Sitting in the presence of Mick Bohan is something everyone should experience once in their lifetime.
A towering presence with an almost intimidating look about him, the Dublin senior manager could not be anymore warm-hearted if he tried.
He immediately makes those in the room feel at ease as we settle in for a conversation that mostly consists of him talking while the rest of us listen.
By the time it’s over you’re left feeling all the better for having spent time his company.
Not only is he an impeccable human being but an incredible Gael and coach whose imprint on ladies football has helped shaped a new era for the game.
It’s been a decade to remember for the Clontarf man, capped off in emphatic fashion as his Dublin charges lifted a third consecutive senior All-Ireland title to go alongside a first-ever five-in-a-row completed by Jim Gavin and their male counterparts.
Bohan and Gavin’s relationship stretches back many, many years with the pair having worked alongside each other en route to two national titles earlier this decade (2010 U21 All-Ireland, 2011 senior All-Ireland).
In between roles with Dublin’s two senior set-ups, Bohan spent time as a coach with the Clare footballers where he helped steer the Banner County to an Allianz League title as well as a memorable run to the last eight of the All-Ireland series.
He also played a pivotal role in DCU’s three Sigerson Cup triumphs in 2010, 2012 and 2015 respectively.
While it may have been a memorable decade, success never comes without its failures.
Before he was a three-peat champion, Bohan had a previous spell with the team back in the early noughties. While it was a fruitful time for ladies football in the capital, it ended with lingering thoughts of ‘what if?’
It was something he wanted to correct. Thankfully, he’s done that and more.
Bohan talks us through the long and winding road that led him to where he is today.
“I started off with Dublin development squads in 2002. I was saying this to Sarah [Colgan, 20×20 co-founder] that 2002, I suppose the first year was U14 development squads and the same year, I was involved with coaching Na Fianna, the club team. We were going for three-in-a-row, I took over coaching the team after Pillar stepped down.
“Then I was asked about the Dublin ladies. I was like, ‘Jesus lads I’m already coaching Na Fianna, the school team, I was involved with the club at underage, I was development officer – well, trying to do it, and started work with the Dublin lads’ development squads.’
“A pal of mine who played football with me with Clontarf, Willie Lillis, said he’d manage it and I got involved coaching. 2002, we won our first – imagine, Dublin won their first Leinster title in 2002 – and 2003 was our first All-Ireland appearance. Mayo beat us in that final. Then I stepped down. That was kind of a world apart.
“For those intermittent 14 years, I was involved with lads football. In 2014, I stepped down from the lads. My Dad passed away and I think three months after that, my best pal passed away, who lived in Clare.
“He had a massive heart attack. I had taken time out and as happens in the GAA, I ended up meeting Colm Collins. He asked me if I’d consider coming down once a week to do a session, and whatever, nine months later, I found myself travelling down four nights a week. It was a fabulous opportunity for me to mark two people who had been significant contributors in my life.
“At the end of that year, which was a fantastic year for me and one of probably the best learnings I’ve ever had in football because we essentially walked into a strong hurling county, whose mass on football wasn’t the same as the one I had left, but still, was an amazing year.
“They won Division 3 against Kildare in Croke Park which was a huge achievement and got to the last eight in the championship – kicked off the park by Kerry but such was the gap.
“At the end of that year, I got a phone call from the ladies county board and I was fully clear in my own head that I was going back in with our lads. In my own head, whether that would have happened or not.
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘Do you know what, that’s actually something I have an answer to.’ 2003 was still in my head, as tends to be the way in sport. I said, ‘You know, there’s an opportunity here to actually answer that.'”
Bohan was speaking at the launch of the third chapter of the 20×20 initiative which is dedicated to ensuring fair and balanced coverage of female sports throughout Ireland.
While both standards on the pitch and in the papers are steadily increasing, Bohan maintains that for his side it’s never been an issue of equality but rather fairness.
“I didn’t get involved with it for any noble cause or anything. Right from the start of it, we said to our group: did they want to be treated like footballers or did they want to be treated like female footballers? We never went after the female tag at all, we actually went after the game.
“On the bus was ‘Dublin senior ladies football team.’ I said to the county board, ‘In my 16 years involved with lads football, never once has it been on the bus that they’re men.’ That was one of the first things that we did – got rid of the ladies. So we’re now the Dublin senior football team, they just happen to be females.
“My point in all of that is we never went after the gender issue, we never went after equality. In fact, we don’t even talk about equality, we talk about fairness. I do believe there should be fairness, the way you’re treated… I think back to when we started off and girls weren’t getting fed after training. Doing the exact same training sessions as their male counterparts, that didn’t make sense.”
“Their training times were, they’d be training at eight o’clock or half eight and finish at 10 or half 10. While their male counterparts were starting at seven, half seven and finishing at half eight, quarter to nine. It’s a hell of a difference when you’re eating your meal at 11 o’clock compared to eating it at nine o’clock. So they were going home and having something quick to eat before going to bed and that didn’t make sense.
“So all those things have become part off the psyche of this group without ever talking about gender inequality because we don’t. Nor have we looked or gone after looking for equality. And we’re very clear on that, that the onus and responsibility lies on us, not on anybody else to provide a spectacle for people to come and watch and if we play to a certain level then they will.
“And it might take time but that’s part of the psyche that has to change around female sports. So it’s not just about going to support them because they’re females but go and support them because they’re worth watching but give them the start. Because I would say that the girls haven’t got the same start as fellas. They haven’t been exposed to the same underage coaching.”
Bohan is questioned on whether the standards of coaching correlates with the teenage dropout rate among girls but before fully answering the question his mind is drawn elsewhere.
Better to show us the answer than tell us I suppose.
The next five minutes answers any and all questions you may have about Mick Bohan, the future of ladies football or the ongoing 20×20 movement.
“When I was involved with the Dublin development squads. I used to take out footage from games, like the Owen Mulligan dummy, right?
“So we’d take that footage out and show it to the kids and we’d ask them to practice it. Now, we’ve done something similar with the girls but we’re picking out clips of fellas. Now, gradually we’re starting to get clips of girls so I actually, I don’t know if you’ve time for this have we time? What’s our time scale?
There’s enough time…
“Ok, you’ll enjoy this so I’m going to show it to you. This isn’t for anything other than to give you an insight. This is what we had to do with our group so if I show you this.”
Bohan plays the video.
It’s a collection of clips from his sides 2018 All-Ireland final win over Cork. Playing over the footage though is a motivational speech telling the story of how Buster Douglas knocked out Mick Tyson two days after his mother’s passing because she told everyone he would.
Here is the original clip. This will send shivers down your spine.
“Now, isn’t that footage as good as anything you’ve ever seen?” Bohan exclaims.
He’s right, it is.
The finishing of Carla Rowe. The accuracy of Sinéad Aherne. The toughness of Lauren Magee and a point by Niamh McEvoy that looked almost identical to many of those scored by her partner Dean Rock.
Among many, many other things.
It says everything about how much the sport has evolved and where its future lies. It was top drawer stuff.
“So, we do that? Because we have to keep repeating it for them to show them things that they can do well. So if you have that continuously, if you have that exposure continuously, that becomes part of what you do.
“You’re expected to make contact in the tackle, you’re expected to score when you shoot. You’re expected to catch a ball when it’s high. You’re expected to be able to kick a ball 40 metres.
“If you don’t have exposure to that or you’re watching footage of a fella, that’s not true. You can’t associate with that. So that’s why, and I was saying to the girls, we haven’t used this title in our campaign with our group, 20×20.
“But we’ve used “Can’t Be Can’t See”. So when I show you that or I show that to my group which we do on a continuous basis, that’s now become part of what they do.
“So if you then put that into the context of a young kid growing up. Like, them seeing Johnny Sexton convert a conversion or a penalty or Dean Rock scoring a penalty. That’s not comparable to Sinéad Aherne scoring a penalty or Lindsay Peat scoring a try.
“They need to see it from their own.”
As the conversation draws to a close, you walk out of the room on air, left feeling better about yourself, better about the future of ladies football and better for having met Mick Bohan.