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Dublin's meteoric rise, a first All-Star and a thesis due during historic tour to Madrid

It’s been a year to remember for Aisling Maher.

ALTHOUGH IT WAS Cork who climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand to lift the All-Ireland senior camogie title in September, 2017 will carry fond memories for Dublin.

Aisling Maher Aisling Maher. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

You could say they broke the glass ceiling, reaching the All-Ireland semi-final for the first time since 1990 under the watchful eye of former Kilkenny goalkeeper David Herity.

“27 years of history gone,” he smiled after that stunning win over Wexford in Semple Stadium back in the early days of August.

Pitted against then-reigning All-Ireland champions Kilkenny in the semi-final, the Sky Blues marched on. Fearless, this was a revolution of sorts. It wasn’t just a case of breaking that duck, reaching the last four and the job was done.

Herity’s charges came out fighting and they tested the Cats to their very limits in a cagey affair. Ann Downey’s side made their experience tell in the latter stages of the game however, and ran out eight-point winners in the end.

The final margin was probably harsh on Dublin, but in their biggest test to date, they confirmed that 2017 was very much so about the rise and resurgence of Dublin camogie.

And only now can they reflect on what they’ve achieved.

“It probably took us a while after the Kilkenny game to step back and appreciate that,” full-forward Aisling Maher says, looking back through the year.

“We backed ourselves very much the whole way through and while people outside our camp were maybe surprised to see us winning quarter-finals and getting to semis and putting up good scores along the way, it was very much something that we expected of ourselves and something that we wanted to do.

Aisling Maher and Mairi Moynihan Maher and Dublin's Mairi Moynihan celebrate after that historic win over Wexford. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“Ultimately when the Kilkenny game finished, it was disappointment through and through for us. It definitely took us a while to step back and take the moral victory or whatever you want to call it out of it.

“But looking back on the year, it’s good progress. We’re going in the right direction. We’re pushing to get into that top four and next year we’ll be pushing to stay in top four and go on further.

“It’s never going to be a click your fingers and go from the bottom of the table to the top, so we’re moving in the right direction and we’ll be hoping to keep pushing that way.”

A five-time All-Ireland winner in black and amber, Herity’s influence over the past year or two has been astronomical for Dublin camogie.

He’s been re-appointed as manager for 2018, a move which Maher welcomes with open arms.

“David’s been a really great manager,” she says. “He came in there after Shane O’Brien who put in a very professional set-up in comparison to what had been there years previously.

“He had a bit of groundwork done, and he (Herity) came in and very definitely built on it. David has a very professional attitude, accepts nothing short of 100% from everyone. He’s very good at getting the best out of players.

“(He) works us very hard and has brought us on massively. (He) knows a lot about hurling, obviously, knows a lot about coaching. He’s brought the team spirit up, work-rate up, skill-rate up.

“He doesn’t care at all that we’re girls, he doesn’t care at all that we’re playing camogie or working jobs. He just expects from us exactly what Brian Cody expected from him when he was training them.

“He’s a very good manager, very good coach.”

David Herity talking the team before the match Herity with his side. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Maher, at full-forward, was a key player throughout that rise back to the top. Her unerring accuracy in front of the posts and effective performances saw her rewarded with a first All-Star accolade — and Dublin’s first in a decade — last month.

Tomorrow, she’ll be part of history as the first-ever camogie All-Star tour jets off to Madrid. To get this into the bargain comes as an extra bonus, the St Vincent’s star smiles.

“Absolutely,” she grins. “A massive shock for me, completely.

“To just win one was fantastic so to win one and get the trip as well is definitely the cherry on top so I’m really delighted to be included.

“It’s (All-Star tour) kind of something that we’ve been lacking in camogie that the other codes have had over the last few years so it’s definitely a really positive step.

“It’s a massive step in the right direction to see players getting rewarded for the effort that they’ve put in all year and to see camogie, as a sport, being promoted outside of Ireland. It’s really great.”

“I think that I’m going to have to branch out and make friends in other counties,” she laughs, when it’s pointed out that she’s the only Dub on the trip.

“It’s just me so hopefully one of the girls will adopt me and I can pretend to be from Cork or Galway or somewhere else for a few days!”

Looking back through the years the 21-year-old feels that the All-Star tour is hugely beneficial to younger players.

When she was growing up, her role models were a lot closer to home, the likes of Eimear Brannigan and Louise O’Hara, as well as those in other sports.

“When I was young and coming up playing, there’d be very few female camogie players that you’d know of, that you’d see pictures of around the place, that you’d want to be like,” she continues.

Aoife Murray, Rebecca Hennelly and Aisling Maher The 2017 All-Star tour to Madrid takes place this week. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“You’re looking at the hurlers or someone like Sonia O’Sullivan, Katie Taylor, it’s not even your own sport. I think that we need to continue to promote the senior girls and the All-Ireland-winning teams so that younger players can look up to them and strive to be like them.

“You get younger players and they see that we’re going off on this trip and it promotes the interest internally. It sets it as more of a goal for younger players, it’s more of a big deal and something they want to strive to achieve.”

How does she feel about being one of these role models, one of these figures that younger players even in her own club aspire to be like?

“I still have myself convinced I’m a young player!” she laughs. “I’m not ready to let go of that!

“It scares me a little bit when some of the girls are 16 and looking to borrow IDs and that. I don’t feel responsible enough for that yet. I’m still 21 so I won’t make myself too old yet.

“Ah no, I’d like to think that if some of the younger girls have an issue with anything, that they wouldn’t be afraid to come and talk to me or chat to me about that sort of stuff and I’d be happy to give them whatever knowledge I have, though there’s definitely people above me who have been around a lot longer who probably have better advice.

“But moving forward, that’s the direction I’d like to go in. You’d like to be able to think that younger players can take inspiration from what you’ve been through and what you’ve achieved and all the rest. So hopefully one day!”

And the club scene this year — St Vincent’s won their third Dublin championship on the bounce.

Maher accepts that it was a good year, but she doesn’t dwell on it too much. As discussed earlier with Dublin, her mind swiftly turns to the next challenge. She’s always striving to do better.

“We had come off the back of losing three in-a-row so it was nice to switch that one around,” she says. “Vincent’s have a brilliant team, I’m really lucky to come from such a good club set-up.

“We were beaten in the Leinster semi-final in comparison to being beaten in Leinster finals the last two years. Again, a little bit of a disappointment there.

“We would have been really hoping to push on in Leinster and on an All-Ireland level. But we’ll pick ourselves up, we’ll go again.

“We’ve got a very good team there, there’s a lot of young players coming through. I think there’s massive opportunities ahead for Vincent’s.

“A few years ago, we were losing Dublin championships, to come to a stage where we can win three in-a-row and still be disappointed at the end of a year is good progress. We’ll be hoping to push on definitely as well.”

But first, it’s ending her 2017 camogie on a high in Madrid. She’s relishing the exhibition match, and looking forward to mingling with, and learning from the best in the game. Always trying to better herself and her team.

A final year Medicinal Chemistry student in Trinity College, Maher’s Thesis is actually due while they’re in the Spanish capital over the coming days.

“That will probably be a little bit of a tricky one to be honest,” she concludes. “It’s busy! Hopefully we’ll get something done before.”

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

‘A massive step’ – 8 counties represented in historic camogie All-Star trip to Madrid

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Emma Duffy

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