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.

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.”

All Ireland Ladies Final interviews – Dublin v Cork

Ladies All Ireland promoI’ve been lucky enough to be asked to cover the All Ireland Ladies Football Final (this Sunday, September 27) by both the Dublin Gazette and Dublin GAA themselves, which means I’m lucky enough to have one of the most complete sets of interviews with the Dublin panel I believe is available anywhere in the build up to the finale, featuring five players (some of whom I interviewed ahead of the semi-final win against Armagh) and manager Greg McGonigle. 

Cork will go into the final as favourites, having won nine of the last ten ladies All-Ireland titles, but with Dublin having run them extremely close last year, and made their way to the final fairly comfortably, they certainly can’t be ruled out.

The girls know far more about what’s going on than I do, of course, so without further ado, here are the complete set of interviews ahead of Sunday’s game:

Noelle Healy (St Brigids): “Noelle Healyit’ll be a psychological battle as much as a physical battle”

Having joined the Dublin panel in 2007, Noelle Healy is one of the more experienced heads in the Dublin side, and one of the most committed. She was part of the side that made it to the All Ireland final in 2009, shortly after doing her leaving certificate, and has been a mainstay ever since, even whilst undertaking one of the most challenging qualifications on offer.

Earlier this year, Healy qualified as a doctor. “You’d be training evening and then have long days in college”, she explains “so you have to be quite prepared. There’s a need to be quite disciplined that means the two things kind of compliment each other. Then there’s the psychology and exercise side, nutrition and things like that. I’m also used to working in a team environment. Doctors very rarely work independently, they’re always part of a team, so I think that has helped me.”

What it does do, though, is impinge on social life. Being a top class athlete and hitting the town have never been known for their compatibility, and combining it with a heady study requirement is only going to exacerbate the problem.  “I used to get a good bit of slagging from friends as a result,” Healy says.

“I’d never be out. I always wanted to do medicine. I always wanted to do well, rather than just scrape by. And with football, you kind of have no choice but to work hard. You need to be prepared. You need to have breakfast, lunch and dinner with you on the days you’re training. You need to have your stuff for hospital, and for college. You need to have an escape route, to think about how you’re going to get from college to hospital to training.”