in the Holte End Upper. I’ve made a point of dropping back when I can over the years, even while living abroad.

My interest in the intervening years has varied from ‘makes sure I check in on the score’ (living in Asia for several years made it hard to watch regularly, and pushed things down my priority list), to being utterly besotted. Strangely, the link between quality and my interest has often worked in reverse: my most dedicated Villa years were the ones where they weren’t very good.

I vividly remember another second-to-last game of the season in which an extremely late goal from Marcus Alback ensured survival. It was tense and uninspiring, but also a heavy relief. While I’ve also witnessed that ridiculous game against Newcastle, a Europa League defeat of Ajax and a cup final that we should probably have won (the last one not in person, sadly), tense and uninspiring have summed up a large part of the whole experience.

But you can’t change your football team, right? So the customs lad summed it up: I was here for the funeral.

Protests in full swing at #AVFC

A photo posted by James Hendicott (@jameshendicott) on

Bernard Brogan: “We don’t feel sorry for Mayo, and I don’t think they’d want us to”

Dublin GAA logoI spoke to one of Dublin GAA’s star men for the Dublin Gazette, on how he spends his off season:

Bernard Brogan could be forgiven for taking some down time: he recently starred in a team that took home their third All Ireland title in five years, finding himself amongst the nominees for ‘Player of the Year 2015’ based on his astounding 6-21 in the Championship. But Brogan certainly isn’t using gaelic football’s offseason as a time to unwind.

Alongside his day job with Legacy Consulting, the Dublin forward is heavily involved with mental health charity Aware, and will be taking part in the Petermarkathon from October 23 to 26. The Beat the Blues program specifically targets resilience and awareness amongst young people. Alongside cake sales and a Dolly Parton Day, Brogan will be involved in jersey days and a cycle-athon.

“I do a lot of work with Aware,” he tells us. “We get asked to do a lot of charity work as footballers, and I try and do as much as I can. I took a conscious decision a couple of years ago to pick a charity that resonated with me and try to give real value, rather than just jumping into a picture and that. To try and get in there and help them on a real level.”

Off season, it seems, is the time for another kind of busy. “We’ve also been going around a lot of schools with Sam” he tells GazetteSport. “Sam brings an aura travelling around, so it’s been a special few weeks. It’s been a challenge alongside running my own business. It’s more or less a full time job over three or four months. I still remember when Sam was bought into me in 1995, in primary school. Those memories stay with you forever, and we’re very conscious of that. I never thought I’d be the next one bringing it around, as I was only a nipper back then. It was a long time waiting for Dubs, but that makes it so much more special.”

Suzi Perry signs new BBC Deal extending her Formula 1 coverage through to 2016

Typhoon-pilot-Suzi-PerryFormer Gadget Show presenter Suzi Perry has signed a new deal to front Formula 1, it has recently been revealed. Perry, who is available for booking through talent agency MN2S, has extended her contract until at least the end of this year with BBC Formula 1 contract meaning that she may not be able to join Top Gear full-time.

It was previously rumoured that she would be joining the motoring programme earlier this month, leading the show’s new line up after Clarkson was axed following a fracas with a producer. Suzi Perry is best known for covering MotoGP for the BBC for 13 years, The Gadget Show on Channel 5 for 9 years, until 2011, and the BBC’s Formula One coverage from 2013.

Speaking about the possible presenter changes on Top Gear, Perry informed The Sunday Times, that, “They want to refresh it and make it different. I think they’re looking at having a gang of people rather than a structure of maybe two to three presenters, more of a team to take it in turns.” She added, “I wouldn’t be able to do the long trips. There may be something along the way, but at the moment I really don’t know.”

She told the publication, “My name has been linked to the new series of Top Gear, for instance. For the record, I know that my name is in the mix, and I’m not saying I won’t be doing it, but there has not been an offer for me to be alongside Chris Evans, the main presenter.”