In my three years in UCD, the Hurling club has experienced constant growth and improvement. It seems each semester that goes by, another cohort of undergraduates or master’s students are enticed by the prospect of becoming immersed in, what some would argue, is the fastest, most exciting game on earth.
The popularity of the game among students and the subsequent attention it receives seems to only be comparable to its GAA stablemate, Gaelic Football, with soccer and rugby not far behind. A critical task for the club, in preserving the games rapidly expanding popularity, is catering to increasingly diverse groups of students that express interest in one of our national sports and this is done by making the game attractive to all students irrespective of ability, gender or experience.
With so many elite hurlers in the college who are household names in hurling strongholds across the country, it is vital that the club is seen to not afford disproportionate attention to ‘A’ teams and ensure that they allow the sport to remain accessible and hospitable to prospective players, regardless of levels of experience. This is clearly evident in the abundance of teams available to tog out for. For example, for a first-year student looking to play the sport has the choice of Fresher A and B team, once a student progresses past the first year they have the chance to play for the Fitzgibbon team, the Intermediate team or the Junior team.
The club prides itself on the indistinguishable difference in attention and resources it affords each team. From my experience, each team, no matter what level they play at, is supported according to their needs, rather than their success or ability. Being involved in coaching the Junior men’s team and the Intermediate camogie team has shown me that this is been the most attractive aspect of how the club is run as it presents itself as approachable and welcoming.
With a sport so popular coupled with a college that attracts some of the best young hurlers from across Ireland, it is easy for potential members to feel intimidated and, perhaps, alienated to an extent should there be an inordinate amount of focus levelled at players and teams at the top of the food chain. However, UCD seems to implement an effective balance between being focused on success and encouraging people to join whose primary objective is to enjoy themselves, make friends and immerse themselves in a fantastic sport, as opposed to possessing a determined, insatiable thirst for trophies and recognition. A skewed balance between these two goals can result in unsuccessful teams and depleted membership.
Similarly, its female equivalent, camogie, is also very popular among accomplished players and beginners. The camogie consists of the Ashbourne team and the Intermediate team, potential recruits are welcome to join the ranks of the Intermediate team and are always in contention for a call up to the more advanced Ashbourne team.
Should you take the leap of faith and enrol in a team, you will normally engage in one training and one match a week, giving you ample opportunity to make a lasting impression on your coaches and secure a starting spot for the impending Championship. The integration process for any new players is seamless and if you engage in the social activities of the team (of which they are plenty!) you will create bonds on and off the pitch in a matter of days.
The camaraderie among teams is something that students, past and present, will cherish forever. Every match, no matter what the result, progresses to a night out in town which invariably ends up in Ryan’s of Camden Street which has established itself as the de facto watering hole of UCD GAA, so much so that last year’s Junior team managed to twist Peter’s arm into sponsoring their jerseys! Paint-balling, dog nights and weekends away are organised by the coaches for each individual teams, these memories combined with the pursuit of trophies result in friendships and bonds that will survive even the most tumultuous four years of college.
So, should you have aspirations of becoming the next TJ Reid, or you just want the opportunity to engage in a new sport, have a distinct possibility of winning an All-Ireland and drink unquantifiable levels of alcohol along the way then just drop into the GAA office which is upstairs in the gym, opposite the squash courts and then on the left and have a chat with Ger or Josh to kickstart your long and prosperous inter-county career!
By Conor Fennelly – Sports Writer