Noelle Healy lined out in the Mourneabbey colours for the final time on Saturday evening - All-Ireland glory the perfect ending to her nine-month adventure with the North Cork club.
As part of her qualifications as an anaesthetist, Dublin footballer Healy arrived on Leeside last January to begin a 12-month stint at Cork University Hospital.
Commuting long distances to training several times a week is par for the course for several inter-county players, but Healy was fearful that playing for Dublin in 2019 would not be a runner as attempting a five-hour round trip to the capital after a long shift in CUH was neither practical nor safe.
She was determined, though, to kick ball while living down south and so made contact with Ciara O’Sullivan about the possibility of throwing her lot in with Mourneabbey. Her club transfer from Castleknock side St Brigid’s to the home of the 2018 All-Ireland club champions was approved by a margin of five votes, 23 to 18, at the March meeting of the Cork LGFA board, thus beginning a journey which culminated in Mourneabbey’s successful defence of the Dolores Tyrrell Cup on Saturday.
2017 player of the year Healy was instrumental in her adopted club’s one-point win over Kilkerrin-Clonberne, slotting two first-half points and providing the assist for Doireann O’Sullivan’s 14th-minute goal. She was also involved in their second green flag. And in the 13-pass sequence that ended with Laura Fitzgerald’s match-winning point 16 seconds from the final hooter, possession went through Healy four times. It was she who gave the final pass to Fitzgerald.
No question but Mourneabbey would not have come out on top at the LIT Gaelic Grounds were it not for her contribution.
“Her performance was outstanding, she definitely saved the best for last,” said Mourneabbey manager Shane Ronayne.
“There she was in the last minute, below in her own full-back line, fighting on her back for Mourneabbey. She has done that all year since joining the club.
She became part of the community, was at matches when she couldn’t train or play for us, doing water, roaring the girls on. She loved the experience. We loved having her. It was a great relationship.
As for Healy herself, the result in Limerick brought the curtain down on a "dream" 2019 season.
“This time last year, I knew I was going to have to move down to Cork and I didn’t even think I’d get to play with Dublin this year,” Healy admitted.
“Both Mourneabbey and Dublin were brilliant in letting me contribute as much as I could without putting too much pressure on me. I owe them both a huge thanks.
It had been a really tough year, between going up and down the road, injuries, and having one foot between two places. Delighted that it has all come together. It has ended up being a dream season.
“To get another All-Ireland with Dublin was phenomenal, as was being able to experience the tightness and spirit in the community of Mourneabbey. To be taken on board as I was, I’m so thankful to everyone in Mourneabbey. Some really special memories and some great friends made. Definitely, 2019 will go down as one of the best.
“I am finishing up in CUH in January and heading back to Temple Street Hospital. This was a brilliant way to finish with Mourneabbey.”
Prior to joining the club, Healy would have had many a battle with Mourneabbey’s Cork contingent. In 2016, Healy and Ciara O’Sullivan were the respective captains on All-Ireland final day, the latter lifting the Brendan Martin Cup after Cork inflicted a third straight final defeat on Dublin.
Inter-county rivalries, though, were put to one side as Healy and her family were given a welcome she’ll be forever grateful for.
“You try not to wear your Dublin gear down to training, even if my accent did have me standing out. They took me completely under their wing. They are such lovely girls. When my parents came down for matches, they were offered places to stay overnight. It is just a lovely place. I have had an absolute ball.”