By Daragh Ó Conchúir
THE story of the improving fortunes of Dublin Camogie is multi-layered but is rooted in vision and the installation of improved structures.
The Seniors’ appearance in a first Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final since 1990 at the Gaelic Grounds today (5.15pm) is just the latest signal of the graph’s upward spiral, with the second string already booked into the Premier Junior Final at Croke Park on September 10th.
Even more significantly, the Minors and U16s reached the last four of their campaigns, suggesting that there is a conveyor belt of talent coming through to ensure depth, particularly with many of the All-Ireland U16-winning team of 2012 – the Dubs’ first win at that grade in 30 years – now graduating.
Nothing works unless the right people are put in place however and David Herity has been lauded deservedly for his role in taking the Seniors to the next level.
He would be the first to say that he is building on the work of his predecessor Shane O’Brien however. O’Brien brought about a change in culture, establishing a high performance environment that included bringing Herity into the fold last year.
The Cuala man removed the excuses for non-performance and players responded to being treated as serious athletes by becoming ones.
“He changed everything up completely” says Dublin’s leading scorer, Aisling Maher. “It became a much more professional set-up. It was a change to players’ lifestyle. It wasn’t just going down and training a few nights a week and trying to put in the effort and commitment for a couple of hours each night at training.
“He very much changed players’ attitude to try and act like an athlete. You’re watching what you’re eating, you’re getting your own training in, you’re starting to think about games in the right way, the visualisation side of it is brought in, a proper backroom team is put in place, players are being looked after with proper sets of gear.
“There’s someone looking after admin, someone looking after S & C, someone else doing hurling drills, having physios at training. All those little things make a big difference and allow players to feel that the whole set-up overall is worth putting the time and effort into it.”
Results improved, ambition was raised and when O’Brien stepped away after two years, Herity took on the mantle. The five-time All-Ireland winner with Kilkenny had already had a significant impact and Maher is effusive in her praise of the former goalkeeper.
“David’s been fantastic. He has had the experience himself at the very top level and he knows what it takes. He knows the difference between winning an All-Ireland and losing it, how small the margins are.
“To have a manager who can understand every aspect of the game, that players are amateurs and have jobs and everything outside of it but at the same time, (that the game) monopolises a massive amount of your life so inevitably there’s a huge emotional attachment that goes with it. It’s everything for a good chunk of the year to everybody playing at this level.
“He understands the level of professionalism you need to bring and how much work is involved in it. He’s willing to give us everything he can to push us over the line. That kind of experience, from the drills and the hurling side, right up to the lifestyle side of it, having someone who understands what that is, how it effects every player differently, everything you need to get everything out of the team, is a huge advantage to us. Having David there has definitely given us an extra edge again.”
Maher, who turns 22 in November, is facing into her final year of medicinal chemistry at Trinity College. Combining her studies with her Camogie commitments can be testing at times but the articulate St Vincent’s markswoman, who has been part of the Senior squad for five years, insists it is all about finding the right blend.
“I did an internship for the first six weeks of the summer so I was between Crumlin Hospital and Temple Street for the start of the Championship. The hours in a hospital are very difficult so it’s tricky to balance that kind of stuff. You’re on your feet all day, it’s long hours and then getting to training and trying to be in a good mental and physical shape, eat properly, rested as much as possible and be able to put in a good session for the evening.
“It’s the same thing during the year. Dublin’s pre-season started in November. Vincent’s have been lucky to have successful seasons in the last few years, and would have gotten to the Leinster Final, which is the middle of November. So it’s always busy, it’s always a balancing thing but when you’re playing sport at this level, you have to be good at balancing things or it’s not possible otherwise. You have to get used to it and you have to know when enough is enough and you need to miss a training session to recover and maybe make up for it in your own time.”
It is tunnel vision now though. The players and management didn’t have much time to bask in the glow of the “massive achievement” of beating Wexford by seven points in the Quarter-Final at Semple Stadium, with just a fortnight before taking on the mammoth task of facing up to Kilkenny in the first of the Semi-Finals at the Gaelic Grounds today (5.15pm).
After recovery on Sunday, they returned to training on Monday and the focus since then has been all on the champions.
There were a number of notable aspects about the defeat of Wexford however, not least the manner in which they bounced back from a sluggish start as they conceded three points inside the opening five minutes. That smacked of belief but Dublin had already beaten the Yellowbellies three times in the previous 18 months. They expected to do so again, regardless of what anyone outside of the camp thought.
“Maybe it shows the difference between telling people you can win the game but if you don’t believe it through and through, that is probably when the cracks show” Maher explains.
“I firmly believed and I think everybody on the panel believed we were going to win and we didn’t care what anybody else thought. We knew how far we had come, how well we had played and what we were capable of.
“So even when we went the few points down we knew not to panic and to believe in our abilities, that there was a performance there. Getting a score or two helps settle the nerves but the fact we believed as much as we did was what allowed us to keep calm and composed when we had that rocky start. Once we started ticking over, we fired on from there.
“People are slow to give recognition to Dublin so as far as we’re concerned, we used that as motivation. Kilkenny will be another step up again. What we did the last day won’t be good enough but we don’t plan on performing at that same level. We’ll be looking at what we can do to bring out our best performance against Kilkenny and push on another level.”