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Dismissing talk of Dublin dominance, Leinster in limbo and backing Bohan to return

Dublin star Nicole Owens on a wide range of ladies football topics.

DUBLIN STAR NICOLE Owens is hopeful of All-Ireland three-in-a-row winning boss Mick Bohan staying on in what’s shaping up to be a different 2020 for the county.

Trinity Sport_06 Dublin star Nicole Owens. Source: Cathal Noonan

With the future of the Leinster senior championship uncertain after Westmeath’s relegation to the intermediate ranks, and the departure of key duo Sinéad Goldrick and Niamh McEvoy to the AFLW, next season is set to be a new challenge for the reigning champions.

And Owens is optimistic that Clontarf clubman Bohan will be there to lead the charge.

Bohan was first appointed ahead of the 2016 season and has since led the Sky Blues to three All-Ireland titles, three Leinster crowns and Division 1 league glory for the first time. Last November, he agreed a new two-year term.

“I think hopefully he will be here for another year,” St Sylvester’s forward Owens said yesterday, after being announced as a brand ambassador for Trinity Sport.

“The difference he and the management team have brought coming into a team that had lost three All-Irelands and obviously weren’t in a great place… they talk about each year as a new year, but there is a sense of momentum that each year we are building on the work, standards and foundations that we put in the previous year.

“Hopefully, we will keep that ticking on as we go into next year.”

Bohan, who previously managed Dublin to an All-Ireland final appearance in 2003, worked as coach to the Clare men’s footballers in 2016 and was linked with the Roscommon job last year before Anthony Cunningham took over.

Owens is well aware of how sought-after he is — and rightly so, she reckons.

“He is brilliant. He is very much someone who will never leave any stone unturned.

“Every team is getting better and better, so it is important that we keep driving. He will spend the next three months planning next year.

“At the end of his first year, he had a list of 36 things that we all needed to improve on and we had only done 18 of them. I’m pretty sure that list is at about 60 now, he just keeps adding to it.”

The dreaded mention of four-in-a-row is floated, but Owens, who’s currently rehabbing a devastating cruciate injury sustained this summer, insists it’s just a number. 

And one that most definitely won’t be mentioned in the Dublin camp any time soon. Every year is different.

- Leinster in limbo -

mick-bohan Dublin ladies manager Mick Bohan. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

With Westmeath relegated from senior championship in 2019, and Meath failing to win the All-Ireland intermediate final — and in turn, promotion — the future of the provincial competition is up in the air. 

“We don’t know what’s going to happen with Leinster now, so that will be interesting,” she notes. “We have no idea what will happen, it hasn’t been communicated to us anyway.”

Bohan has, in the past, called for them all to be scrapped, with this issue now a reality in the East. The LGFA have given no indication of what will happen, while it’s understood it falls on Leinster LGFA. Owens, whose Dublin side won their eighth consecutive title this year, is unsure of a solution.

“I don’t know, obviously with the hurling, they moved Galway to Leinster and that was more of a competitive spirit in Leinster. I don’t really know what they can do.

“We have been joking about it, how bizarre it would be playing in say, a Connacht final. That would be so odd. At the same time, we don’t want to be handed a Leinster title and we also don’t want to go into an All-Ireland championship not having played a competitive match. I don’t know what they are going to do.

“I’d like to think they’re thinking about it. Certainly for us, we don’t think past Leinster until we’ve played each game in Leinster. That’s the first focus so yeah, I don’t know.

“Maybe it’ll be Connacht next year,” she jokes, but you can sense she’s half-serious.

- Dublin’s dominance -

After that earlier reference to every teams getting better and better, it’s interesting to hear Owens’ thoughts on the common perception of those not involved in ladies football that Dublin are dominating. 

Has there been much negative feedback from outside Dublin to the three-in-a-row, considering Jim Gavin’s five-in-a-row champions have shipped a lot of criticis from around the country?

“Not really that I’ve noticed,” she says. “I suppose part of that talk is the legacy of coming off the back of our three-in-a-row but it is nothing compared to Cork, who done the five-in-a-row twice. 2016, it was only three years ago that they were winning their sixth in-a-row.

“I think from that end anyway it’s hard to turn around and be like, ‘Three-in-a-row, Dublin have too many resources.’ It’s like, ‘Well actually, three years ago, Cork were doing this.’

“I suppose we’ve been lucky at the moment, I don’t think anyway sentiment has swung against us, which is kind of what’s happened to the lads. I don’t know if because we won three-in-a-row and they won five-in-a-row, it might have got packaged a bit as in, ‘Ah, look at Dublin.’ It’s certainly not something I’ve been very aware of.”

nicole-owens In action in the 2018 All-Ireland final. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

26-year-old Owens would shut it down fairly quickly anyway, dismissing Mayo star Sarah Rowe’s claims from earlier this summer that the Sky Blues have opened a gap with their rivals.

Rowe told the Irish Independent last month that it is a “challenge” to the keep pace with Dublin: “You need money in a successful environment. I think Dublin have sponsorships here, there and everywhere and it’s really hard to compete with that.”

When asked if it feels like that’s the case, Owens responded:

“No, to be honest. It doesn’t. I’m not going to underestimate the support we’ve had from our county board and the sponsors that have been involved with us, but we’re still out there four days a week doing our sessions and learning year on year exactly the same as Mayo are or Cork are.

“Firstly, I don’t think there’s a gap at all. I think next year it all opens up again. And I also don’t think there’s a massive, massive difference in resources between all of the teams.”

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- Dublin departures -

Last week, it was confirmed that Goldrick and McEvoy had signed for Melbourne FC ahead of the 2020 AFLW season, bringing the total number of Irish involved to 18.

While there’s an ugly dispute Down Under and uncertainty around the future of the league, it’s believed it will go ahead as planned, meaning the Sky Blues will be without two of their main stars for the league, at least.

But Owens and the rest of the panel are more than pleased for their team-mates.

“To be fair I think it’s an unbelievable opportunity,” she says. “Obviously being so involved with football here, we’re almost kind of like semi-pro to an extent, the amount we put in.

“But I think the opportunity to go, especially with a lovely Australian summer, and be a professional athlete, to experience that side of it and to get that step up in terms of the conditioning and the resources that are available to you [is great].

“And probably see how much you can push yourself. For the two of them I think it’s a great opportunity. I would imagine they’ll both be quite suited to the AFL so I’ll certainly be really curious to see how they both get on. I hope, and think they’ll both do really well.”

1 (1) McEvoy and Goldrick. Source: Melbourne FC.

“It will be interesting to see if there’s anything else they pick up over there that can be brought back to the team,” she adds when the opportunity to return for championship is put to her. “Obviously it’s a completely different set-up.

“It’s interesting how many girls are going over this year and where that’s going to go. I’d image there will be a few others added by the end of it. It will be interesting to see. We’ve turned into a bit of a feeder network for the AFL!”

What about herself, would she consider it? She’s unsure.

“I suppose at the moment I’m happy with where my career is going outside of football and it’s obviously a significant break you’d have to take from that. Also, I don’t know if I would be… not up to it, but physical enough for it.

“I do wonder. I was only watching highlights the other day and it’s insane. I dunno, like I’ve put on muscle in the last few years but I don’t know if I’d have all that muscle!

“Listen, you never know,” she concludes. 

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