Saturday in the Gaelic Grounds sees the return of Dublin to centre stage Camogie. It is 1984 since the county won the All-Ireland Senior title. Germaine Noonan was a vital cog in securing their 26th title. She recalls fond memories from that famous day:
December 28th 1989 – Evening Press Headline – “How the Mighty have Fallen”
It went on to say ‘as we bid farewell to the eighties and welcome in the nineties, all Dublin Camogie followers will be hoping that there will be a complete change of fortune in our achievements during the next decade. Never in the history of the game in the capital has the stock of Dublin Camogie slumped to such a low ebb as it has during the best forgotten seventies and eighties.’
Who would have thought that the nineties would be drastically worse – appearing in just one Senior Semi-Final in 1990, the noughties yielded nothing and it is 2017 before Dublin have appeared in a Senior Semi-Final. Dublin has won just one All-Ireland Senior title since 1966 – in 1984. I would argue with the Evening Press writer that the eighties were a success – Dublin appeared in five consecutive All-Ireland Finals even though only 1984 saw the ultimate reward. In 1983 Dublin appeared in the Senior and Junior Finals on the same day in Croke Park. We also took a few National League titles at both grades. But there is no doubt about the fact that since the eighties the county has been in the complete wilderness.
I played in the ’83, ’84, ’85 and ’86 finals and they were glorious years to be playing with the county. The regular appearance at the final stage was down to some key push factors: the college scene was exceptionally strong with Maryfield College, Walkinstown and St. John of God, Artane appearing in/or taking All-Ireland crowns. Maryfield took three All-Ireland Colleges titles. At 3rd level UCD were dominant in the Ashbourne winning five-in-a-row titles from 1980 – 1984 inclusive.
The Dublin club scene was very strong with UCD, Celtic and Austin Stacks featuring strongly in the Leinster and All-Ireland club scene culminating in Crumlin’s All-Ireland success in 1987. Dublin Minor Camogie teams were winning or appearing in All-Ireland Finals, and at Féile, Marino and Woodville were to the fore. The broad fundamentals must always be strong for a county to compete at the top.
This dovetailed perfectly with the appointment of Christy Hayes to the Managerial role (skilfully recruited by the wise Rose Ryan and county board) and for sure this bunch of players were ready to absorb Christy’s gospel. He was also the kindest man who got into all our heads in terms of making us believe that we could take on anyone and that each of us was the best player in the country in our own position. Having been there and done it himself as one of our finest Dublin hurlers (Eoghan Ruadh) we worshipped Christy. His wife Norah was a strong support too and he had a clatter of children that operated as his ‘runner’ at our training sessions.
Our training bases in those years was the Phoenix Park number 2 pitch and the Army training grounds in Islandbridge. Christy got us fit on those hills and fields. He was determined, focused, passionate and challenged us. The players at the time were true family as any successful intercounty or club side knows – the Redmond sisters, Marion Conroy, Bernie Toner, Anna McManus, Úna Crowley, Mary Mernagh, Joan Gormley, Edel Murphy, Carmel O’Byrne and many more. Our preparation was upped when we played Christy’s club minor hurlers a couple of nights as they upped our pace, toughness and sharpness – invaluable preparation and added an edge to us – well definitely added an edge to Mernagh!!!
The losses of ’83, ’85 and ’86 were very tough. I didn’t play in ’82 as I tore my cartilage in the National League but the team competed strongly on the day with Cork and I guess the first appearance in a long time was a ‘learning curve’ for us. In ’83 we were ahead against Cork and in the dying minutes Cork scored a goal to take the title. We backed off an advancing solo run instead of going out to meet the player – a tough lesson to learn on the biggest stage. It was cruel, especially for those who had suffered at the same hands the previous September.
Going in to the ’84 season I think we took all the pain of ’82 and ’83 with us and trained like never before. The open draw meant we were going to meet our toughest rivals prior to the final and we felt if we deserved to be champions that it was only fair that we would meet the best en route. That year I was on my J1 in the US and left the squad in June but trained hard in New York and Boston with the local clubs. I was lucky that my Dad worked in Aer Lingus so I could come home on cheap flights for the games as county boards had no money/sponsors back then.
We beat Kilkenny in the Quarter-Final in Parnell Park in a ding dong affair. We won 6-6 to 4-4 that day with Joan Gormley, Barbara Redmond and Marie Connell (3) bagging the goals. I didn’t start having been just back from the US but came on to mark Angela Downey. I loved to mark Angela as there is nothing like pitting yourself against the best. She brought the best out of me too as you had to be truly in the zone and always playing her from the front because she didn’t miss anything. However, you were mightily exposed and punished if you didn’t win possession from the front but that was the thrill of playing against Angela. I had the greatest of respect for her and had played against her also in Ashbourne competition. She was fed lots of ball so you were guaranteed to see plenty of action.
We went on to play Cork in the Semi-Final in Parnell again – luck of the draw. The day broke in glorious sunshine. I lived just down the road from Parnell so this was home turf. We did our customary walk of the pitch and Christy said to me, “sure on a day like this Germaine the sliotar would play on its own!” He really got you in to the most positive of zones and filled you with confidence at the right moment. Then a moment I’ll never forget occurred.
The Cork team had arrived and you will recall they had beaten us in the ‘82 and ‘83 finals so this was our first championship meeting since then. I think it was Mary O’Leary who met Christy outside and in her wonderful Cork lilt she declared to Christy that their bus and team had struggled to find Parnell Park because they were just so used to going to Croker. Talk about presenting us with a gift of motivation. Christy arrived in to the shack of a dressing-room and regaled the comment and asked us what we thought of that!
Enough said – he couldn’t hold us back from going at Cork after that. We won 3-4 to 1-9 in a cracking game with just the smallest of margins separating us. It was our finest hour and put paid to the misery of the previous two years against Cork. They had heroes on that team – the Landers, Mary O’Leary, Sandy Fitzgibbon, Clare Cronin, Mary Geaney, Martha Kearney and Ger McCarthy.
The Final was one of our easier games and we played Tipperary. Our captain Ann Colgan played with Celtic and her team mate Deirdre Lane was the Tipperary captain. So that made for a special photo at the coin toss. We went into that game knowing only one result could count and thankfully we got off to a good start. Up front we had tremendous power with the goal scoring talents of Joan Gormley and Marie O’Connell and the point and free taking reliability of Edel Murphy. Our midfield line was the best in the country with engines that didn’t stop – Barbara, Úna and Mernagh. In defence we were solid and let by our powerful and talented centre back Bernie Toner. And in between the posts we had the country’s finest in Yvonne Redmond.
Apparently, we were told that some counties were told to take points when playing Dublin as it was so hard to put one past Yvonne. I got very lucky that day as corner back because I was marking Jenny English who played deep and I had followed her out to midfield when a ball broke and I let fly with it on the ground. The poor Tipp goalie let it slip through her fingers and I scored a goal – a highlight that was sweet for me. We were comfortable throughout the game and at full-time – as anyone who has experienced the pain and joy of losing All-Ireland Finals will know – it is an indescribable feeling.
The dressing room was a very special place to be. In particular, to see Christy and our selectors Sheila Wallace, Phyllis Breslin, Carmel Cooper and others know that they had done a great job. We trooped out to RTÉ’s studios in Montrose that evening to do the Sunday Game. Liz Howard was the panellist that night with Michael. We had a civic reception in the Mansion House with the Lord Mayor the following evening and only three months ago a great friend of mine Bríd Power sent me on a photo of that event I had never seen.
I have great friends from our game – those I played my club Camogie with are my closest friends today, UCD college team mates meet up every so often at All-Ireland time and we pick up like 35 years ago was yesterday. I love to bump into old Dublin colleagues and only two weeks ago I met up with Bernie Toner – so the friendships last forever and that is what makes team sport so life changing for those of us fortunate to have experienced it.
Saturday’s Semi-Final is tremendous for all of us and I will be there cheering them on. Nine of my club, St. Vincent’s, are involved and one of my closest friends Trish Clinton’s daughter is Áine Woods which is special to see her wear the jersey. They are talented and here’s hoping they can, if not on Saturday, then very soon run out on the sacred sod of Croker.
The fundamentals are looking very good again for Dublin with the underage squads performing very well and the Premier Team has already reached the All-Ireland Final next month. Let’s hope the winds of change are blowing strong for our county!