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'It made me realise that I really did miss it and really do appreciate it' - Dublin All-Star on Canadian adventure

Leah Caffrey is happy to be back in the Dublin fold after a year out.

Star defender Leah Caffrey is back in action for Dublin.
Star defender Leah Caffrey is back in action for Dublin.
Image: Piaras Ó Mídheach/SPORTSFILE

LEAH CAFFREY WATCHED her Dublin team-mates lift their third consecutive All-Ireland senior football championship title from afar in September.

The Na Fianna defender had starred for the Sky Blues in their previous two successful campaigns — and before that; she won an All-Star in 2016 as well as 2017 — though rather being in the thick of the Croke Park action, she was watching from the Canadian city of Vancouver. 

“Myself and my boyfriend were thinking of going away for a year so then when the opportunity came up, we just said we’d take it,” Caffrey said at today’s AIG 20×20 ‘Show Your Skills’ Competition Launch.

“It was a really good year, we really had a good time.

It was nice to settle into a different pace of life, but then it also made you realise what’s at home. We were both very happy to come home as well.”

She played a small bit of football out there, but then decided to take a break while it was possible. She and her boyfriend, Sligo footballer Cian Breheny, worked for Lululemon, a yoga clothing company, and enjoyed a very different lifestyle. 

But 24-year-old Caffrey made sure to keep an eye on everything that was going on in the Dublin camp.

“I’d always be 100% supportive,” she continues. “It was my decision, I decided to leave. I was very supportive of the team, I was always chatting to the girls.

It was great to see them win the three-in-a-row as well. For me, at the time, that was just what was for me and I felt like that was what I should do. I’m happy I did it, but happy to be back now and going for my three-in-a-row, not in-a-row but…

Caffrey’s return has come as a massive boost to Dublin. As manager Mick Bohan said himself, “it’s as if she was never away.” On her competitive comeback, she was typically brilliant in defence, while she chipped in with two points at the other end of the field.

“I missed it when I was away,” she concedes. So the hunger is certainly there.

“Socially, it’s like I never left but physically, I can definitely feel it. It’s such a huge jump, but I just like being around the girls and being around the team. It’s so enjoyable. The hard work has be put in, I know that. 

“I mean the fitness is getting better and better, and the league is great for that as well; getting game time and getting back into things. Game-wise and your knowledge of the game and stuff was obviously a bit rusty, but no, it’s good now.

“I’m happy I’m back and happy to be learning again.”

While much of the set-up is similar, there are a few new additions and Caffrey welcomes the injection of new energy. Experienced campaigner Lyndsey Davey has recently made her seasonal return, while Bohan is waiting on the likes of 2017 and 2018 Players of the Year Noelle Healy and Sinéad Aherne to rejoin the set-up. That continuity is nice.

cork-v-dublin-tg4-all-ireland-ladies-football-senior-championship-final With team-mate Katie Murray and her niece, Evie, after the 2018 All-Ireland final. Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

The league is great for less experienced players to get minutes in the legs — “it’s definitely a priority but it’s also a learning curve,” Caffrey notes — while it’s making her individual return slightly easier.

The challenge is definitely there to prove herself again, though, and to fight for her jersey. 

“You’re in from the bottom, you need to go again… which every year basically is as well, you know that way? When I was away, I would have been thinking, ‘Obviously I need to get back in shape,’ or whatever, but I’m very happy to do that, and more motivated to get into it again.

It made me realise that I really did miss it, and really do appreciate it.

With team-mates Sinéad Goldrick and Niamh McEvoy two of the 18 plying their trade in the Australian Football League Women’s [AFLW] through the spring, Caffrey is keeping a close eye and hoping to have the key duo back on board for championship. 

“Things seem to be going great for them, they seem to be enjoying it and taking advantage of the great opportunity that they have.

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“It’s a different lifestyle, a professional athlete. It seems amazing, and they seem to be really enjoying it as well so everyone is very, very supportive of them over there.”

“To be honest, it hasn’t even entered my mind,” she adds, when asked if it’s something she’s ever considered, or an option for the future. “I was away last year.

Anyone who does it, I think it’s such a good opportunity. It obviously requires a lot of thought before going over, but I mean to be living as a professional athlete is kind of a dream for most girls. It’s definitely a big thing, and it’s definitely a great opportunity.

“Especially in Australia; such an ideal place, loads of people have loads of friends over there already, it is very attractive. But I think a lot of thought would have to go into a decision like that.”

For now, her entire focus is on Dublin football and settling into life on home soil once again. The DCU graduate is starting a new job in recruitment next week and is relishing that challenge, while next up on the field is the visit of 2019 All-Ireland champions Galway to Parnell Park on Sunday [throw-in 2pm].

The Donnycarney stadium would be a nice home venue for the Dublin ladies, Caffrey agrees, as the Jackies eye a top-two finish in Division 1. 

aig-show-your-skills-launch Caffrey (right) with Dublin camogie star Laura Twomey at today's AIG Show Your Skills event. Source: Seb Daly/SPORTSFILE

“You know it’s there, you’re aware of it but you’re not too worried about it,” she says of that second-place spot, with Cork looking to have top spot and a final date wrapped up already.

“There’s a lot of new and younger girls coming in, and we’re trying to help them learn the system. We’re just trying to gel together, learn and absorb information as much as we can, to try and be able to perform in a game.

“We’ll worry about that and then we’ll worry about the league after that.”

And the championship thereafter, which she reckons will be highly competitive. 

“I definitely say so, yeah,” she agrees. “Especially with Galway in the final last year, Mayo this year, it was very physical when we played them in the league. I think everyone is really raring to go, just from what I can tell from the league this year anyway.

Tipperary… it’s definitely going to be a really good championship and I think as we get more and more into the league, the standard will definitely come up.

“Once the summer comes around, I think everyone will be definitely looking forward to a fairly competitive championship.”

So that four-in-a-row, or her three-in-a-row (not in-a-row) will be have to be really earned?

“100%,” she smiles.

AIG are calling on women and girls of all ages, all abilities and all sports to ‘Show Your Skills’. Enter the online competition at aig.ie/skills to be in with a chance to win a monthly €1,000 prize.

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About the author:

Emma Duffy

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