By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Family members lining out alongside one another is an integral element of Gaelic games. It is a manifestation of the community spirit at their core and while less prevalent at inter-county level than club, is not unusual.
What must be close to unique however is three siblings being called into a senior county panel at the same time but so it was for Zoe Couch and her younger twin sisters Jody and Gaby when they got the call-up from Dublin in November 2019.
Members of the St Oliver Plunkett/Eoghan Ruadh club that also produced the famed Brogan clan, the Couch trio came through the tried and tested pathways, including Cumann na mBunscol (see 11-year-old Gaby pictured below in the yellow helmet in 2013, courtesy of iLivePhotos).
They made their mark through Dublin’s various development squads before impressing at minor and intermediate level and earning that senior recognition.
Jody and Gaby, a medical science student at TUD, will be 22 in August, while Zoe, who blazed the trail initially, turns 24 in November.
“Oliver Plunketts is just around the corner,” Gaby explains. “Zoe got a leaflet in school about a GAA club and she said, ‘I wanna go.’ Me and Jody are a year and nine months younger so we wanted to do the same, to join the nursery as young as we could and it’s just been Plunketts ever since.”
Having each other to lean on has undoubtedly been helpful as they climbed through the ranks, none more so than in those early senior sessions.
“It was great to have familiar faces and familiar players going into a group of 30 new girls that you’ve never played with before. To have two people there that you knew their style of play just made it more comfortable.
“There were all these big names and I would have known the names and I’m like, ‘Oh God, now I’m their teammate. This feels weird.’ But we settled in quite quickly and quite easily as well.”
Not that there isn’t a healthy dose of sibling rivalry.
“There is always that competitiveness to us. You always wanna do better! But we’re each there to push each other on. It helps with motivation. And I know if one of my sisters is screaming at me, I think, ‘Oh God, I must be bad, I better run!’
Marina and Justin Couch are among the best known supporters in Dublin now, following their children the length and breadth of the country, even for challenge matches. One can only imagine their pride.
Playing for Dublin can be challenging, however. Last year, they reached the All-Ireland quarter-final and became established as a competitive force in the chasing group behind the top three. But the blight of manager and player turnover struck once more to cut the evolutionary process off at the knees.
“I’m there three, four years now and there’s nearly been a new management each year. It’s always kind of back to the start again, new players coming in, management bringing in their own style of play, so it is quite difficult. You get going, you get motivated and it kind of just stops all of a sudden and you’re back to the start again.
“It’s disappointing each year senior management team leave, when you were in a good position. It just doesn’t make sense to us. We’re like, ‘What are we doing wrong?’ ‘Cos we put in so much hard work, the year goes great with the management that we have and then, all of sudden, it’s gone and we’re back to the start again with a new management team. But you just have to adapt.
“(Chairperson) Karl O’Brien and the Dublin county board really do as much for us as they can with what they have. We’re very grateful to them. We’ve been training the last few weeks in Abbotstown, which is class. We know not everyone has that option.”
It has never gotten so bad that Gaby wants to give up the jersey, however. And quite apart from wanting to be to optimise herself as a player, she sees the bigger picture.
“No matter who the management is, I want to be playing for Dublin Camogie. It’s just in my genes, that competitive edge and dedication. I never think when management leave, ‘Will I stay? Will I leave?’ ‘He likes me. He doesn’t like me.’ You’re there to play and that’s it really.
“You want to have as many girls playing as possible. Even in the clubs when we go down, some of the girls do be running over, ‘Oh Gaby, Jody, Zoe! Can you sign my hurl? Can you sign my jumper?’ When I was younger I didn’t have that. The coverage wasn’t there. I didn’t know anyone. So that’s really nice to see and you wanna keep that going through all the ages and letting young girls know there is a Dublin senior camogie team and that that’s where they should all be striving to play.”
This year’s preparation was sort of symptomatic of the type of turmoil that Couch is talking about, with Adrian O’Sullivan’s resignation announcement after the 2022 knockout qualification shocking the players.
Former All-Ireland senior hurling winner Paul Kelly was appointed to fill the vacancy in October but with the National League on the horizon, selector Gerry McQuaid had to step into the fray.
With preparations far from ideal, they were relegated from Division 1A despite improving with each outing and reaching the Leinster final was a tremendous boost, as was their performance in pushing All-Ireland champions Kilkenny to four points.
Tipperary inflicted a heavy defeat in their opening Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Championship tie however and they now have Kilkenny once more at Parnell Park today (2pm – livestream on Camogie Association YouTube channel), though Jody misses out after recent ankle surgery.
“Our year has been up and down. Obviously the League didn’t go too well for us. We sat down after it was over and looked at ourselves and were open and honest with each other. What are we doing that we’re not reaching the standards we wanna be reaching?
“From there on everybody really upped it, at training, off the pitch, with nutrition, recovery, everyone really stepped up. And that showed in Leinster. We started playing the way we knew we could play. We wanted to prove that’s not who Dublin Camogie are.
“The Tipp game was a bit of a step back but we knew we didn’t perform so our focus is on this weekend to show it wasn’t just a couple of games in Leinster. We want to be consistent.”
Couch was part of the TUD team that made history in winning a first Ashbourne Cup this year. Among her teammates were Kilkenny panellists, Emma Manogue and Sarah Barcoe but their friendships will be parked for the duration of the game. Couch plays for keeps and is relishing matching herself against the cream of the crop.
“We want to be competing against the best. You wanna be up there playing the All-Ireland champions. It’s the only way we’ll improve, playing these games and playing as hard as we can so I really am looking forward to it.”