There are certain things that stand out about Lisa Coohill. One is her gait which is confident and assured. It’s the stride of a top class athlete, an All-Ireland senior ladies football winner with Galway, and a former All-Star. Another thing that stands out is that Lisa Coohill is one of the nicest people you could meet. Tuesday evening, and Clifden girl Coohill has not long finished her summer day’s work in Gannon Sports in her hometown. Later in the evening, she will train, but for now she is quite happy to sit out in the shade and discuss a myriad of sporting topics. Earlier in the day, Coohill had run into former Derry Gaelic football sharpshooter and TV pundit Joe Brolly in Clifden, leading into a humorous slagging match between the two. Coohill is that sort of girl, affable, easygoing, and infectious. She can mix it with the best.
Yet despite her upbeat mood, the 2004 All-Star has had her sporting heartaches to contend with, personal and otherwise. After helping to propel the Tribeswomen to their first All-Ireland senior title in 2004, she subsequently ruptured her cruciate while playing in a college game for GMIT. “It happened in November 2004,” outlines the Grainne Mhaols star. “I was playing for the College (GMIT) at the time. I didn’t get the operation on the knee until about January. I then took about six months off and towards the end of June I came back training. I thought it was alright, although it was hard to get the fitness back up again.”In the interim, the Galway ladies had already begun the defence of their provincial and All-Ireland crowns, losing to Mayo in the championship opener before railroading Roscommon in the subsequent round-robin game to qualify for another showdown with Mayo in the Connacht final.
By this time, Coohill was back in training with Galway. It seemed things were on the up. “I came on in that Connacht final victory for the last five minutes or so. I didn’t do much,” laughs Coohill, “got knocked over a couple of times.”“The next game was against Kerry (in the All-Ireland quarter final) and I came on about fifteen minutes into the first half. I got through ok and scored a goal in that game. I was delighted with myself although, in the end, I was wrecked tired.”Yet Coohill, while still not fully fit, looked to be striding back towards her best. “Then came the Dublin game,” adds the 23 year old midfielder. “I didn’t start but came on exactly at half-time. There was about 10 minutes to go when I injured the knee again. Myself and Angie McNally went in for a challenge. I got the ball and was being tackled when my knee went. It just buckled, and I tore the cruciate again.”
For all intent and purposes, that was the end of Coohill’s season. She did tape it up, just like Paul Clancy did for Galway in the Connacht football final defeat against Mayo last weekend and made an appearance in Galway’s ill-fated loss to Cork in the All-Ireland decider, but to no avail. “It was no good,” sighs Coohill. “There was too much of a mountain to climb.”And so in mid-October of last year, as she dealt with the heartache of Galway’s All-Ireland defeat and the loss of the Brendan Martin Cup, Coohill went under the surgical knife for the second time. “I took about eight months out this time before I started back training at all. I started back in the middle of June and I have over a month done now, although I did sprain my ankle recently which kept me out for a week or so. I think my knee is ok though. Sometimes I will do a hard training session and it is sore afterwards. I don’t know, but I suppose that is part of the deal if I want the play. I am just hoping this time it will be ok.”
No doubt, for a competitor like Coohill, the winter must have dragged on. After all, this is the woman who not only represented Ireland in the World Cross Country Championships in Leopardstown in 2002, but has also competed against the likes of her idol Sonia O’Sullivan and Paula Radcliffe. She’s not one who kindly takes to sitting idly by. Indeed, there were times during her recuperation when she thought of quitting the football circuit and returning to the athletics track once again. Coohill explains: “I thought about it loads of times, especially after the second time my knee went. I said maybe I should give up the football and take up the running, because in the athletics at least you are running in straight lines.” “The athletics is brilliant and I really miss the racing part of it. The training part of it was fine, but it was always on my own and it was a really lonely kind of thing. That’s the one thing about playing with the Galway girls, the whole team are great friends and there is always great fun. I would miss that big time if I wasn’t playing.” “I would safely say that in years to come though, if my knee does get better, I will definitely run the Streets of Galway and also a marathon somewhere. I don’t know where. There is meant to be a brilliant atmosphere at the Streets of Galway. So I wouldn’t mind doing that.”
However, her main focus at present is on Sunday week’s Connacht final meeting with Mayo, which, following the withdrawal of Roscommon from the provincial campaign, will be both sides first championship clash. “We figured that Roscommon wouldn’t field a team so we have just put in some hard training sessions and kept the heads up,” notes the Computer and Business Applications student. “Everyone knows Mayo are going to put it up to us. It is never an easy game against Mayo. So we have tried to stay focused as much as we can. We really want to win it and we have been training really hard. We also have been playing a few challenge games and we have tried to treat them as championship games. Mayo will be hungry but so will we. Hopefully we can win it. We have never beaten Mayo in McHale Park as long as I can remember, so hopefully we can this time.”
If Coohill can make PJ Fahy’s starting XV for the Connacht decider remains to be seen. “I have no expectation,” says Coohill. “I am fit enough at the moment, but I want to get back as fit as I was in 2004. That is my main objective. If I get a game, or a piece of a game, I will be happy. If I don’t, but the girls play well, then I will not be too pushed. Just as long as everything goes well for the team.”“Hopefully in another month, I will be pushing for a place. It is hard to make the team though because we have so many good players. We have 25 or 26 players on the squad, with everyone in contention for places. It is so close between everyone, which is a good way to have it.” That said, if Coohill does return to full fitness and the form she showed in 2004, one suspects the Clifden girl’s name will be one of the first scribbles down on the Galway Management teamsheet. Galway face Mayo in the Connacht senior ladies football final at McHale Park at 3.45 p.m.
Written by Stephen Glennon
July 21st 2006