Interview with Armagh manager Hayley Boyle

view for Boyle
By Ciaran Woods of the Game Newspaper



Armagh manager Hayley Boyle will get a very different view of
Croke Park this Sunday. As a player for her native Tyrone, Boyle
enjoyed three outings as a player on the hollowed turf in the
goalkeeping position, with a view downfield the regular standpoint.
This time around, her view will be across the pitch, pacing the
sideline alongside Jacqui Clarke as the pair bid to mastermind
Armagh’s path to a first All-Ireland title. A different view,
a different occasion for Boyle, but one she is very much looking
forward to.

“It will certainly be a different occasion, and a different viewpoint.
As I’ve said to the girls, it was different as a player because
all you had to do was to pack your bag, remember your boots, and
turn up in time for the bus. In management, there’s so much else
to do, to organise, to plan, and you really are constantly thinking
about what lies ahead and all the possible scenarios you could
face. It’s very easy to criticise managers at times when you’re
watching from the stand, but when you’re down there on the sideline
it’s a very different story.”

“I don’t think anything can match the buzz of playing, of being
able to influence proceedings by your own actions out there on
the pitch. You also find yourself thinking about the thirty girls
out on the pitch, as well as the benches, instead of when you
were a player when you just focused on your own game. It is a
great experience for the managers as well, but you have to keep
cool and calm because as a manager you can have as much to do
as any of the players.”

Even in her playing days, Boyle was a tactician. An assured goalkeeper
who read the game well, who organised her defence and who, in
her own words, “probably made Peter Schmeichel look like a bit
of a pussy cat when it came to shouting”. Despite her verbal rollicking,
her defenders had utmost trust in her. An accomplished player
whose experiences, she believes, stand her in good stead for Sundays

“One of the best positions to be coming from is probably as a
goalkeeper because you’re under pressure all the time. You can
be idle for long spells in the game, but you still have to take
command and to be in control of things for the full hour. On the
sideline, it’s a different sort of pressure because although you
have to keep the same concentration and watch everything, you
also have to keep a distance because you can’t afford to get engrossed
in the game because you have to be in a position to analyse things
properly, to make the right calls and to make sure your judgement
is accurate.”

The most striking aspect of last weeks press night was the unbelievable
sense of calm around the place. An aura of measured confidence
could be felt from the players, the management, the backroom team.
Look into any of the players eyes and you saw a person who was
focused, who was ready. Behind closed doors, in their own homes
could of course be a different story, but when this unit of players
come together, there is no hype or ecstasy, only calm.

“They’re a team that you don’t get much from in terms of reaction
to things. We have a go at them all the time for being too quiet
sometimes, but the truth of it is that they’re all well grounded
people who are sensible and won’t be getting carried away. They
know what has to be done and what they need to do. That’s positive
from a managers point of view because the one thing you need the
team to do is to keep their feet on the ground and remember that
above all else there is a game of football that has to be won.”

It is now around eighteen months since the management duo took
over the reins of the Orchard county, and in that relatively short
space of time Armagh have rocketed from being Ulster also-rans
to All-Ireland champions in waiting. An unbelievable transformation,
but one which the Armagh players knew was achievable as they went
looking for the mentors to guide them.

“It was basically the players who approached myself and Jacqui
and asked us if we’d become involved, and the feeling there was
that they did have quality players, good footballers within the
county, who were capable of going places. It took last season
to find ourselves, to gain the necessary experience, so although
we’d set our sights high last year we were probably happy with
what we had achieved, going all the way to an All-Ireland semi-final
where we were knocked out by Kildare.”

“The players now have the experience of the big occasion now.
Before we took over, Armagh had played in just one Ulster Junior
final back in 2001 where they lost to Donegal. Last year laid
the foundations for us to build on for this year, and we went
into this year knowing that we were good enough and had the experience
to make the All-Ireland decider. Neither myself or Jacqui were
from Armagh, so naturally it took us time to properly develop
an understanding of the club scene in the county, the players
involved, and what their capabilities were. It probably took until
the Ulster Final last year for us to really get to know the players
we had, what their strengths were, and how they all best fitted
together. It was a learning curve for us. Now, we know a lot more
about these girls individually and collectively. It also takes
time for certain things to sink into a group, like a style of
play and the tactics we would employ. This year we just built
upon what we had instilled last year, with a few welcome additions
to the side, and also with the great sense of belief which comes
from winning an Ulster title already present amongst the players.”

Sligo, of course, were at this stage last year. In that decider,
they went down to Kildare and their Croke Park outing proved to
be an unsuccessful one. To what extent does Boyle believe that
this experience will be of benefit to Sligo?

“It’s hard to beat the experience of playing in Croke Park on
Finals day. As a player, I was involved in three finals, winning
one, while Jacqui was captain when Down won it in 2000. I experienced
both sides of it, both winning and losing, and trust me it isn’t
a nice feeling to lose an All-Ireland final. Ironically, with
Tyrone we probably went with most confidence and most laidback
into our first final, which we lost, whereas the next time around
it was always at the back of your mind that, Christ, it seems
like it’s happening again and those little doubts are hard to
shake off. So from Sligo’s point of view, it’s great for them
to have the experience of playing in a final but at the end of
the day their memories are not happy ones, and those doubts are
bound to creep back in if things start going wrong for them on

The past few weeks have been pretty stressful for the Armagh camp.
Following their media night ten days ago, the players and management
have tried as best they can to pull things close, to shut themselves
off from the outside and focus solely on the task at hand. Naturally
though, this hasn’t been an easy task with so many well wishers
and with everyone wanting to talk to them about the big match
ahead. This is where the experiences of their own playing days
have stood to Boyle and Clarke, as they have been able to advise
their troops first hand on how to deal with these potentially
tricky times.

“It’s something that both myself and Jacqui would have experienced
ourselves around our own All-Ireland finals, and we’ve tried as
best we can to share those experiences and offer advice to the
girls. It can be a very physically and mentally draining time
in the fortnight leading up to the game, because everyone wants
a piece of you. Nervous energy is very draining, and although
it’s understandable that everyone wants to wish you well and to
chat to you about it, it’s also important that the girls are given
the space they need to prepare. Most of them are back to university
this week, and the remainder are at school or work, so they’re
all in their own routines which certainly helps to keep a sense
of normality. We’ve been trying to meet as often as possible,
and to keep together as much as we can to help maintain and build
that togetherness. That way, if anyone has a question or has something
they want to talk about, then there’s always someone there for
them to relate to, to bounce off and they’ve been helping each

“We’ve still been working on a few wee bits and pieces. Last week
we trained as normal, but this week we’ve wound things down. You
aren’t going to get any fitter or faster at this stage, so it’s
mainly been a case of working on all the other little things which
may just give you an edge when it comes to the game. It is really
about getting the minds right, and about everyone knowing exactly
what their job description is. We’re trying to enlighten people,
to make sure they know exactly what to expect so that nothing
comes as a shock to them on Sunday. So it’s all about keeping
fresh, keeping focused, and making sure we’re in the best possible
shape both physically and mentally that we can be.”

Armagh head into the decider in confident mood, and justifiably
so given their incredible record of success over the last year.
Now, they find themselves just one game away from the holy grail.
Their hunger for success will certainly not be an issue this weekend,
and Boyle is confident that her side can deliver the goods on
Sunday afternoon.

“This will be our fourth final with this side in eighteen months
with this side and we’ve not lost one yet, so hopefully the signs
are good in that respect. The girls have a good level of experience
now, with two Ulster titles in the bag and having won a National
League title against Donegal, while a lot of them also have played
in provincial and national deciders with their colleges. So the
experience is definitely behind them, and hopefully they can use
it to their benefit this weekend, and put on the sort of performance
that they’re capable of. We’re confident, we’ve prepared well
for it, and we’re in good shape ahead of what we hope will be
a very enjoyable game for us, and one we hope will be to savour

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