Sunday 24 September 2017

'Working long hours as a doctor, means I’ve to be strict with my diet’ - Dublin GAA star Noelle Healy

Dublin GAA Senior Captain Noelle Healy has been juggling her love of sport with other life commitments since she was nine-years-old. So taking on a busy schedule as a junior doctor in the cardiology department of a jam-packed hospital was just another adjustment for the 25-year-old. She tells our reporter about striking a work-life balance, and why doctors have the worst diets of all...

Dublin All Star footballer Noelle Healy
Dublin All Star footballer Noelle Healy
Joanna Kiernan

Joanna Kiernan

Noelle Healy is just finished a 12-hour shift in the Mater Hospital when we meet. She qualified as a doctor in early 2015 and is currently in her intern year.

“I found it harder in college, in UCD your last two years were really your finals, so I was doing exams every six weeks or 12 weeks and it was really tough; I used to do a bit of study in the morning because I knew I would have to go training then in the evening,” Dublin captain Noelle (25), from Castleknock explains.

“I was never the kind of person who could cram last minute for exams, so I would plan it out in blocks, I would study in the morning and go training in the evening time and try and get an hour done afterwards as well,” she adds.

“I actually find it all much easier now; it’s a more black and white schedule, when you leave work, you leave work and you can go do your football.”

Read more: GAA star Sinead Delahunty on the foods that fuel her County football career: 'I'm not a perfectionist, I'm just interested in being healthy'

At the moment Noelle is working with the Mater’s cardiology team and hopes to eventually specialise in anaesthesia.

“I think you know that your football career is limited. I have done really well in it and I obviously want to do more and I know work is definitely going to get in the way at some stage,” Noelle admits.

However, Noelle has managed to persevere with her gruelling work-sport balance so far.

Dublin All Star footballer Noelle Healy photographed at Loft53. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan
Dublin All Star footballer Noelle Healy photographed at Loft53. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan

“In college everyone kept telling me ‘this is going to be your last year, you definitely won’t be able to manage it next year’ but I had heard of a few girls still playing who were qualified doctors and I thought ‘well if they can do it I can do it as well’.

“So I kept going and then eventually when I had got to that stage people started to tell me the opposite; that I definitely couldn’t give it up now because I had come so far,” laughs Noelle.

These days, however, Noelle’s sporting career is more of a welcome outlet.

“Work is only so much of your life; you need to have an outlet in medicine especially as it can be very insular. You spend so much time in the hospital,” she says.

At just 25, Noelle is currently enjoying her ninth season on the Dublin panel.

“I started playing football when I was nine,” she says. “I used to play soccer out on the green in front of my house. I really enjoyed it, then just one day one of my friend’s dad’s came out and told us we should be playing Gaelic, so we did and I really liked it.”

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A short time later Noelle asked her mother to bring her down to their local GAA club St Brigid’s, the club she has played with ever since.

“I joined the little girls’ team there. When I was a bit younger again I had started off in athletics; my sister Niamh was big into it, she is a very good long distance runner and she competed with Ireland so I started doing that and I enjoyed running, but when I started doing Gaelic I found that I enjoyed team sports that bit more.”

Noelle moved up through the ranks, first playing under 10s, then on the under 12s team and then in under 14s, which was when she came to the attention of the Dublin squad.

Noelle Healy, Dublin, in action against Annie Walsh, Cork. Lidl Ladies Football National League, Division 1, semi-final, Cork v Dublin on April 23. St Brendan's Park, Birr, Co. Offaly. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Noelle Healy, Dublin, in action against Annie Walsh, Cork. Lidl Ladies Football National League, Division 1, semi-final, Cork v Dublin on April 23. St Brendan's Park, Birr, Co. Offaly. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

“It was my final year of the under 14s when I was brought onto the Dublin squad and I have been playing ever since then,” says Noelle.

“We won the under 14 All-Ireland final that year and it is much the same group of girls that I am actually still playing with at the moment, 11 years later.”

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The fact that Noelle and her teammates have grown up together and been there to support one another over the last decade is something that she has found particularly helpful throughout her playing career.

“It’s lovely because we all came up onto the senior team together as well and there is quite a big gang of us,” Noelle says. “Joining the senior team was obviously a really intimidating thing to do, you have been looking up to all of these people and then all of a sudden you are playing with them, so it was very nice to have that support in each other; a familiar face in the dressing room and someone to sit beside on the bus,” Noelle says.

“And we were all going through the same things at the same age too; exams and all of that type of stuff.

“Many people don’t really get the sport thing, especially when you’re a teenager and you are saying that you can’t go out on a Saturday night because you have a match on Sunday, so it was really nice to have each other at that stage.”

Noelle found the support of her teammates particularly comforting as she attended secondary school at Loreto College on St Stephen’s Green, which she says was “not really a Gaelic football school.”

“When you are a guy and you are playing on a minor county panel it is such a big deal and people get it, they understand why, but sometimes when you are a girl they are like ‘why are you wasting your time doing that?’ but things have changed a little bit now thankfully,” Noelle says.

“I think there was always a perception of women playing sport that they were very sporty and strong women, but now, especially with social media, putting a face to those who are playing and people seeing it on TG4, they see that we are actually very athletic and normal girls.

“And I suppose because health and fitness has become so popular now, it makes it more appealing and relatable for people.”

Noelle trains four times a week with Dublin, a schedule which consists of a Monday gym session and pitch sessions each Wednesday, Friday and Sunday (when they are not playing a match.)

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“We break up our gym session generally into three parts so we start with mobility; stretching with a small bit of core work and then we do plyometric stuff; box jumps and things like that and then afterwards we’ll do strength and conditioning work and finish again with some core,” Noelle explains.

“You can do your own individual training outside of that then if you want, like I would go to yoga from time to time or extra running or gym sessions and some girls do Pilates because they feel that it really helps particularly with injuries.

“But at the same time you have to look after yourself too and make sure that you are not doing too much.

“I think particularly at the start of every year there is a temptation there to get really fit and strong, but you have to look ahead too because hopefully the season will be a long one, so you need to pace yourself for that,” Noelle adds.

And when it comes to nutrition, Noelle advocates for the 80:20 rule, with 80pc of the time spent eating clean, allowing plenty of wiggle room for a pizza from time to time.

“Doctors haven’t got great eating habits,” she smiles. “I suppose it’s from getting up so early, skipping breakfast, having a coffee and working through lunch and then grabbing a sandwich on the go.

“It’s very easy to sleep in and think ‘oh I’ll just grab something later, something quick,’ so you do have to be strict. I always have porridge for breakfast because I think that at least then you have got one thing right in the day, even if you do slip up later and I try to bring in my lunch too.”

As an All-Ireland winner in 2010, Noelle has suffered the disappointment of two subsequent final defeats to Cork in 2014 and 2015.

However, this season Noelle believes that it is all to play for and has her sights set on that silverware. “Getting back to the All-Ireland final is the goal now,” she says.

Noelle’s day on a plate

Breakfast: A bowl of porridge with almond butter, honey, chia and flax

Snack: Brown scone and  matcha latte

Lunch: Roasted sweet potato with homemade tikka masala chicken, spinach, sugar snap peas, celery and shredded carrots, topped with mixed seeds and lentil sprout mix

Pre-training meal: Brown bread with almond butter. A banana. Two boiled eggs

Post-training meal: Steak with broccoli and asparagus

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