EARLY IN THE second half of Saturday’s league final between Dublin and Cork, a familiar face took to the field in Croke Park.
Noelle Healy was called upon, but not as an impact substitute. This time, the recently-retired five-time All-Ireland champion was on the pitch as the team doctor.
While she made her way out to the forward line she so often starred in through the years, the 2017 Footballer of the Year donned a ‘Dochtúir’ bib rather than the famous Sky Blue jersey.
There, the intensive care doctor and anaesthetist attended to Caoimhe O’Connor, helping the 21-year-old off as a blood sub.
Healy bowed out as a legend of the game in April, with a remarkable list of achievements to boot, though has stayed involved with the panel.
An interesting addition to Mick Bohan’s backroom team, her presence alone is a massive boost to team-mates she soldiered with for so long.
Just as the evergreen Siobhán McGrath vouched for in the Hogan Stand straight after her Player of the Match winning display, which helped land Dublin’s second-ever Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 1 crown.
“To be honest, it was devastating [when she retired],” McGrath told The42.
“A lot of us had grown up playing together, playing senior together for a long time so her leaving the panel was devastating. It was the right thing for her – but just to have her back here, to have her in the dressing room again, her character, her personality is just brilliant, so we’re happy to have her in any capacity we can have her in.”
Great to see former @dublinladiesg player & 5 time All Ireland winner Dr Noelle Healy who retired earlier this year back on pitch in Croke Park with the Dubs as team doctor. #COYGIB pic.twitter.com/mlLkyAvQtg
— Darren Chambers (@dmcambrois) June 26, 2021
The Thomas Davis ace produced another towering performance around the middle for the four-in-a-row All-Ireland champions, and reflected on a rare league final win afterwards, understanding many people’s disbelief that this was just their second top-flight crown.
“That’s what we were just saying there. We were really, really going after the league this year, we wanted it, because we’ve only had one. To get it now is really sweet.”
In recent years, Bohan has used the league to blood younger players and unearth new gems on the Dublin fringes.
It’s often been said there may be a bit of a hangover from the previous year’s championship success, but the Jackies certainly found a nice balance this season, winning silverware and their five games, using 31 players, and getting championship ready.
“I think our panel has really shone through this year,” McGrath agrees. “Girls that have been working hard the last few years have really come to the fore now.
“Caoimhe [O’Connor], Hedgo [Niamh Hetherton], getting Hannah [Tyrrell] back, our panel is really strong at the moment and we’re really enjoying training with the panel we have.”
On the younger talent coming through, she continued: “To be honest, it’s great to see that. When a few of us leave the panel, this year maybe [laughs], just to know that them girls have really, really stepped up now and the future is bright for Dublin.
“It’s very pleasing and satisfying for us, all the girls to feel like we can, as Mick says, pass the baton.”
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Siobhán McGrath with her player of the match award afterwards.
Source: Brian Reilly-Troy/INPHO
Tyrrell, a huge success story from the campaign having made her impact felt since retiring from international rugby, echoed her team-mates words afterwards.
“We have some incredible players coming through the ranks. Obviously we have the likes of the Lyndsey Daveys, Siobhan McGraths, Sinead Ahernes who have been here for years on end, that know how to play the game.
“With those younger players coming in in their debut season – Hannah Leahy and Abby Shiels in goal – it’s great to have that coming through because they’re pushing for the jerseys and keeping everybody on their toes. That’s what you need.”
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What was playing in a game like that, which had it all, like? “Tiring,” Tyrrell laughed.
“No, look, it’s an absolutely massive pitch and Cork always give us a tremendous fight. It was very much tit for tat in the first half and thankfully, we just managed to get a few crucial scores put away at the right time, and get the win.”
McGrath nodded: “It was the usual with Cork. It’s always nip and tuck, we’re very similar teams in nature. I don’t think it was much different to what we’re usually against but I think we tried to learn from the last day and tried to stop them coming through the middle.
“You can never rest on your laurels with Cork, they’re such a good side. But yeah, we’re just really happy we got the victory today.”
Both delighted to have fans back in Croke Park — “spread out but you could really hear them,” McGrath assured — focus now switches to championship, where the defending champions find themselves in a group with Tyrone and Waterford.
The Drive for Five well and truly cranks into gear on 10 July, and no doubt, there’ll be another meeting with old foes Cork along the way.
“Look, we all came here to win an All-Ireland at the end of the year and there’s a lot of games to get there,” Tyrrell concluded.
“This will give us a lot of confidence going into the championship, but we have our sights set firmly on that first game against Tyrone.
“We can’t look further than that, we don’t know what’s going to happen then, but we go back training, we go back to the drawing board and we go again.”