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'He Almost Walked Off The Pitch. He Was Like, 'How Can Ye Not Understand This?''

'He Almost Walked Off The Pitch. He Was Like, 'How Can Ye Not Understand This?''

Noelle Healy arrived back from the Dublin team's skiing holiday in Andorra ready for the January training slog.

"I'm sick of burgers and chips," the 2017 Ladies Footballer of the Year said earlier this month at the launch of Future Proof Media, just a day after her first gym session of the new season with the Dublin panel.

"When I got home I was like, 'I need a vegetable.'"

On that trip, the team took stock of how far they've come. 2013 was pretty much the first time the current group of players came together. It's also now three years since Mick Bohan, their two-time All-Ireland winning manager, was appointed.

When Bohan first arrived, players would stand around in training awaiting instructions. It has since become a player-driven environment.

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. The game happens so quickly that you need to be able to fix things yourselves. There needs to be a bit of fluidity there with players filling in and knowing that if somebody goes off, gets injured or gets out of position, you need to be able to do their job.

A major factor in this Dublin team's success is their core group of players staying together through some challenging times, including losing three consecutive All-Ireland finals. They've developed an ownership of the team.

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"When you're playing with your best friends it makes going to training that little bit easier because it's social, you get your half-an-hour to talk and catch-up before training and over food afterwards," says Healy.

"It's a nice social outlet as much as it is an exercise outlet."

"We spend enough time together as it is but I suppose when you're training there's always a bit of bite and competition there. You're looking towards the next match and there probably is that little bit of pressure. People are coming from work, they're stressed, they may not want to be there at the start, but then when you can just completely relax it's so nice. I always think football is kind of special in that you can't really hide on a football pitch.

"Your emotions are just out there so that creates that bond as well. People can really be themselves on a football pitch, there's no bullshit or trying to hide or trying to fit into a certain mold. You are who you are. When you get to go away like that [to Andorra] people can just relax and enjoy themselves.

"I don't know if our team could have got tighter but you make memories, there's stories and what goes on tour stays on tour and that kind of stuff. It's brilliant and it's just a nice reward for a tough year."

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While it may be a tight group, it is also one into which new players can easily integrate.

I was actually flying back on the plane with Laura McGinley who came up from minor two years ago. She said to me, 'When I came up from minor I was terrified. I had my group of friends and I was glad to stick with them but now you guys are my best friends and you guys are my family.'

At one stage we were that young group of girls. There was a few of us, myself, Sinead Goldrick, Lyndsey (Davey) and Niamh McEvoy would have came up at the same stage.

We would only have been 15/16 and there were girls that were 28 or 30 and there was a big gap there between what you'd experienced and their attitude towards playing football. It took us a little while to fully be involved in the team and feel like this was our team. We've taken lessons from that and tried to involve the girls as much as possible.

We try to do as much relaxed team bonding stuff during the year as we can to get everybody to know each other. A lot of the drills we do are either paired or in groups and we make a conscious effort if there's somebody new to come in that either myself or one of the Sineads would go and partner with them and make sure they didn't feel lost and not afraid to make a mistake.

That's important because it's obviously intimidating to come into a panel, you've perceptions of girls from what they're like on the pitch whether you've played against them. So it's important to just show that, 'It's your team as much as ur team and you're here because you're good enough to play and in a few years you're going to be one of the leaders on the team so don't be shy and don't be afraid.' We've been really lucky that the girls are taking that mantle themselves.

You see Laura this year scored two goals, one in championship and one in the league final so thankfully they've been able to flourish under it.

Just days after September's All-Ireland final win against Cork, Mick Bohan was linked with the vacant Roscommon men's football manager job.

Those reports did not worry the Dublin players.

"The came down the day after the final and said he'd already watched the match and done analysis on it. 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."

Dublin ladies footballer Noelle Healy was speaking at the launch of Future Proof Media, the low cost, jargon free marketing consultants. Visit www.futureproofmedia.ie to see how they can help you grow your business. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Noelle Healy: 'For Somebody Who Worked In The Industry Himself, I Just Don’t Think It Was Fair'

PJ Browne
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