Wednesday 25 April 2018

Meet the Meath goalkeeper who is Don Cossack's groom and has two sets of young twin boys

Bryan Cooper celebrates after winning the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup on Don Cossack with groom Louise Dunne alongside
Bryan Cooper celebrates after winning the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup on Don Cossack with groom Louise Dunne alongside
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

IT HAS been a whirlwind fortnight for Meath football goalkeeper Louise Dunne and the celebrations are not over yet.

She’s grateful that a club game for Summerhill this weekend is not directly clashing with her job of leading out Don Cossack in Fairyhouse tomorrow  where Meath’s new Gold Cup hero will be taking his latest bow.

A week ago Dunne was immersed in the mayhem of ‘The Don’s’ famous victory in Cheltenham.

She is groom for Gordon Elliott’s stable superstar and led him in and out of the parade ring on an unforgettable day.

The legendary Cotswolds meeting luckily occurred during the current break in the Lidl NFL for a woman whose schedule is particularly dizzying.

She works weekends for Elliott which involves riding out on both Saturday and Sunday mornings and she juggles that and her three times-a-week commitment to Meath football with a hectic work schedule at home.

Dunne and husband Gavin are parents to not one but two sets of twin boys – all under six.

“When the second set were born the first were exactly two and a half, it was a bit mad!” she laughs.

“I’ve always worked with horses but having four children so close together only allowed me go back part-time. If you had them all in childcare it just wouldn’t pay you to go back to work full-time.

“My mum was a twin and my dad’s father was a twin. My first cousin had twin girls after me so it’s a very strong gene in our family.

“Thankfully the football is all evening time or weekends so we’re a bit of a tag-team. Gavin comes in through the door and I pass him going out to training.

“I only got onto the Meath panel this year and only started playing in goals when I first came pregnant with my first set of twins,” she explains.

“I used to play corner-back or half-forward with Summerhill but, when I came back to the club, they were like ‘sure go in goals until you get fit enough’ and I started to get good at it and enjoyed playing there.”

She says she could not play for Meath without the support of her husband and their particularly helpful parents.

“Everyone says ‘oh my god I don’t know how you’re playing county!’ and only for them I couldn’t do it but I absolutely love it and I work hard at it because I know just how hard it is to get to play for your county.

“It’s such a big honour for myself and my dad, he’s in his element between the football and the horses!”

Her father Jim Magee is chairman of Summerhill GAA and was in Elliot’s yard at 7am last Saturday morning when the Cheltenham raiders landed home.

“With the Gold Cup on Friday it was flat out loading them up and getting away for the 2.30am ferry from Holyhead so we had no chance to celebrate in Cheltenham, it wasn’t until Saturday night that we really got to enjoy it,” Dunne explains.

She was thrilled to lead the horse through Summerhill last Sunday (Elliot’s home town also) and in Trim a day later.

“It was amazing to walk into your own village with him, a very proud moment for me. On Monday we brought Gordon’s three Cheltenham winners to Trim because that’s where he was based before and a lot of the lads and girls who work in the yard live in Trim.”

Dunne has only been groom to Don Cossack since his Melling Chase victory in Aintree last year.

It was previously the job of Elliot’s former travelling head lad Karen Morgan so she was delighted that Morgan also got to Cheltenham and that they led the horse out together.

“Karen finished up in Gordon’s and went back to college but she was there too and that’s why I enjoyed it so much. I didn’t feel like she’d missed out after leaving such a great horse. Hopefully, if all is good now, he’ll go to Punchestown for the Gold Cup next.”

Dunne faces a quicker return to action herself as Meath’s next NFL game is a home tie with Clare in a week’s time.

The Royals, with a new manager and new-look team, have struggled in Division 2 so far but she feels their tide is turning.

“You can kind of see it’s coming,” Dunne says. “The scoreline against Donegal didn’t reflect how well we played and it feels like we’re starting to gell.”

*Find out more about female inter-county GAA players at and through their #behindtheplayer campaign.

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