FOOTBALL: Driving seat – The Big Interview with Niamh Hetherton of Dublin
By DARAGH SMALL (Niamh Hetherton of Dublin during the 2021 Lidl Ladies Football National League Division 1 Final against Cork at Croke Park in Dublin. (c) Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)
Her mother and father played camogie and football respectively, her father was also a former selector for the Dublin hurlers, while her brother played senior hurling for the Dubs too.
Niamh Hetherton’s sister also played underage camogie for Dublin while Niamh herself was selected on the Camogie Team of the Year a couple of years ago, but Ladies football is very much number one.
“I never played with Dublin senior camogie,” says Niamh.
“I went straight into the football setup from minor. I was asked to play camogie but I was asked to play the football first and it’s kind of hard to leave such a good team.”
And that’s perfectly understandable when you are a vital cog in one of the best and most successful teams in the game.
The 21-year-old has become a go-to player for Dublin manager Mick Bohan, even despite the embarrassment of riches in his forward ranks.
Last weekend against a very accomplished Mayo outfit at O’Moore Park in Portlaoise, Carla Rowe, Kate Sullivan, Hannah Tyrrell, Lyndsey Davey, and Nicole Owens were the scoring forwards.
Unusually, Sinéad Aherne and Caoimhe O’Connor didn’t get among the scorers but it shows the depth charts that last year’s TG4 All-Ireland finalists have at their disposal.
Hetherton was called upon in the 40th minute and she has floated between the starting 15 and substitutes’ bench for much of her early career with the Dubs.
The Clontarf ace actually started at full-forward in the Lidl National Football League Division 1 semi-final defeat to Donegal last March.
The manner of that 2-8 to 1-10 loss at St Tiernach’s Park in Clones lives long in the memories of these Dublin players, and they won’t have to wait long to put things right.
Dublin face Donegal in the quarter-finals of the TG4 All-Ireland Senior Championship at Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada in Carrick-on-Shannon next Saturday, July 9.
“We came up short to them in the League semi-final, you have to learn your lesson and not let that happen again,” said Hetherton.
“We were five points up with probably two-and-a-half minutes to go and obviously let them back into it. We weren’t happy with that performance at the end of the day.
“It’s a League semi-final and you want to get as many matches out of the League as possible. We came up short and we have a bit of fire in our bellies now for next week after that defeat.”
Dublin certainly won’t be looking any further ahead than that huge game against Donegal. However, when Armagh failed to put up an adequate score in their group game against Monaghan last weekend, it meant Meath would be on the same side of the draw as the Dubs.
Meath produced a performance for the ages last year when they beat Dublin 1-11 to 0-12 in the 2021 decider at Croke Park.
“Obviously we were extremely disappointed after the All-Ireland final,” said Hetherton.
“We were beaten by a better team on the day. We were going into the unknown.
“We hadn’t played them in county football in I don’t know how many years, so obviously that was the big unknown and we probably had thought we had done the homework that we were meant to do.
“But we came up short and everyone was extremely disappointed. This year, we were trying to build on that and trying to not let that happen again.”
Dublin Ladies football is arguably in a better place despite that loss on September 5 last year, and the conveyor belt continues to rumble on behind the scenes.
Hetherton was present at Croke Park last Tuesday when ZuCar were unveiled as the LGFA’s new All-Ireland minor championship sponsors – and she knows that there is an appetite to grow the grassroots of Ladies football in Dublin even further.
“At our matches it’s nice to see, at each match we have had a different group of girls from a different club coming down with their management,” said Hetherton.
“Our support is pushing us on which is good and hopefully looking to follow in a few of our footsteps.”
Hetherton had plenty of footsteps to guide her when she was younger, none more so than her parents who are legends of the game in the capital.
Most recently her father, Ciaran ‘Hedgo’ Hetherton, was involved with the Dublin hurlers alongside then manager Anthony Daly.
And while Niamh’s brother John would carry hurls and water for the team, the rest of the family travelled the length and breadth of the country during one of the most successful periods for Dublin hurling.
“I’d say we went to every single match that he was involved in. I was around 10. We were probably their number one supporter following them everywhere. They won the league in 2011 and the Leinster in 2013. It was a good time to be around,” said Hetherton.
“It was always a good thing to have someone involved to kind of get the inside scoop. I loved going to training and matches with him. Going on the bus and being in the dressing room beforehand. It was always a good thing to be able to do and I was probably at the prime age to be able to do that.
“But the girls that I would have been in school with, they weren’t too interested in sports and they didn’t really understand, so they weren’t jealous.”
Hetherton has just finished her Accounting & Finance degree in DCU and after three years studying, she will move on to a graduate programme.
She plays camogie with her mother’s club, St Vincent’s, dividing her time between two codes and two clubs.
But, for now, the sole focus is on getting Dublin back to Croke Park for TG4 All-Ireland finals day and banishing the memories of last year’s decider.
“It’s pretty tough, I probably haven’t picked up a hurl this year,” said Hetherton.
“But summer football is great and it’s a shortened season so we’ll be finished at the end of July hopefully.
“It does the camogie the world of good because I don’t miss the first round, that isn’t until August 12. So we don’t miss any of the camogie championship, which is good. We usually miss it.
“In previous years before Covid, we would have a few rounds of championship in May in the middle of the inter-county season. Now that has changed, so with the early finish, the club championship takes place afterwards.”