Achieving the two-in-a-row of Purcell Cups has put DCU firmly on the camogie map and yet the powers-that-be continue to put obstacles in front of their Ashbourne dream. Eoghan Cormican sits down with three girls leading the charge on and off the pitch.
Four days on from DCU’s second Purcell Cup triumph and The Camogie House, as it is commonly referred to, is showing the ill-effects of a hectic week.
Empty bottles and cans dominate the Kitchen landscape, the rubbish bin is to the point of overflowing, while the sink has long since passed its maximum capacity.
Celebrations mind you, wild as they might have been, were more than merited given that DCU are the first college since Thomond in 1987 to successfully defend the Purcell Cup- camogie’s second tier championship at third-level.
The tea is poured and strewn across the sitting room couches are Club Chairperson Aisleen Ní Shíocháin, Secretary and midfielder Lisa Carey, and Treasurer and team Captain Emma Brennan – housemates, classmates, teammates, but above everything else, the very best of friends. Forgive the well worn cliché, but these girls eat, sleep and drink camogie.
On the field of play, it has been a remarkable two years for the college’s Camogie Club. 2012 yielded a Division 1 league final appearance and a first ever Purcell Cup and while they only reached the semi-final of this year’s league, Purcell was retained, all be it took one hell of a performance to overcome Mary I.
It wasn’t always like this however, and the girls – all three are third year students – point out that the club was in a much poorer state of affairs when they first arrived into DCU.
“The older players would have told us how in previous years they struggled for numbers, struggled to put teams together, struggled to get results in lower divisions, so we fully realise that we have come from the very bottom up,” said Aisleen.
Lisa Carey, a PE and Biology student, vividly recalls her first training session with the college and her immediate desire not to return.
“I remember being so terrified because everyone was so good. I didn’t want to play camogie after that session it went so bad.”
“Eleven strong freshers showed up at that session,” adds Emma, “and we knew there and then that the bones of a strong team were there and we would go on to contest three successive All-Ireland finals.”
In any event, the girls quickly adapted and by the end of first year Aisleen had acquired the role of Chairperson with Emma taking up the Treasurer position. Lisa would eventually follow suit: “It was second year when I got roped in as Secretary. It would have been from living with the girls and seeing and hearing about all the work they were putting in.”
The club receive an annual grant from the Club Life Committee, but it rarely covers their entire cost base so fundraising is a necessity. The girls admit that the hard graft must also be put in off the pitch to ensure the stability of the club.
Each year they organise Mr DCU, an event that requires a massive amount of work, but the Club Chairperson doesn’t see it as a chore: “It’s one of the best nights of the year. Knocking door-to-door looking for money is not a chore. We need that money and we don’t mind how we have to go about attaining it.”
As much as they enjoy their committee responsibilities, Emma admits it can sometimes deter focus from their roles on the team. An hour before last month’s group fixture against Mary I, the girls received a call to say the pitch was unplayable. Instead of getting tuned in for what was a hugely important clash, the full-back was forced to ring several different venues in the hope of securing a pitch last minute: “Even though we eventually got one it was a serious distraction.”
This time 12 months ago, DCU celebrated Purcell Cup glory, exacting revenge for the previous year’s defeat at the hands of Queens University. Ashbourne camogie had finally been secured or so they thought.
Last September the CCAO did away with automatic promotion to the Ashbourne Cup, introducing a new ruling whereby they final spot of the competition would be determined by a play-off between the Purcell Cup winners and the defeated Ashbourne Shield finalists. Like a jilted bride at the altar, the players were distraught.
“That was probably one of the most heartbreaking moments because for two years we worked so hard and for them to pick that year to change the ruling completely out of the blue, it was absolutely crushing,” said Aisleen.
The Ashbourne dream failed to materialise as DCU fell to NUIG in the subsequent weeks and Lisa says there was more than a fleeting temptation to throw in the towel.
This success story however, had a couple of chapters yet to be written and the team showed tremendous character in defending their Purcell crown, surviving a cliff-hanger against Mary I in the decider.
“We won Purcell and then we won it again. Everyone was out to get us and we proved them wrong that not only could we do it once but we could do it twice,” Aisleen continues.
The two-in-a-row may have been achieved but DCU must wait until next autumn to determine their Ashbourne faith. UCC will provide the opposition and each of the players are keenly aware of the task at hand. That, however, is for another day.
Though the tea is drunk and the dicta phone switched off, the conversation continues to centre on camogie. Emma will line out for her native Carlow in their National league opener this weekend, while Lisa will don the black and amber in her first year with Kilkenny seniors. As the Purcell celebrations draw to a close, a return to normality beckons. These girls don’t mind for it’s on the pitch where they are happiest.