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History beckons for role model Nicole Owens

2019 is a year of possibility, as the Dublin Ladies Footballers embark on their three-in-a-row quest. Ace marks-woman and mental health campaigner, Nicole Owens, is relishing the challenge.

All-Ireland football winner and mental health campaigner, Nicole Owens, is having to get used to her new found position as a positive role model for kids, both on and off the sporting field.

Following on from an interview she conducted a few weeks ago, where she spoke openly to the Sports Chronicle about her own personal battle with depression, she was delighted with the reaction received and feels it’s critical that mental health receive an adequate share of the platform.

“Yeah, it’s something that since I have talked about it, it’s become very important. I’d be very conscious that there’s a platform there and I believe that talking is the best way to deal with it, so the more I talk about it, the more others will talk about it.  Maybe people who might have seen “Blues Sister” might have clicked onto it, those that had an insight before.”

As the Dublin Ladies’ Footballers begin to stamp their authority on the pitch, the game, and indeed, its chief representatives, the players, are becoming more and more recognisable, and this comes with a certain degree of responsibility with the recent launch of the 20×20 initiative, which aims to have 20% more participation and media coverage of women’s sports by 2020 across all platforms in this country.

As a mental health advocate and accomplished athlete, Owens is happy to embrace her new role and play her part in the quest to meet these objectives.

“When I was a lot younger I didn’t have an understanding of what was going on, I didn’t know how to deal with it, I had nothing to compare it against, so, I suppose, even maybe if people realised what they might be feeling, this might resonate with them and they might do something about it. If it gets one girl or one boy to challenge it, then talking about it has been completely worth it.

“When you’re young, you almost kind of normalise it, it’s part of my personality like, it’s part of who I am. I didn’t talk about it, I hid it and I ended up perpetuating it and making it worse.”

“So, people know that it’s not normal to feel that way, to shut it up in a box, even if it’s a starting point. I’m hoping that by speaking out, it will open up a conversation.”

Her brutal honesty has helped in the overarching campaign to remove the stigma that still stubbornly lingers, in some circles, towards mental illness. She never wants anyone to go through what she has gone through, and is eager to share her story, both as a remedy to aid her on her own journey, and also to help others, to normalise the conditions, and to remind anyone who might be going through any sort of difficulty, they are not alone.

“It’s probably the most in-depth I’ve thought about the history of it in general, all at once. Having people seeing all of it, I kind of feel a bit vulnerable about it, but I was never afraid that there’d be a negative reaction, like that people would stigmatise it, or sort of turn it around”.

Back to her sporting prowess, the prolific attacker speaks frankly about the relief this Dublin side have felt since overcoming Cork, a team they didn’t meet in 2017, which somewhat clouded their All-Ireland success. Now, having beaten their arch-rivals on the way to claiming glory this year, nobody can question their dominance. A dominance that comes, not unlike their male counterparts, with certain repercussions.

“Yeah, last year they would have said that the two best teams make it to the final and Cork weren’t there. We certainly didn’t diminish our win last year but I think this year, if we hadn’t managed to beat them, it would have put a bit of tarnish on it. It was something we were conscious of, but we came in with so much belief and so much confidence. We all grew as players and our game management was a lot better this year. Our approach in general was a lot better this year.”

“Yeah, well it has started now with doing the double this year. But every season, it’s a new start, everyone starts in exactly the same place. So, if we were to come in in January and start talking about three in a row, Mick would shut that down pretty quick. It’s gonna be a case of, we go back in, the league is the first objective and then it’s our measurable targets as we go along, hopefully we’ll be in the final again.”

The ratification of Mick Bohan is a welcome boost to the side seeking three-in-a-row glory. The talented coach was previously involved with the Clare senior footballers when they reached the All-Ireland quarter-final in 2016, and under Jim Gavin as skills coach with the Dublin senior footballers. There were rumours that he was being scouted for the Roscommon job, to replace Kevin McStay, but Owens and her team-mates are delighted he has opted to stay with them as they embark on their historic quest in 2019.

“Really important [that he stay on]. When a new manager comes in it’s always a bit of a learning phase and getting used to someone else. But I think what he brought in was a different structure and, I suppose, a different focus than was there in previous years. So, him staying on is only going to, you know we have a list that we want to accomplish, but that list is only ever growing longer the more he stays, and hopefully we keep winning.”

The All-Ireland final victory over Cork was a fast, free-flowing, entertaining spectacle, complemented by the record attendance at Croke Park of 50,141. Despite their success, this Dublin team are not phased, nor do they intend on becoming complacent in their success. Similar to their male comrades, this makes them a dangerous animal and an intimidating prospect for any would-be challengers. They’re always anxious to improve, develop, blood new talent and remain at the pinnacle for as long as they are capable.

“Always [room for improvement]. I’d say Mick has watched the final about five times, we’re always looking to improve. We’d know that ourselves. Last year we came in and we highlighted things to improve on, I’d say we’ll do the same this year.”

“There is a pressure. You want to do yourself, your team, and your family proud. A lot of work goes into it. That’s just the nature of life sometimes, matches don’t go the way you’d like them to go. You can end up in a bit of a rut.”

There are challengers, and strong ones at that, and the ladies game has the air of possibility around every game, perhaps a features sometimes lost on the male game, especially with regard to some provincial ties. These are exciting times for Owens and her team-mates, as they seek to further grow the game they now represent, and continue to be inspirational role models into the future.

“The likes of Donegal. Galway beat us earlier in the year. They play a similar game to us, they move the ball fast. You can never write off Cork. They have a similar system, with underage players always coming through. It probably is tighter than the men’s game at the moment yeah. We would like to see ourselves as being at the forefront, but we’re not miles out.”

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