Identifying the sports in DCU that are driven by scholarship programs is an effortless task – for not only do they dominate the college’s landscape, they are fortresses revered across the country.
Moulded from nothing, the Athletics Academy has grown to the point where budding athletes are now presented with a viable alternative to college in America if they wish to carve out a successful career.
Equally dominant has been the men’s football academy, where three Sigerson titles have been clinched since 2006. This year’s 16 points victory was the biggest winning margin in a Sigerson final in 43 years.
That’s all well and good for the athletics and football enthusiasts, but what of those outside these areas? What of those outside the loop? Sure, they can compete, but at what level can they realistically hope to achieve success?
DCU’s Swimming and Waterpolo set-up is a prime example of a club competing successfully at the top level, driven by nothing more than good organisation and love of the sport. It’s a club of no frills, no elitism, and one which has no scholarship program. If nothing else, it stands as a perfect example of how to be consistent at the top tier without enjoying the benefits of sponsorship or outside funding.
Club Secretary Rob Whelan explains how a scholarship program would completely change the landscape of swimming in DCU, and not entirely in a beneficial sense.
“There is no scholarship programme specifically dedicated to swimming like there is in NUIM but swimmers coming to DCU can still avail of the regular or elite scholarships. Unfortunately, any swimmer looking to come to DCU purely for swimming would need more than 20 hours of swimming training available to them each week and that isn’t feasible at this time for the club.
“Right now, the club caters for all levels of swimmers, so if we were to change and primarily focus on elite swimmers, it would involve a major shake-up of the club and result in losing almost every member of the club who isn’t elite. We still attract swimmers who were formerly Irish international swimmers but don’t compete anymore. These swimmers are of a high enough calibre that we can still compete with the other universities.”
Under the guise of Margaret Farrell, the DCU swim team headed across the Liffey in mid-November for their first acid test of the new season. Seven colleges were present at the meet, among them UCD, led by former Olympian Aisling Cooney. Also competing were Trinity and NUI Maynooth, the latter boasting a designated swimming scholarship program.
In both the men’s and women’s events, DCU put in a tremendous shift, garnering third place overall with Trinity and NUI Maynooth trailing in their wake. Whelan quips that, even without a swimming program, they haven’t had any difficulties competing just yet.
Away from the swimming aspect of the Club, Whelan is keen to bring Waterpolo back to the fore after a few “dormant years”.
“Last year the men’s team narrowly missed out on the semi-finals at the Intervarsities with very little training. This year, with a proper training structure, we hope to make the semi-finals and maybe more. We also now have a full women’s waterpolo team and we’re looking to increase the number of female waterpolo players again next year.
“Because waterpolo isn’t mainstream, most of the competitive players would know each other from playing matches with or against each other. So the chances are, if there is a competitive waterpolo player in DCU, someone will know them and tell them about the club.”
With the Intervarsities Swimming Competition not scheduled until the second week of March, the club has a considerable amount of time to fine-tune preparations ahead of the season’s real litmus test. In essence, it’s just another chance to prove they can mix it with the big boys; no frills, no elitism, no nothing.