It was a surreal moment, perhaps oddly unprecedented. The hard yards had been fought and DCU had clinched this year’s Giles Cup championship with a relentless 3-7 to 0-14 victory over Athlone IT in Castlebar.
It was a coming of age for a squad of players who had finally gotten over the line, blending newly established freshers into a team which will see many depart the college in a few short months.
However once captain Aoife Norris had stepped up to the podium in MacHale Park and completed her victory speech, all that was left to do was hoist the trophy high into the air in celebration of their success.
Only unlike during the preceding 70 minutes of football, the Offaly inter-county midfielder fluffed her lines, leaving the trophy alone and hoistless on the podium, before being shouted back towards it by her team-mates.
Surely a captain had never walked up to the podium and forgotten to lift the trophy?
“It was a disaster,” she laughs recalling the momentary lapse of concentration.
“I think I was just excited to get off the stage, because the hard part was done. But then the trophy was left on the podium… But sure look, I got shouted at fairly quick to go back and get it, so I think I got away with it.”
DCU are the champions! They have defeated Athlone IT to win the Giles Cup Final! #GAA pic.twitter.com/BgjdsdH8wa
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She led by example in a gruelling game which, despite her side scoring three goals, was never an easily fought final victory against an Athlone side which proved both physical and resillient, taking scores at crucial points in the game as the second half wore to a close.
“They were very physical”, notes the DCU captain.
“That was the main thing we noticed about them, they were very present going into tackles in the game. They were also very good at taking their points when they needed to.
“Even when we scored our goals they kept coming back. When we thought we might have had a bit of lead on them they would come back at us with another two or three points. It was hard work.”
Somewhere in the depths of a nearby woodwork shop in north Dublin a brand new trophy case is being constructed to give a suitable home to the litany of trophies which the college has won over the last number of months.
While both the Sigerson and O’Connor Cup sides fell short of senior success, DCU’s other teams have maintained that continued legacy of winning in both codes of GAA which the college has forged over the last decade.
Prior to last weekend’s Giles Cup success DCU had already lay claim to four gaelic football titles as well as a first ever ‘A’ Hurling Championship
That forged winning mentality is something which Giles Cup manager James Costello says is due to the manner in which both coaches and players are treated by the university, both on and off the field of play.
“DCU puts a huge emphasis on the coaching aspect and club and family. Here everything is top notch, from the facilities to the way people are treated. The girls that are injured are properly looked after and you don’t get that with other colleges. In DCU you get the feeling that everyone matters,” he said.
Now entering his fourth year coaching in the college, Costello has been an integral part of four trophy successes, including a Lynch Cup success and the 2015 Division Three league win which saw his side go unbeaten throughout the entire year.
He said that the nature of the recent Giles Cup weekend, which saw his side defeat Mary Immaculate College in Saturday’s semi-final, took a toll on his squad heading into Sunday’s final 24 hours later.
He said that that apart from captain Marian Farrelly being forced off with a broken nose in the second half of the final, that the game went according to plan in their two point victory in Mayo.
He said: “Goals win games and we were lucky to get three of them in the final. Caroline Nee, who scored the game’s decisive goal is actually from Boston, Massachusetts. So to have a girl from America to score the winning goal is an incredible story in itself.
“Athlone were fantastic opponents. They had bet us by a point in the Division 2B final back in early December, so we used that defeat as motivation to not let them beat us twice. We identified their key players in attack and came up with a plan to nullify that.
“Everything went according to plan until five minutes into the second half when we had a clash of heads and our forward Marian Farrelly (team captain) had to go off with a broken nose. After that it was up to the girls to hold it together because Marian would be a key aspect of our game plan in attack.
“After she went off we maybe lost our way for 10 minutes, but after that we scored two goals and it made a big impact.
Alongside many of her championship-winning team, captain Norris graduates this year. She says that departing college having secured an All-Ireland championship victory with this squad of players was a very special feeling.
“It was a lovely when to finish the year. You spend so much time with this group of girls and it’s lovely to show that you won something together. Your kind of forgotten about if you don’t do well, so it’s lovely to say we all have that trophy together.
“I think it was the bond that was there this year. We all got used to playing with each other in the league. There were players coming in and out and there were injuries before. I think last weekend we just finally got that click together.
“We finally got used to playing alongside each other as a team. We wanted to work hard for one another and we weren’t going to let the chance slip.
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