It might only be the beginning of April, but Dublin footballer Leah Caffrey has already packed a massive amount into 2023.
In addition to starting all seven games for the Jackies in their Lidl National Football League Division 1 campaign, Caffrey has spent the last 12 weeks on a Certificate Course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, Co. Cork.
Whereas Dublin rounded off their NFL journey last Saturday with a convincing victory over Waterford, the past week saw Caffrey bringing the curtain down on her time in Ballymaloe. While she will soon be returning to collective training on a more regular basis, it won’t be until April 30 that Dublin’s TG4 Leinster Senior Football Championship odyssey begins in earnest against All-Ireland champions Meath.
Not many of the Dublin panel have been based outside of the county for an extended period (her former team-mate Noelle Healy’s own spell on the Leeside in 2019 being an obvious exception), but former DCU student Caffrey was more than happy to do so for something she feels passionately about.
“I suppose it’s the norm for anybody from any other county really. For me, it has been great. I’ve been able to do my own bit of training myself and then I’d be back on the weekends. It’s great that the management have been so supportive of the decision to do the course. It has worked out well. I’m looking forward though to getting back out with the girls full-time,” said Caffrey, who featured in the manifesto video for the LGFA’s new ‘Take a Second’ campaign, which was filmed at her home club Na Fianna in Dublin.
“It’s definitely a change of pace. It was just a career decision that I made and I’ve always wanted to do the course. When the opportunity came around, I was very glad and lucky that the management were just there to support me as well with it.”
The four-week gap to their provincial opener with the Royals will offer Dublin ample opportunity to assess what proved to be a largely positive League overall. Despite the presence of several new faces within the set-up, Caffrey and her team-mates secured third spot in Division 1, with five wins from seven games.
Defeats to Galway and Kerry meant a League final place was out of reach going into last weekend’s clash at home to Waterford, but Caffrey believes they can absorb the lessons from these reversals.
“It’s great to have a bit of time now just to recap on how the League went and reflect on what we can learn from the games. Put a bit of time into those things now and be ready for the games once they come.
“Happy with how the League went. There were obviously the two defeats, which we can learn from. Overall we’d be happy with how the League went and just looking to build on the positives, but also learn from the losses as well.”
When she won the TG4 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship crown for the first time in 2017, Caffrey became the second member of her family to pick up a Celtic Cross. Back in 1983, her father John lined up alongside the late Anton O’Toole and Joe McNally in Dublin’s full-forward line for their Sam Maguire Cup win over Galway at Croke Park.
While her uncle, Paul ‘Pillar’ Caffrey, is well remembered for his spell as manager of the Sky Blues’ senior men’s team from 2005 to 2008, Leah benefited from the coaching prowess of John when she was rising up through the grades with both Dublin and at club level with Na Fianna.
“Dad would have been involved pretty much all the way up when I was playing with Dublin underage. He has been very supportive obviously. He would have been involved as well with our Na Fianna senior ladies team, which my sister [Aoife] plays on as well. He’s definitely had a massive influence and he’s still a massive influence.
“We would have been very aware that he played for Dublin. We would have heard from him anyway and we’ve seen the videos. We know the stories! Dad was a great one and his passion has come into myself and my sister, and my two younger brothers [Sean and Hugh]. We all play for Na Fianna. We really enjoy it, we love it.”
Although her cousin Matthew is a gifted rugby player who plays for Terenure College in the All-Ireland League (his brother Stephen has also played for the club), camogie was the one consistent code that Leah dabbled in outside of Gaelic Football. Even then, she eventually reached a decision to concentrate on the latter to give herself the best chance of making a big splash in the inter-county game.
“Football was my number one from the start really. Still loving it. I think for myself just time wise, I found that I wanted to just pick one and go with it. Give one my all. I loved playing camogie as well, but football was always number one for me.”
Caffrey has certainly made her presence felt since first breaking onto the Dublin panel under Paul Gilheaney in 2013 – her debut coming at left corner-back in a league encounter against Meath in February of that year. Though she was abroad for the 2019 final victory, Caffrey was a part of the Brendan Martin Cup successes of 2017, 2018 and 2020.
A number of players that Caffrey soldiered with for these triumphs are no longer part of the Dublin set-up and this means she is now one of the most experienced faces on the panel.
Instead of being overawed by this fact, the three-time TG4 All-Star winner is doing her best to embrace it as the Jackies look to get themselves back on top of the championship ladder later on this summer.
“There has been a bit of change with different people in different roles. That happens over time, but we’re learning our new roles and trying to get on with things. We’ve been able to learn from the girls that were ahead of us. I think it’s just natural for that to happen. It’s good so far anyway,” Caffrey added.