All the sacrifices prove worthwhile for Dublin’s Amy Connolly
Busy young mother relishing the chance to face Cork in the All-Ireland final
Dublin’s Amy Connolly: “To have the chance to actually play in Croke Park, which I’ve never done. It’s what you dream of as a kid.” Photograph: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
She laughs at how things have changed since she was a child. She got her love of GAA from her father Dermot, but “I don’t think he ever thought he’d have a girl playing football, certainly not for Dublin,” says Amy Connolly. Now? When her son Ciabhan sees the Dublin jersey, “he just associates it with me”.
Not that he’s paying much attention just yet to how his mother and her team-mates are faring out on the pitch, but when you won’t be two until December your concentration levels are allowed to drift.
All going well, he’ll be in Croke Park tomorrow in the company of his granny Trish, which will probably mean, says Connolly, that her mother will miss large chunks of the game as she monitors Ciabhan’s movements around the stand.
Any chance of a pitch invasion if he spots his Ma?
“Ha, no! Gawd, I hope not.”
Just a year ago, being part of a Dublin panel preparing for an All-Ireland final would have been unimaginable for Connolly. At that stage the 24-year-old from Loughlinstown was looking after Ciabhan, with the help of Trish, completing a thesis for her Biochemistry degree in UCD, holding down a part-time job, and turning out for her club Foxrock Cabinteely when she could. It was hard enough squeezing all that activity into her life, there just didn’t seem to be any room for intercounty football. And that hurt.
“And at that stage I just assumed I’d never play for my county again, which was really depressing.”
“I don’t know, I suppose I just thought having a baby would mean everything would be completely different. I knew I’d definitely go back to club football, but I didn’t think I’d be the same player I was before.”
And then Dublin manager Gregory McGonigle, who had been appointed to the job in the same month Ciabhan was born, so hadn’t had Connolly on any of his panels, went to see Foxrock Cabinteely play St Brigids.
“I asked who Cabinteely’s number 15 was,” he says, “she was having a good game. They told me it was Amy and that she’d only had a child five or six months before. I couldn’t get over it.”
He rang her up last Christmas, invited her to rejoin the panel, and while she couldn’t begin to figure out how she’d find the time, she was ecstatic.
“I was just honoured to be asked back.”
Having lost 12 of the panel that reached last year’s final, where they were beaten by – who else? – Cork, McGonigle was more than happy to have Connolly come back in.
“She’s put in as much, if not more, than most of the players have this year, and considering where she’s coming from, she’s been an inspiration to them all. And the good thing about having her in the squad is that nobody can offer excuses, that they can’t make training, when she’s there juggling all she’s juggling – it puts everyone in line a wee bit.”
“And I think she’s a role model for any young woman, that it isn’t the end of your sporting career if you have children, if you have support from your family and other people from within the game, then you can do it.”
McGonigle credits Connolly for playing a big part in getting Dublin to the final, her outstanding marking job on the 2014 Player of the Year, Caroline O’Hanlon, helping them defeat Armagh in the semi-finals.
“I’d never made the starting 15 before this year,” she says, “so getting the chance has just made me work even harder because I want to keep my jersey. But whether I start or not against Cork, it’ll just be amazing to be part of it all and to have the chance to actually play in Croke Park, which I’ve never done. It’s what you dream of as a kid. When I was watching the men celebrate after beating Kerry, I was just thinking, ‘please God that’ll be us’.”
She missed the trauma of last year’s final when Dublin led by 10 points with just 15 minutes to go, but, somehow, managed to lose, swamped by Cork’s amazing comeback.
That victory made it nine in 10 years for Cork, three of them over teams managed by McGonigle – Monaghan in 2011 and 2013, and then the Dubs.
“When the momentum goes in a game, it’s very hard to stem it,” said the Derry man, “I think of a line from Brian Cody, I always thought these girls were prepared to die on the field, but that Sunday we didn’t kill – we have a chance now to rectify that.”
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Having assumed a year ago that her only trips to Croke Park again would be as a fan, Connolly marvels at the year she has had. “Whatever happens, I wouldn’t change a thing about it. It was tough at the start, there was college, back to the baby for an hour or two, then off to training, it was just a bit hectic, but I can’t begin to describe what it’s felt like to be back, and to pull on that jersey. To finish it off with a winner’s medal – well, that really would be special.”