The life of a Wicklow under-21 hurler is not an altogether glamorous one. For the rare glamour game that comes his way, he must content himself with playing matches in front of a few dozen loyal supporters. Predominantly known as a footballing county, hurling is seen as somewhat of the weaker relation. As such, the tag of the underdog was one that did not faze Drew Brennan.
With approximately 3,000 students in St. Patrick’s College, they have a tiny pick of hurlers compared to local rivals DCU with 13,000 and University College Dublin with a whopping 32,000. The fact that the profession of primary teaching is dominated by women reduces further the amount of male hurlers attending the college.
Rather than use this as an excuse, the hurlers of St. Pat’s are always intensely motivated by the prospect of beating these colleges more recognised in public perception.
“I suppose the thing about our team is that we’re renowned for having such great spirit,” remarked Brennan, a fourth year Bachelor of Education student. “Given that we’re such a small college, you spend all day with the same lads, we go on nights out together and we hurl together.
“For example, in my first year here with the freshers hurling team, we were basically all living in the same house on campus. Even now, a lot of the lads living together are hurling together, so I suppose that’s why we’re such a tightly knit group.”
One need only set foot inside the Java café to experience the family like atmosphere that exists in the college. This bond is fostered by GAA Officer Tom Fitzpatrick, a man that many view as the father of all things Gaelic Games in St. Pat’s.
As of last April, St. Pat’s and DCU have officially merged while Mater Dei Institute of Education and the Church of Ireland College of Education were also included in this incorporation programme. There has been much speculation as to whether the colleges would merge to form a single hurling team.
“It’s still a little bit up in the air at the moment,” said Brennan, “Although (the players) are all fairly adamant that we all want to have our own team again this year, it could well be our last year as an independent Pat’s hurling team so we want to give it a good rattle.”
Indeed, the Drumcondra men got the better of exchanges when the two sides met last year. DCU were beaten on a score line of 2-22 to 1-17 in a league clash, while it took three injury time points to earn a draw against the same opposition in the Fitzgibbon Cup.
Brennan said: “I think those kind of results opened a lot of people’s eyes to the high level of hurling that we have in St. Pat’s.”
As a teacher training college, there is an ethos of giving responsibility to their own students. The management of sports teams within the college is no different.
While household names like Davy Fitzgerald, Brian Lohan and Nicky English manage Limerick Institute of Technology, the University of Limerick and UCD respectively, St. Pat’s will be trained this year by student and centre back Paddy Spellacy of Whitehall and their goalkeeper Paul Simms of Laois.
Brennan, who plays his club hurling with Carnew Emmets, was optimistic for the year ahead and reserved special praise for Patrick Curran who recently won an All-Ireland u-21 medal with Waterford as joint-captain, scoring 1-9 against Galway in the final and scooping the man of the match accolade.
He said: “In Pat Curran we’ve a savage forward. He’s our main man up front really. We’ve a very solid team all round though and hard to break down with Simms and Spellacy, as well as Ruairí Tubrid and Conor Shaw.”
Shaw was a vital member of the Westmeath u-21 side which shocked Kilkenny in the Leinster Championship this summer and then went on to make his senior championship debut against Limerick in June.
“The big aim for the year is of course to win a Fitzgibbon match,” said Brennan, “We really should have beaten DCU last year, only for their couple late scores.”
The previous year, St. Pat’s came very close to toppling heavyweights Cork Institute of Technology. Inspired by wily Wexford man Peter Sutton, only a late surge from CIT denied what would have been a historic victory.
“We were four or five points up against a side that featured Aidan Walsh, Bill Cooper and Mark Ellis. We just ran out of steam in the final 10 minutes. We’re confident though that we can get a Fitz win this year.”
Regardless of the result, proud to be hurlers of St. Pat’s they shall remain.
Image credit: Garry O’Neill