She has been pulling on the county jersey for 16 years but Louise Henchy can count on one hand the number of times she has lined out in Cusack Park.
The Ennis-based accountant, who has played soccer for Ireland at underage and senior level, can recall most of her games there, one of which dates back nearly 20 years.
“I remember I played midfield against Carmel Bohannon [Fergus Rovers], a long, long time ago. We also played Donegal in a league final . I’ve probably played in Cusack Park three or four times,” the Banner Ladies club player recounted.
Ideally, Henchy would like if female footballers had more access to the county grounds but she has accepted that is unlikely during her playing career.
“It’s not great but to tell you the truth, I’m used to it. A lot of people ask do we ever train out in Caherlohan at the new [GAA] pitches? But I’ve only seen it from the road, like everybody else. To me, it’s not a big deal because that’s just the way it is.
“I suppose I’d hope for other girls that it will change in the future. I think it will come. Ladies football is growing and even now, compared to seven years ago, there seems to be a lot more people interested. At work or in town, people are saying ‘well done’. TG4 has brought a lot to it. It’s growing all the time. I don’t know if it will ever be on a par with GAA but hopefully it will get closer to the men’s game,” she reflected.
Henchy was part of the Clare senior panel for a while during 2001, when Clare won their only Munster senior championship. However, she was playing soccer at the time and found it hard to devote sufficient time to football.
“I didn’t see out the year but I was part of the panel at the start of the year. There was a great team there that time, with players like Eithne Morrissey, Claire Daly and Tammy Hehir. I think I missed the following year and a couple through the 16 years, through one thing or another. Studying or pussing!
“Football as been a huge part of my life. I love football and any year I wasn’t playing, I didn’t feel right. Since I started with the Banner in 1994, it has been a huge part of my life. I was in the Coláiste and Bríd Dilleen was teaching there. She asked me to go up,” Henchy recalled.
She has been playing soccer for Lifford since 1990, although not this year. At 34, she felt the dual role might have been a bit taxing.
“This year I had to give up soccer because being a bit older, you’re not able to do everything, even though you think you are. I took a year out from the soccer and said I’d give everything to this.”
Holder of 19 U-19 and three senior international caps, Henchy could have opted to try for a full-time career in the game but she thinks she would have missed her home town too much.
“I was offered a scholarship to Alabama. To develop in soccer, you have to go to either England or America. I was a bit of a home bird, so I didn’t do either. GAA is a bit of a religion for Irish people. People probably react to it more. Soccer is a great sport and we have great success at underage level but I think since the ladies’ League of Ireland started up, the smaller clubs have suffered a bit so the standard isn’t the best. But, I must say, I love both. With Gaelic, you get on the ball a bit more. In soccer, I’ve been always sweeper or centre-half. In the Gaelic, you’d be a lot more involved and find that matches are over before you know it.”
Sunday’s All-Ireland final will be her third appearance in Croke Park. Clare were beaten in the 2008 All-Ireland intermediate final before winning it a year later, when they beat Tipperary. Henchy, Niamh Keane and Emma O’Driscoll are the survivors from that panel. It’s very clear that when Henchy talks in the dressing room, everyone’s ear is open to what she has to say.
“I said a few words the last day and I was emotional enough. I always say to the girls that whether they are there a week or 15 years, you’re nervous but that will go with the first ball. I’d try to crack a joke to lighten things up a bit.”
A good bit older than some of her team-mates, Henchy sometimes feels her age. “They keep me old, chasing around after them at training,” she laughed.
She is deadly serious about her football though and is intent on delivering a typically energetic midfield performance.
“Obviously, the training is very serious but before and after, we try to have a bit of craic. It has been a good year so far and hopefully we can finish it off,” Clare’s inspirational midfielder said as she aims for her second All-Ireland medal.
By Peter O’Connell