English blood, All Ireland dreams

by Gazette Reporter

WHEN the Dublin ladies senior football side line up for their All-Ireland semi-final against Armagh on Saturday, September 5, there will be an unlikely face in the midst of the girls in blue.
Now established at Foxrock Cabinteely, Hannah Noonan is not only in her first year playing for an Irish club side, she’s come into the GAA county fray almost entirely through the relatively modest English system, and has no Irish heritage to speak of whatsoever.
In fact, speaking to Noonan in advance of the semi-final, it seems much of her past year has been dedicated to optimising her leftfield footballing career.
Having taken an All-Ireland junior title with London in 2008 before arriving at Dublin, Noonan initially came to GAA in Britain through the family of an Irish player on her rugby team, who suggested the sport might suit her at just 10 years old.
She only relocated to Dublin for a year’s sabbatical from a teaching job back in November, and came to manager Gregory McGonigle’s attention as a result of a seven-a-side tournament early this year, as well as word filtering back from London.
Having featured regularly throughout the campaign, she faces the unusual scenario of playing the coming semi-final knowing it’s likely to be both her first and last. Unsurprisingly, her determination and focus come across as intense: “We’re confident” Noonan tells GazetteSport. “The girls are working extremely hard, and there’s a good buzz in the camp. We’re very focused. There’s a lot of work being done by management and the girls, in our own time as well as on the training pitch
“Our attitude is that if we can go out there and prepare ourselves the best we possibly can, we’ll get there.
“We’re not really worried about the other team. We’re aware of what Armagh are doing, of certain ways they play, and of their kick outs, but we’re just going to try and go out and put in a performance.
“If we play our best we’ll come out with a win. Our game plan is to go out and hit them as hard as we can from the off.”
It’s the route that’s bought Noonan to this point that showcases her determination, though, and she admits it’s been a leap in quality joining Dublin, if one she’s able to deal with.
“Moving from London to Dublin is a huge step,” she says of her new role. “It’s a very professional set up here. I’ve learnt a lot from the girls and the management. I was thrown in the deep end, but the girls have been very supportive.
“People check you understand what’s going on. There’s been a lot of advice in terms of nutrition, and recovery between training sessions. It’s tough mentally and physically. But it’s a step I’m so glad I took.”
At this level, though, nothing can be taken for granted, and while the bookies might have Dublin as favourites, the Girls in Blue are counting no chickens.
“Obviously Armagh are a strong outfit,” Noonan says. “We’re not really listening to anything anyone says about us outside the camp. Inside the camp, players are players, and the management let us do our thing. We’ve got a few more training sessions, then we’ll learn the team.”
“Whether we’re starting or not, the panel is there to make an impact. We might make four or five changes, and they’ll do a job. I don’t think it’s worth even looking at [awaiting finalists] Cork yet.
“We’re 60 minutes away from that final, but Armagh are an outstanding team, and we’ll take each minute as it comes.”
An All-Ireland semi-final is an opportunity and a pressure point for everyone involved: one game away from a shot at glory. For Noonan, though, this game and the one that could follow are the only ones that matter. Next year is earmarked for travel; it’ll happen now, or not at all.
“I’m fully aware that All-Ireland semi finals don’t come around easily,” she says, “and that some of these girls have been working for years to get to this position.
“It’s not about me, but for me it’s probably going to be a one-year thing. For me I’ve got one shot. I’ll be leaving everything on the pitch. I just want to see Dublin go all the way.”

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