Wednesday 18 October 2017

Getting shirty for Dubs' football clan

VINTAGE clothing is all the rage these days and Leah Caffrey got to wear a piece of it with some very special family history recently.

The 20-year-old DCU science student will be following in her father's footsteps in Croker tomorrow when she lines out in an All-Ireland senior football final.

She is a corner-back but her dad John, one of the Dubs' famous '12 apostles' in '83, was Heffo's prototype 'third midfielder' and she is pictured here with him, wearing his pin-striped Leinster final jersey from that famous football year.

All four of his children - Aoife, Leah, Sean and Hugh - play for Na Fianna. Sean is on the Dublin U17 panel but Leah is already the superstar of the family.

Back in his playing days John never dreamed it would be one of his daughters who would be bringing such joy and taking the clan back to HQ for another huge day.

"Never in a million years," he confesses. "Twenty years ago ladies football in Dublin was not at such an advanced level."

Now it is and his child is part of a Blue wave of youth talent who have carried the new-look Jackies to the summit tomorrow, where they face the legendary Rebelettes.

Leah has already won U16, minor and U21 All-Irelands, winning minor in 2012 when John was a selector with Fintan O'Curry's team of starlets.

She's also one of 17 of this Dublin senior squad who have already won this year's All-Ireland U21 title.

They are thoroughly modern young women and athletes, blessed with pace and skill and no feelings of inferiority or inhibition, as shown when you ask if she has any particular sporting superstitions?

"Yeah, I have this lucky €20 note that I keep in my sports-bra!" she giggles.

"I won the Leinster quarter-final with it. I forgot all about it and found it after the match so now I play with it all the time. I put it up on the wall as well."

Lucky charms or special tips are hardly necessary but she's not short on the latter either as one of her uncles is another useful source.

"Pillar (former Dublin men's manager) is really good for advice as well," she reveals. "If I ever get a bit nervous I give him a call."

Caffrey may be young but she's experienced enough already to have opinions on the women's game and how it can keep moving forward.

Sin-binned in Dublin's semi-final defeat of Galway - "it happens" - she reckons the punishment is too harsh.

"Ten minutes is a bit long, that can change a game, so maybe five minutes," she reasons.

If she could change anything "playing the ladies final on the same day as the men's would be great.

"We'd get a lot more support and it would do a lot for ladies football. People would get along to the games and see that we are actually decent footballers."

Only four years ago kids like herself, Carla Rowe and Siobhan Woods were all in the stands, cheering on their football heroines like Denise Masterson, Rachel Ruddy, Sorcha Furlong, Sinead Aherne and the two Lyndseys (Peat and Davey) who beat Tyrone in 2010 to win Dublin's only senior title to date.

Now they're playing alongside them.

In the dressing room she still always togs out beside Sarah McCaffrey, sister of Jack and another of Dublin's golden girls who is continuing her own family's great football dynasty.

But the team elders have been a huge support as these youngsters have made the leap towards senior stardom.

"We all get along and it doesn't matter what age you are, we all mix with each other.," Caffrey says.

"My co-defenders are always giving me advice, they are really accomodating and really help me."

Young and old, the Jackies now face the might of the greatest women's football team of alltime, who are chasing a ninth title in ten years.

Caffrey knows all about Cork's new names too, having lost to the O'Sullivans, Roisin Phelan and Emer Farmer in the 2011 All-Ireland minor final, the only major defeat in her burgeoning career.

Dublin, significantly, are managed by Derryman Gregory McGonigle, who managed Monaghan to two finals, including last year's one-point loss to Cork.

She is no stranger to Croke Park, not least from years of supporting the Dubs there as a family.

She has also played there in numerous Cumann na mBunscol finals and at half-time in the 'Minis' once for a men's final.

But this is the big-time now and her excitement is matched by her father's delight and quiet pride.

"It's a big deal but Leah is taking it all in her stride, he is very determined and dedicated," he says, joking that her diet alone is incomparable to his own as a player.

"The fitness and skill levels in ladies football are very good, the women put as much into it as the men," he feels.

"And TG4 have done a fabulous job for the sport, they have given it great prominence. Every time you look at a match the standards are improving.

For his daughter the hard work has been done, now "it's about playing the game, not the occasion."

So, as she steps into the biggest match of her young life, what is the best tip her dad has ever given her?

"Stay goal-side!" she grins.

**To celebrate the Dublin ladies reaching their first final since 2010, county sponsors AIG are offering a free child's jersey or €40 off an adult jersey, with any new car or home insurance bought by October 31 (www.aig.ie)

Irish Independent

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