*Noelle Comyn with Katie Taylor
There have been many but Noelle Comyn is certainly amongst the most decorated sports people to have emerged from Co Clare.
Not just has she won accolades but Noelle has picked up her share of bruises by knocking down so many barriers. She became the first ex player to manage Clare’s ladies footballers at senior level in 2011. Last year, she was the first female referee to take charge of a men’s hurling game in America and also holds the distinction of winning All-Ireland titles for both Clare and Dublin in ladies football plus coaching teams in the GAA World Games.
Anyone that knows her will probably use the word determined when describing Noelle. This mentality was evident from an early age as she taught herself how to play camogie. “I became a ciotóg in camogie because I self-learned and I never ever changed”. A county camogie player since the age of sixteen and ladies footballer since seventeen, she played hurling with Tubber up until minor and also togged out for the club in a Junior hurling game.
This desire to enhance her knowledge has seen the Tubber native compete and play such a wide range of sports. She played racquetball in secondary school at Gort and did cross country running during the off season from camogie and ladies football. Comyn has represented Galway in darts and has had Connacht trials for hockey, the boxing ring has also come calling where she trained alongside Katie Taylor.
Though Noelle has shown the initiative on several occasions, she is keen to praise many of the mentors she has had along the way, especially those no longer with us, Johnny Hayes, Francie Mahon and Kevin ‘Trixie’ Toomey. The quartet of Bernie Ryan, Davy Fitzgerald, John Torpey and Michael McDermott were “very influential” in her career while the generosity of Martin Donnelly to many Clare team is something she hasn’t forgotten.
Donnelly’s name was across the Saffron and Blue when the county ladies footballers enjoyed a stellar 2001 campaign which included winning the senior Munster Final, Division 1 in the National League and was capped off by Noelle getting an All Star at corner back. “In my own opinion we were the best team in the country that year but we probably worked a bit too hard and when it came to the business end we might have had done too much, we had a lot of training done over two years, definitely we were the best team in the country that year so it’s probably a little regret. The following year, a lot of the players went their own way and started doing different things so it ended that era but it was good while it lasted. I won an All Star that year so it is special, it is the only Munster title that Clare Ladies Football have won and it’s getting very hard to recreate those kind of scenes again”.
Speaking to The Clare Echo from New York City where she is refereeing and coaching full-time, Comyn admitted there was a massive change in pace required when she transferred to Dublin. She picked up an All-Ireland medal in 2010 her final year, but cruelly missed the final having done cruciate ligament damage in the quarter-final. Prior to that she was a staple at full back then aged 41 and the year previous was named Dublin Player of the Year.
Not alone had teammates less years on her but their hours in the gym were very minute in comparison with the hours the former Fergus Rovers defender was clocking up. “I literally lived in the gym for my last three to four years off and on season to keep the body right to compensate from getting injured. As you get older from a mental and physical aspect, you have to start thinking differently and have to put an awful lot more time in. I would put in three times more time into my career later on than I did when I was younger, people might say I was a slow player but I was actually quicker at forty than when I was thirty or twenty”.
During her years with Clare in the late 90s and early 2000s, Noelle was a dual-player, she recalled on some nights staying in a hotel with Edel Arthur and Catherine O’Loughlin having played a game earlier that day, only to go off in the car to play another match the next morning. It wasn’t rare for her to train sixteen times in fourteen days, though being a dual-player nowadays is not impossible she felt, it all relies on co-operation between different managements.
Such co-operation would have been beneficial during her time in charge of the Clare ladies footballers eight years ago. They reached the Division 2 League semi-final under hers and Aiden ‘Horse’ Moloney’s watch but she resigned in the aftermath of this. “Maybe I was coming from an environment where being a Dublin player there’s expectations and you have to put a lot of your other life aside to wear the jersey, looking back, I don’t know if players were willing to do that at that particular time”.
“I decided it was time to move on. Could I have stayed on? Yeah. I think I pushed the players while I was there. Could I have done a few things differently? Possibly, yes, absolutely. Maybe I was looking for results and wanted to kick on at a pace that the players or the board, that’s a culture you can’t change things overnight and that’s something I’ve learned, you have to have a bit of patience and bring things forward a little slower. My nature is to get things done, keep moving and ticking on. With Dublin you’ve got your squad training whereas with Clare at the time we did have a certain core who always trained, I have to give the older players they were very good to train but getting a consistency with the dual players, there was a lot of tug of wars there at the time,” the two time All-Ireland club winner with Ballyboden St Enda’s said.
Wherever in the world, she is whether it’s Boston Tubber or the Big Apple, sport will be a part of Noelle’s life. “Sport has been my life, it continues to be. What would you have done without sport, how would you have lived. I think a lot of people’s paths would have been very different”. The buzz of playing still draws the soon to be fifty one year old who lined out in a recent tournament in the States, despite undergoing a discectomy in April, determined as ever while her refereeing career has now expanded to officiating soccer games.
When analysing her own career, she often ponders what it would be like to have all the opportunities the players of today have. “You can’t ever have regrets but you’d often think if I was born in a different era like ten or fifteen years later you look at the Dublin ladies football team now, not just the success level but the preparation has kicked on another level. Of course I’m happy with what I got but you’re always going to say I’d love to have kicked on even further and maybe in a different era I’d love to have been involved in a sport in the professional side of it. I was at an ice-hockey game in Madison Gardens watching the Rangers play, there is a ladies pro league starting in ice-hockey in the States, that is massive and is a really good game, it’s like hurling on ice. Boxing even rugby, Aussie Rules, there is so many different sports I’d love to have tried or have gone on to do something different. You always have to be happy with what you had, I’m very grateful for the career I’ve had, I got to play inter-county at the very top level and at the very top to age forty one, I’m fifty now and still playing a little bit so I can’t complain”.