'What we have to recognise is that teenagers are different to adults'

February 03, 2024

Bernie Finlay of Na Fianna and Dublin ©Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

By Daire Walsh

Former Dublin footballer Bernie Finlay has said the emphasis on enjoyment is one of the key reasons behind her coming on board as an ambassador for the 2024 edition of the LGFA’s ZuCar Gaelic4Teens programme.

Launched to great success in 2017, Gaelic4Teens is a scheme that seeks to help clubs retain their current playing bases while also recruiting players in the 13-17 age bracket, which has been identified as a group with a high drop-out rate. Multiple educational webinars for coaches, players and parents, club coach observation visits and a festival day (scheduled for April 27) are incorporated into a programme that has more than doubled in size since its introduction.

In addition to Finlay being one of 13 ambassadors — made up of past and present inter-county ladies footballers — for this year’s Gaelic4Teens, no fewer than 20 clubs will be taking part. Given she is currently living in Enniscrone, Co. Sligo, Finlay’s primary focus is set to be on the four Connacht clubs that are involved in the scheme - namely St Mary’s (Leitrim), Mayo Gaels and Carnacon (both Mayo) and St Molaise (Sligo).

“I’m going to learn a lot from it and I have my own ideas too that I can bring to it. The programme appeals to me because they’ve really nailed it. There are different areas they’re focusing on, but the fun element comes through all the time. What we have to recognise is that teenagers are different to adults, and girls are different to boys, and men are different to women,” Finlay said.

“We as coaches, we can’t coach them all in the same way. We have to coach each group differently. I think the way they’ve gone about it is that they’re trying to educate the coaches in the clubs. I think that was the clincher there because you could go out and do a session with a team, but unless you’re coaching the coaches in the clubs, it’s not going to be sustainable.

“That approach to coaching won’t grow within the clubs. I think the way they’ve devised the programme and the webinars that are available to the coaches, that’s really, really important. That’s what I think will make it work.”

Originally from Tullamore and a member of the nearby Croghan club, Finlay represented her native Offaly at underage level before progressing into the adult grades of inter-county football. Yet she subsequently moved to Dublin on a full-time basis at 21 years of age to take up a job as a pharmaceutical technician at Beaumont Hospital.

While continuing to work as a healthcare professional, Finlay dabbled in coaching with Na Fianna (with whom she had considerable success as a player) and Maynooth University before moving to Sligo after spending the best part of two decades in the capital.

Her change of location happened a few months prior to Covid-19 taking its grip on these shores and with the global pandemic changing many people’s perspectives, Finlay opted to bring her career in a different direction.

“I wasn’t working at the time, I was on maternity leave. When it came to going back to work, during Covid Na Fianna contacted me and asked me to do a strength and conditioning online programme for them. It was their junior team. I was delighted to be asked to do that.

“It was that programme that ignited something in me and I was like ‘right, I have to work at this’. Every day when I was finished that session, I was buzzing after it. I just knew ‘I have to work in this area’. This is what I have to do. So I contacted the Sligo Sports & Recreation Partnership and they were brilliant. I’m working with them currently [as an exercise and fitness coach] and they were very supportive.

“They have lots of training courses in all sorts of sports. Basketball, athletics, cycling. At the moment, I coach in schools in multi-sports programmes and I do a lot of work with older adults, which I love.”

When you consider she has also been working with the Castleconnor GAA and Eoghan Rua LGFA clubs in recent times (as well as being heavily involved in basketball and athletics in the local Enniscrone area), there is plenty of knowledge that Finlay can bring to the table for the Gaelic4Teens programme.

She is also able to draw on her experience of being part of the Dublin senior panel as a player for a number of years (on the back of impressive club form with Na Fianna) and in particular featuring under current Jackies boss Mick Bohan during his first stint in charge of the side.

Finlay was selected at left half-forward when the Clontarf man brought the Metropolitans to a TG4 All-Ireland SFC decider in 2003 - where they lost out narrowly to Mayo - and she has tried to bring his level of organisation and detail into her own work as a coach.

“He respected us as footballers and he didn’t look at us as girls. He looked at us as footballers and that’s all any of us wanted. He came in and his sessions were so organised. It was bang, bang, bang. One drill, you move to the next, move to the next and it’s people like that who inspire you.

“I like to think my training sessions are organised because that’s one of the biggest parts of training under Mick that I enjoyed the most, that it was so organised. You try and bring those things with you.”

Having also been on the side (then managed by former Dublin goalkeeper John O’Leary) that fell short to Galway in the 2004 Brendan Martin Cup showpiece, Finlay looked like she had missed out on the chance to win an All-Ireland crown with her adopted county after stepping away from the Jackies set-up a few years later.

However, she eventually returned to the fold and appeared as a substitute for their maiden SFC triumph of 2010.

“It wasn’t sitting well, I was like ‘right, I’m going to give this one more shot’. It was the luckiest decision I ever made because we ended up winning an All-Ireland that year. Everything just came together. I was one of the lucky ones that managed to win an All-Ireland medal. It was sweet in the end,” the 2004 TG4 All Star added.

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