In association with
“When you’re in college in Dublin and you’re from Meath and you’re playing with Kildare lads… It’s definitely something new.”
After a year’s hiatus, the Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup returned this week bringing with it all the magic, talent, and allure of college GAA.
The unique premise of the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups sees players who usually find themselves on opposite sides of the field brought together to play for the one cause. There can be no half measures, county loyalties and rivalries must be left at the door if you are to succeed in these competitions.
DCU is a college that has become synonymous with the Sigerson Cup, sealing that status with their victory in 2020. Indeed, they have made a bright start to this year’s competition with a dominant win over Maynooth in the first round.
Much like the rest of the teams, DCU have had to contend with a high turnover of players following last year’s postponement due to COVID-19. However, their panel is as strong as ever boasting players from no less than 10 counties.
While the concept of playing with their usual rivals is still slightly new to the younger members of the team, it is one that the panel are fully embracing as DCU and Meath star Shane Walsh attests to.
“It’s different. When you’re in college in Dublin and you’re from Meath and you’re playing with Kildare lads… It’s definitely something new.
“It’s weird in a way. We’re playing against them normally but playing with them now. But at the end of the day, everyone just wants to play football. You just want to learn from them, play with them and have the craic. We’re just going training and having fun and when you go out and play then, it’s just so easy because everyone is on the same page.”
That fun aspect of college football is something his teammate Shea Ryan also sees as a major draw.
“It’s new and it’s something different. There’s probably 12 or 13 different counties represented in DCU so it’s something exciting. There’s no time for county rivalries.
“You might see lads playing for different teams on the telly and you know they go to DCU but you don’t know what they’re like personally. It’s nice to get to know different lads and you get to see their personalities and you get to become friends with lads from different counties who you wouldn’t normally get to meet.
“And to be fair to Paddy Christie and the rest of the management, they’ve struck a really nice balance with getting lads enjoying playing football while keeping it competitive. It’s an open, nice brand of football which lads can enjoy.
“In DCU, there’s a lot put into the Sigerson. You’d notice it around the sports centre, there’s pictures up of previous teams and when you start out playing with DCU, you are looking to make that Sigerson team.”
Coming from neighbouring counties, Walsh and Ryan are used to facing off against each other at both underage and senior set-ups.
“I would have known Shane before I was playing with him”, Ryan says.
“I would have seen him playing matches, I would have played against him. With Kildare and Meath, there’s a bit of a rivalry there. He’s obviously a really talented footballer and just getting to play with him is really nice.”
“Everyone just wants to play football, everyone wants to enjoy football. You can learn off different lads what they do in their counties and they can learn off you”, Walsh adds.
“Everyone has different approaches, Shea would be quite relaxed in his approach so I can learn from him in different ways.
“We would have come up against Kildare a lot in the League and at underage so I knew quite a few lads from underage in Dublin and Leinster. And then you have lads like Rob Finnerty [of Galway] who we’ll be facing in the first round of the Division 2 League and he’s playing corner-forward for us so it’s weird that in a few weeks we’ll be playing against him.”
Before the Leagues can even begin, the preseason competitions have to be wrapped up and Ryan admits that he has been following the progress of his DCU teammates on the county scene.
“It was fun to watch the O’Byrne Cup last weekend and the other preseason competitions and you were looking for DCU players and seeing how they got on in those competitions.”
For now the focus for DCU players is on next week’s round two clash with St Mary’s who beat out TU Dublin by four points on Wednesday.
While Walsh is under no illusions as to the challenge they face, he believes their side is good enough to beat anyone.
“With the way college is, one year you could be really strong and the next you wouldn’t know what type of team you’d have. We’re lucky to have a few boys who were involved in 2020 and the management team is the same so they know what it takes to win.
“Everyone is just excited then because when you go into a dressing room that is known to win, everyone is willing to train hard, everyone is willing to put the team first. The panel is so strong so if you’re not playing well, someone will take your spot. So there’s an understanding that the team comes first and when you get your chance, you take it.
“I don’t think we’re feeling any pressure this year. St Mary’s will be a very strong outfit especially when you go up to Belfast to play them. I don’t think there’s any pressure on the team, I think there’s a lot of trust. There’s a lot of confidence in the team.
“We lost over in UCD the first day out and we haven’t lost since so we’re just building each day. We’re definitely not perfect, we go out and we make mistakes but everyone backs each other to work hard and if we do that, we should be able to beat anyone.
“But college football is so hard, on the day you have to show up and if you don’t, you’ll be beaten.”
DCU Dóchas Éireann take on St Mary’s University College on Tuesday, January 18th in Round 2A of the Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup.
Electric Ireland’s Sigerson, Fitzgibbon and Higher Education Championship campaign, #FirstClassRivals, showcases the unique trait of these historic GAA competitions that sees unexpected alliances form when fierce county rivals put aside their differences to play together, challenge together, and win together.
Electric Ireland is proud to support the Higher Education Championships and will live stream a selection of Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cup games. Watch the games and follow the Championship at www.electricireland.ie/hec and be a part of the conversation on social media using the hashtag, #FirstClassRivals or visit @ElectricIreland on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.