"Who Is Éabha Rutledge
WHO IS ÉABHA RUTLEDGE By DARAGH SMALL
Éabha Rutledge went from the forwards to the backs and No 30 to No 2 in the space of 12 months as she helped Dublin to All-Ireland glory.
It was a remarkable transformation in a brilliant year for the Kilmacud Crokes sensation, who soon became a lynchpin of the Dublin defence.
Rutledge had won her first TG4 All-Ireland senior medal before she played a single minute of championship football, quite the wait considering she made her Dublin debut against Monaghan way back in the 2015 National League.
She also won a Lidl NFL Division 1 title last year but claiming a Brendan Martin Cup after contributing at Croke Park was her dream all along.
“I was playing as a wing-forward all the way and I wasn’t getting a look in much,” said Rutledge. “I started a few of the League games this year but I wasn’t getting as much game time as I would have hoped either. Then I spoke with Mick Bohan and we came up with a plan.
He was saying a change might work. “The tempo and pace in training is so good that it is actually a good place to try out new positions. So I gave the backs a go, wing back and cornerback. I loved it, it has brought out a different spark in me.
“But I had to learn a lot about tackling. My tackling was quite weak. I was able to get forward and attack from the backs which always helped. But I worked a lot with the defence coaches on my footwork.
“The coaches said the aggression was there, it was fine, I just had to work on my footwork. I was getting turned by different players. I just had to work hard in training. “I was marking some of the best forwards in the game to try and improve my skills and it came through.
” Rutledge began her footballing career with Kilmacud Crokes and at primary school in Gaelscoil Thaobh na Coille, where she starred in Cumann na mBunscol. She was a driving force for Coláiste Íosagáin, where she won a Senior B All-Ireland in 2011, before she was Junior A captain in 2012 and won a Senior A All-Ireland two years later. She went to DCU and now works in the Hedge Fund Services Department of JP Morgan as an accountant.
But football has always been her first love and she was thrilled to finally get on the field in the senior decider, having already featured for Dublin throughout the underage ranks. In one of her previous clashes with Galway at U-21 level, the final scoreline was 0-2 to 0-2. But nothing could have prepared her for the battle on 15 September 2019.
“We have played against the Ward sisters, Olivia Divilly and a few others,” said Rutledge. “They would have beaten us at minor, the whole way up. A lot of the Dublin girls would have always had Cork in the back of their heads but for us Galway was the team that we wanted to beat.
” It was 1-0 to 0-1 at half-time in front of a record attendance of 56,114 on the big day. But after a stellar defensive display from the team, Dublin went through the gears in the closing stages to secure a 2-3 to 0-4 success.
“It was just so different in Croke Park, even walking out in the parade and the ceremony bit. It was something I had never done before. You could easily get drawn away into it. But once the ball gets thrown up it’s just a normal match in a much bigger stadium,” said Rutledge. “You don’t really get to fully appreciate it until the 60th minute when the referee blows the final whistle and you are looking around and hearing the cheer. It was amazing.
“But even in the parade at the start, walking around and taking it all in. It’s some support, the LGFA, TG4 and Lidl did great work to get that sort of attendance. It’s brilliant.
” Dublin won their second All-Ireland on the bounce in September 2018 when they defeated Cork in the final. That was the third win in their history and they were expected to push on from there.
But Mick Bohan’s charges came unstuck in the Lidl NFL against Cork. Cork were victorious in the group stages and again when the two teams met in an extra-time semi-final thriller at Nowlan Park.
Cork went on to take the league title while Dublin and Cork renewed rivalries in the TG4 All-Ireland semi-final. Getting over that hurdle was massive for this Dublin team and they took huge confidence going back to Croke Park for the final.
“Last year looking on you feel like you can’t do anything,” said Rutledge. “Whereas this year when you are out there you are doing it for the girls as well. Everyone on this team works so hard together. “It is probably easier being involved than it is watching, with your heart racing. It is a privilege to be playing alongside some of those Dublin girls.
“This is my second medal. But there are girls on the team who only have one medal. There is still huge motivation in this Dublin team. There are girls who still want to get their first. “The hunger, motivation and inspiration is still very much there.
” And on the same weekend as the Dublin men won their five in-a-row, the Dublin Ladies made their own slice of history. Manager Mick Bohan has been at the helm for all three victories and now the attention turns to his future. But Rutledge and her teammates are desperate to see him stay on.
“Don’t fix what is not broken I would say,” said Rutledge. “Mick and his management team have been absolutely brilliant for Dublin Ladies football. I just think to drive forward again it would be great to have them there. They know the set up and sometimes a new manager coming in can put you on the rocks. “But they have been absolutely brilliant for us. You can’t fault them at all.”
(Interview features in the Autumn Edition of PEIL magazine