When Dublin senior camogie player Aisling Maher casts her mind back to when she first entered the senior inter-county set-up seven or eight years ago, it’s about as far removed from the modern game as one can imagine.
“I think the first match I ever played with the Dublin senior camogie team we might have stopped in McDonalds on the way home.”
“It’s a completely different set-up now, it’s really not comparable in any way. It’s been a massive shift for the better. Dublin has definitely come on leaps and bounds, we are definitely moving a lot more towards a more professional set-up and players are living a lot more professional lifestyles.”
Many dubbed 2017 as the rise and resurgence of Dublin camogie, a first All-Ireland semi-final appearance since 1990 capped off a ground breaking year for the squad, but for St Vincent’s club player Maher, the ground work was being put in long before 2017 and it certainly came as no surprise to anyone within the Dublin camp when they reached their first semi-final in 27 years.
“2017 was a great year for us. Obviously it wasn’t something that just happened over night, it was the result of a lot of hard work from a number of individuals. Shane O’Brien had come in a couple of years prior to that and put in a massive amount of work and then David (Herity) had obviously come in and drove us on that extra bit.”
While the All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny two weeks later didn’t go to plan, the Dublin squad most definitely proved not just to the outside world, but most importantly to themselves that they are good enough to dine at the top table.
“We went into that Kilkenny game with the same mind-set as against Wexford and if anything with a little bit more self-belief because we had already shown once that predictions and opinions of others weren’t something that we were going to listen to.”
“We were very much going into the semi-final thinking that there was no reason that we couldn’t beat them and I think that’s what you have to do, if you’re not going to back yourself, nobody else will.”
In 2018, the squad failed to emmulate the heights of the previous year, suffering a heavy defeat at the hands of Galway at the quarter final stage, but Maher firmly believes that with the right mind-set and work ethic, the future is very bright for and the squad.
“We believe the potential is there and we believe that the players are there. If we do the right thing, and are willing to work hard, sacrifice everything and put our bodies on the line and get ourselves to where we can potentially be, then can get to that level and beat anyone.”
High profile names have been associated with Dublin camogie in recent times, five time All-Ireland winner and former Kilkenny goalkeeper David Herity took the reigns as manager in 2017 and has since been replaced by the experienced Frank Browne of Mayo, while Dublin senior footballer Philly McMahon has this year taken over the strength and conditioning of not only the senior squad but also the underage set-up and premier junior squad.
According to Maher, the squad has relished the chance to gain an insight into the winning mentality’s of all three appointments so far, but their knowledge and experience can only do so much, the rest is down to the players themselves.
“Obviously it’s fantastic to have the lads there and the facilities that we have. There is a massive difference in say what is provided to me as a senior inter-county player now then there was seven or eight years ago when I was first involved but at the same time we still have a million miles to go; everything that is there is useless without players committing 110%.
“It’s all well to have the facilities and the opportunities provided to you but if you don’t grab them with both hands and put everything you have into it then it is all worthless.”
Maher, at full-forward, has done just that in her career to date. The Trinity graduate has been a key player throughout Dublin’s rise, exemplified by her receiving a first All-Star award in 2017, Dublin’s first in a decade and the KPMG employee is hopeful that it won’t be another decade before the next All-Star accolade is awarded to the capital.
“There is an incredibly talented squad there and there are plenty of girls who are younger then me and pushing up and a lot of players who are very deserving of them so hopefully in the next couple of years we can continue to push onto that stage of championship and it won’t be nearly as long until Dublin’s next one.”
All-Stars and All-Ireland’s are something the country has become accustomed to associating with the Dubs. Maher takes inspiration from the exploits of her inter-county counterparts, particularly the Dublin senior ladies football squad who are the reigning All-Ireland champions. Maher believes the increased level of coverage afforded to female sport coupled with the success of Dublin senior inter-county squads, will have a positive affect for generations to come.
“I think that it’s going to bring future generations of football and camogie onto another level, the fact that those girls will have grown up looking at female athletes at the top of their sport.”
“The whole 20×20 initiative and the ‘Can’t See, Can’t Be’ campaign that is being pushed at the moment is so accurate. I know that if I look back to 10 or 15 years ago when I was a young girl, if I was looking at female athletes they definitely weren’t within my sport, it would have been Sonia O’Sullivan or Katie Taylor.”
“The fact that young girls can now grow up and see such an attainable image and see the likes of Noelle Healy and Sinead Aherne who are excelling at what they do and are within a field that those girls are already playing in and invested in, I think that gives a whole new level of motivation and inspiration to younger players coming up.”
Maher herself is taking a hands on approach in promoting her sport, recently part of the Karakal and WGPA’s launch of a new WGPA-branded hurley grip, Maher welcomed the initiative and its role in further advancing camogie.
“It’s a massive advancement for us. It’s the first time to the best of my knowledge that any grip has had a sponsorship of that nature put onto the hurl so it’s fantastic for the visibility of women’s GAA and the promotion of the women’s GAA.”
Aisling was speaking with Lisa Crowley for wgpa.ie.