NOELLE HEALY MADE her first trip to Croke Park back in 2002, when her father brought her along to watch Cora Staunton and Mayo lift the All-Ireland title at the expense of Monaghan.
Fifteen years later, Healy found herself on the field against Staunton and played a key role as Dublin inflicted a third All-Ireland final defeat on the Mayo great.
Mayo haven’t lifted the Brendan Martin cup since 2003, but Dublin had no time for sympathy having lost the last three finals by a single score. Last year’s loss was particularly galling for Healy.
She was captain 12 months ago as the Metropolitans lost a third successive final to Cork. They had a legitimate point waved wide in the first-half and ended up losing by the minimum.
Dublin’s only title arrived in 2010 and their 2017 edition shows just five survivors from that game – Rachel Ruddy, Niamh McEvoy, Lyndsey Davey, Sinead Ahern and Healy herself. Interestingly, four of Dublin’s previous All-Ireland winners started in their attack yesterday.
“The last few years have obviously been very difficult to take but we’re such a close group of girls,” said told TG4 after the game.
“We love playing football, we love playing with each other, we love for Dublin, we love coming to Croke Park and seeing all these young girls turning out. It’s where we first come to see our heroes and it’s just beyond words. It’s unbelievable.”
If Staunton’s eight-point haul in the 2003 final inspired Healy to start honing her skills in the back garden, it could be Healy’s performance that inspires a whole new generation of young girls to take up the sport.
She didn’t manage to get on the scoresheet but her contribution ran far deeper than that. Her fingerprints were all over most of Dublin’s good play.
She had 23 possessions in total – more than any other player – and popped up all over the field to give her team an outlet for the ball.
The 26-year-old switched in between the half-forward and full-forward line at different stages of the game, and her direct hard-running game caused havoc for the Mayo defence.
Three times in the closing five minutes, Healy made herself available for possession inside her full-back line and helped Dublin hold onto the ball and run down the clock.
“We learnt a lot from previous years, where we tried to play the game at 100 miles an hour at times,” she told FM 104 after the game.
Healy embarked on 11 solo runs in her distinctive head-down style that’s not too dissimilar to that of Kevin McManamon. On two occasions she drove at the Mayo defence and slipped in a team-mate for a goal, while she was fouled for two frees which delivered 0-2.
Dublin’s first goal, which arrived in the 19th minute, had all the hallmarks of McManamon’s devastating goal against Kerry in 2013. A long kick-out broke kindly to Healy at midfield with open country ahead of her.
She left the chasing pack trailing in her wake and hand-passed to McEvoy who finished from close range.
“My day job, I work as an anesthetist,” Healy revealed in a recent video released by Dublin sponsors AIG.
“If you’re going for an operation, we’re the nice people that put you to sleep.”
Given her profession, it was somewhat fitting that one of Healy’s trademark runs put this game to bed three minutes from time.
She picked up a sloppy Martha Carter kick and galloped 30 metres before feeding Sarah McCaffrey for Mayo’s fourth and final goal.
“I’m back in work on Tuesday,” she said. “So I’ll enjoy tonight (Sunday), take it easy Monday and back in Tuesday.
“I’ve exams in four weeks as well so I’ll have to get the head back in the books.”
Waking up this morning as an All-Ireland champion and winning player of the match in the same game should soften that blow.
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