'I genuinely thought that I wasn't going to be able to play... I was in floods of tears'

Dublin star Noelle Healy won a unique All-Ireland double in 2019 after lining out with Cork club Mourneabbey.

THIS TIME LAST year, Noelle Healy didn’t think she’d be able to line out for her beloved Dublin in 2019.

The three-in-a-row was well and truly on, but work placement in Cork was calling for the medical professional. She had put it off by six months already to chase the All-Ireland dream in 2018, so plans were in place to start a new chapter Leeside in early January.

BeFunky-collage Noelle Healy had a unique 2019 with Mourneabbey and Dublin.

It all hit her on the Dublin ski trip in Andorra, with the big move pencilled in for the week they returned. As the questions came from team-mates it became more and more real.

Do you know what you’re doing next year?

Look, I haven’t a clue,” she’d respond.

“I just didn’t think it would be feasible to play football at at all,” Healy tells The42, as she reflects on a year in which she won a unique club and county All-Ireland double.

Uncertainty reigned over how the 2017 Footballer of the Year would feel not being able to give 100% to Mick Bohan’s set-up. Her work schedule, time, distance; there were many hurdles to factor in. 

So just after the team landed back in the Irish capital and closed the 2018 chapter, everyone went their separate ways with the focus shifting to the new season. 

“I remember in the airport, there were one or two girls who knew they weren’t going to be playing, saying their goodbyes, and I actually had to walk out of the place,” Healy says.

I’m really bad with goodbyes anyway, but I genuinely thought that I wasn’t going to be able to play. My boyfriend picked me up and dropped me to my parents house and I was in floods of tears.

“My parents were like, ‘What on earth has happened to her?’ I was just gutted to be leaving everybody.”

Little did she know what would happen. That she’d find an adopted home with reigning All-Ireland club champions Mourneabbey, and have the dream 2019 in football terms.

“Fast forward nearly 12 months, and looking back on the year,” she smiles, “the memories with the Dublin girls again, to have achieved that is so unbelievable.

“The main contrast I feel looking back is to the end of 2016, having lost three All-Irelands when girls like Sinéad Aherne and Goldie [Sinead Goldrick] didn’t think they would play again. We didn’t have a manager, we didn’t know what was going to happen to us. Now, where we’ve done a different three-in-a-row. That was unbelievable.

“Then the adventure with Mourneabbey was just brilliant. I honestly can’t get over how well they accepted me and welcomed me. Not even just the team; the families, the people in the community and supporters. I totally felt like one of their own, totally felt at home. It was really, really special to be a part of.

It’s not that I don’t have the words, but I suppose it’s beyond any expectation. It’s a really nice thing to have done. It’s unreal, it’s brilliant.

healy11 Three 2018 All-Stars for Healy's first Mourneabbey outing: Doireann O'Sullivan, Healy and Ciara O'Sullivan. Source: Mourneabbey LFC Twitter.

28-year-old Healy — who works as an anaesthetist — always knew it was coming.

She knew her medical training journey would take her outside Dublin, and was made aware of her 12-month stint in Cork two years in advance. Part and parcel of it all, she was fine with that. It was just how it would impact her football.

On the 2018 All-Star Tour to Bangkok, she mentioned the Cork move in passing to Mourneabbey star Ciara O’Sullivan. 

“We were just chatting and she was half-messing about joining the club,” Healy, whose original side is St Brigids in Castleknock, explains.

“I was like, ‘I actually do want to train with a club.’ In the Dublin club championship, the matches are all midweek and most of the training is midweek. I knew it just wasn’t going to be feasible.

Football, I’ve said it before, it’s important to me. I think it’s important that everyone has a good work-life balance, It’s a nice way to meet people and have a life outside of hospital so you’re not just going home, going to work.

“It gives you a bit of stability as well. It was something I wanted to try experience anyway if I did have to go outside of Dublin. I got in touch with her then towards the end of last year and just said, ‘Look, I’m moving down in January, if ye’ll have me.’

“It just went from there.”

It was never going to be just training, considering Healy’s competitive streak. The42 first reported in February that she had applied for a transfer to the Clyda outfit, and that transfer was approved three weeks later. 

And even before that, as she found her feet and adjusted to life on Leeside, playing inter-county football for Dublin appeared more and more doable.

“I really didn’t think it would be feasible to play football,” she stresses, “but when I got settled it did seem like it would work.

Funny enough, when I started work it was more the people I worked with and my boss that were like, ‘So, let us know whenever you need to go for training. We’ll make sure to sort it.’

A serious amount of sorting and planning in advance, it took,

“You’re looking months ahead just trying to see, ‘Ok, I can make it up that weekend, I’m not working,’ ‘I’ve a match that weekend so I’ll have to make it work,’” she adds. 

“You were pretty much in Dublin every weekend, or working in Cork, and then during the week you’d try make it work: ‘I’ll work the night before, get a bit of sleep, maybe make training mid-week because I’m not going to be there at the weekend.’

You were kind of never really here or there. It was a bit tough because you’re trying to get settled, meet new people, and even just get used to being with Mourneabbey.

Looking back on that first day with her adopted club, the forward can’t help but laugh. 

noelle-healy-celebrates-after-the-game Celebrating the All-Ireland win with Dublin. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

She made sure not to wear Dublin gear for a start, but lucky enough, it was a match so Healy was straight into the thick of it, happy to be doing what she does best. 

“It was kind of just strange,” she recalls. “You’re walking into a room of people that you only know half of, and people that you only know from the pitch. But it was a good way to start, it wasn’t in any way awkward in that it’s a match so you just get on with it.

It was funny. Shane [Ronayne, manager] welcomed me and he was saying, ‘Well, hopefully by the end of the year you’ll have at least one All-Ireland anyway — with the club.’ There was a bit of a laugh like that.

“It was grand, it was seamless. They’re really nice girls, so welcoming, they made a huge effort which was really nice.”

With each and every word Healy utters of her season-long venture with Mourneabbey, her enjoyment shines through more and more. Yes, winning county, provincial and national club honours was great. But it was about much more than that for the Dubliner. 

The community spirit is on another level in the close-knit Cork parish, and witnessing that first-hand was a truly special experience. 

“They’re so passionate about the club and the community itself,” Healy nods. “They have an awful lot to be proud of and there seems to be a really lovely support network there for each other.

“They’ve known each other for so long, their parents and other people at the club have watched them grow up. It’s really special for them; seeing the team come through, winning a junior club championship to winning a club All-Ireland, and now being as dominant as they are at senior. It’s brilliant. 

They were just unbelievably welcoming. There was no, ‘Sure who does this one think she is, coming down from Dublin?’

“Even as soon as my parents came down, they couldn’t have been nicer to them. Over chatting to them, welcoming them, literally offering them places to stay. I’d say my Mam was probably glad the final wasn’t in Dublin in the end, because she would have felt that she’d have to have a full house!”

Healy’s Godmother hails from Mallow, and taught in the local school there for years, so knew plenty of those involved: “She self-proclaims she’s never been to a match before in her life. Her first match was the All-Ireland club semi-final. There were a few people coming up being like, ‘What on earth are you doing here?’

“She was very proud to be Noelle’s Godmother.”

That was a nice connection — and piece of home at times, as the now-famous Healy family tour made its way across the length and breadth of the country. “They were loving it,” the four-time All-Star adds. “My Mum would be like, ‘Is the tweet up yet?’

noelle Source: Mourneabbey LFC Twitter.

Another thing Mrs Healy was surely eagerly anticipating to appear on the internet was an AIG Ireland video her daughter participated in about playing inter-county football with Dublin and her switch-up to Mourneabbey on the club scene. 

Within, Healy didn’t shy away from the renowned Dublin and Cork ladies football rivalry and her happiness in her newfound home, and the video was released ahead of the county’s All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park.

When you’re out on the pitch it doesn’t really matter,” she said, “you’re representing the jersey that you’re wearing.

But truth be told, Healy was apprehensive about taking part beforehand, especially considering the timing. 

“I remember speaking to Mick about it, being like, ‘I’m not sure should I do this… the Dublin girls, I don’t know what it’s going to look like to them if there’s a full video [of me] being like, ‘Isn’t it great how good friends we are?’ just before the match.’

“Mick, in fairness, was like, ‘No, if it wasn’t for how open and welcoming Mourneabbey have been with you, we wouldn’t have you and you wouldn’t be able to play. It’s only fair to be honest about it and don’t feel like you need to shy away from it.’

Source: AIG Ireland/YouTube

“I was like, ‘Well, that’s a really mature and honest way of saying it.’ I’m glad I did it because it was a nice thing to have as well. It just shows the truth of it: if it wasn’t for Mourneabbey, I wouldn’t at all have been able to play for Dublin.”

She praises their top-level standard and incredibly intense training, noting that that was nothing but a positive for herself, and for Dublin.

While the Sky Blues slayed the old enemy at HQ that day, and went on to climb the steps of the Hogan Stand and lift the Brendan Martin Cup for a third consecutive time, it wasn’t the easiest of campaigns. 

Nothing came handy to the champions. 

“It was just one of the most bizarre years in terms of injuries,” Healy agrees, listing out the many players that struggled, and were subsequently sidelined, through the season.

Herself included, Healy had a rocky time but made it back to feature in that last four battle, and then star in the final.

“Even just stuff going on off the pitch as well,” she adds. “I know maybe it’s a factor of being a little bit older, but yeah, a really, really challenging year.

“In some ways it was brilliant because it gave so many people an opportunity to stand up, and they took it. It showed that it does take a full team to get over the line. You never really know what’s going to happen.

It was great for us to show that there was that bit of character and there is still that raw desire in the team, which is always great to see.

Something that several Dublin players have spoken about since their September All-Ireland final win over Galway is their unhappiness with the spectacle.

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Bohan’s side scored five times (2-3) while the Tribe hit four points in what can be described as nothing short of monsoon weather. 

aisling-costello-and-noelle-healy On the ball in the club final. Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

Reaction to the game itself was largely negative, which was disappointing considering the positivity surrounding the free-flowing game of ladies football of late. With Dublin to the forefront of the push to raise standards, Healy concedes that it was disheartening. 

But at the end of the day, it’s an All-Ireland final, and a win is a win. A conversation in work in the aftermath reassured her of that.

“Someone said, ‘It’s not dressage, there’s no points for style,’” she remembers. “I was like, ‘You know what, he’s right. You win it whatever way you want to win it.’

Obviously there is an onus on us, on the showpiece day, to show the standard of football that there is. It is disheartening when you’re reading through reports, and comments underneath, people saying, ‘An U16 boys game would have been of better quality.’

“You do want to justify your sport, justify your showpiece and the media attention that you get. It was a pity that it didn’t. But I mean, some of the tackling was brilliant, some of the scores that did happen were very, very good.

“It was a combination of two teams that ended up being defensively-minded, and the day that’s in it. In an All-Ireland final, you always have to box a bit cleverly. Sometimes it opens up towards the end if the weather is there for it, we just didn’t get that opportunity.

“It was just unfortunate.”

That aside though, what a day it was. 

The relief when the final whistle sounded, the three-in-a-row sealed, the past hurt of three-in-a-row defeats erased, and a special weekend for the city and county overall after the men’s five-in-a-row.

“It was unbelievable,” Healy beams. “It was funny watching the guys match the day before, checking yourself in and going, ‘Oh Jesus, I have to go do this tomorrow.’ In that way, it was very hard to just keep yourself level and focused.

But it’s just so brilliant how the city and the Dublin supporters have embraced both of our teams, and genuinely seemed to hold us both in the same esteem. It’s a really special thing to have, they do genuinely seem really proud of both of our achievements.

“Going around the city and meeting people the week after, everybody could recognise the Sineads [Goldrick and Aherne] and Lyndsey [Davey]. They were talking about the match, had opinions on it, be it good or bad.

“It was just a really big celebration in the city which was great. It’s nice to be able to see your achievements celebrated. You always talk about the people you’re representing and what you’re representing so it’s nice to see that reflected in those people as well.”

lauren-magee-noelle-healy-olwen-carey-and-siobhan-mcgrath-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle The final whistle in Croke Park. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

It was only in the wake of that September win that Healy fully settled in Cork, so she’s enjoying the change of pace and the feeling of having a proper base, albeit only for a short time more.

The “Dub through and through” moves home to continue her work in Temple Street Hospital in January, so her loan move with Mourneabbey has come to an end.

“I’ve already had invitations from the Brigid’s girls for drinks and catch ups and stuff like that,” she laughs. “They’re not really letting me get too far away! Look, Brigid’s is Brigid’s, it’s my club so I’m looking forward to getting back with them.

“I’ll just see what comes.”

With 2020 coming at full speed, whispers of four-in-a-row, and talk of restructured All-Ireland championships and the lack of a Leinster campaigb in full flow, Healy is trying to steer clear of that. 

She has bigger fish to fry, for now. 

“I have my final exams from the anaesthetics scene to do in February so it’s just head down trying to get that sorted — not sorted, passed,” she giggles.

“It’s a bit miserable at the moment, I have to keep my head down to some extent. I’ll get through that and see what comes after.

“The league is a bit truncated this year, a bit of an uncharted territory for us in that it ends a little bit early and then it’s straight into the final. We just need to sit down with Mick, see what his plan for the year is and see where we all fit into it.”

And that, they will indeed. 

So it will be a quiet Christmas for Noelle Healy, after a pretty hectic 2019?

“Eh,” she laughs in conclusion. “Work hard, play hard. It’s all about balance.”

No better example to follow.

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Emma Duffy

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