Hurling is thriving in Trinity
By John Harrington
For most of Trinity College’s history, the smack of willow on leather has been the familiar soundtrack of students at play.
Cricket has long been King in the University, but no longer does it hold dominion.
Now, the sweet notes of ash on leather are also making themselves heard, thanks to a generation of Trinity College hurlers who are busy creating their own culture.
There was a time, and it’s not all that long ago, that to announce yourself as a Trinity College hurler would invite quizzical looks or scorn.
But over the course of the last two years respect has been gained through achievement.
Trinity won back to back Ryan Cups in 2015 and 2016, and will now further frank their status as a genuine hurling force by competing in this year’s Independent.ie Fitzgibbon Cup today.
That campaign starts with a tough test today against perennial Fitzgibbon Cup challengers, Limerick IT. They will also face Waterford IT and DCU in the group phase, so their mettle will certainly be tested.
But, according to midfielder Fionn O’Riain Broin, it’s a challenge he and his team-mates are all relishing.
“It's massive for us,” O’Rian Broin told GAA.ie. “There would be no point in us going into the Ryan Cup and trying to win it again. We're looking for bigger things, now.
“That's something else that our manager Shane O’Brien has bought in, he has us dreaming about bigger things that what we've achieved already.
“We're well aware of the challenge that's ahead of us. It's something we're really looking forward to. We have aspirations of getting out of the group.
“We're not here just to be beaten, we're here to be competitive.
“Even though it's our first year in the competition, we want to be here for many years to come.”
Dublin senior panelist O’Riain Broin is one of a number of talented up and coming young inter-county hurlers in the Trinity panel.
Cian O’Sullivan also impressed for Ger Cunningham’s team in the Walsh Cup this year, team-captain Darragh O’Donoghue was full-back on the Galway U-21 team that reached the All-Ireland Final last year, while they have three goalkeepers who have all played minor or U-21 inter-county – Eoin Skelly (Dublin), and Eoghan McNamra and Jack Banks (both Limerick).
They’re also very well organised by highly regarded former Dublin men’s U-21 coach and senior camogie team manager, Shane O’Brien, who was recently announced as Wexford club Oulart The Ballagh’s new joint-manager for 2017.
When he first agreed to take on the Trinity team he was not quite sure what to expect, but has been hugely impressed by the commitment and quality his players have given to the cause.
“I suppose I was very much surprised at the level of enthusiasm when I first got in there,” says O’Brien.
“Their passion for the game was infectious, really. Trinity College wouldn't have been renowned for its hurling. But the men who are involved in there are as passionate about the game as any around the country.
“When I took over initially the training would have taken place in Clanna Gael club-grounds so the lads would have had to get buses across themselves from Trinity College. Unlike other universities who'd have their grounds right there beside them or pitches on their ground.
“They had to make those sacrifices. We wouldn't have had as high numbers initially. But now we have 30 or 40 lads out training, and I think that speaks for itself. We have a hugely dedicated bunch who are hugely committed and love their hurling.”
The Trinity hurlers now train at the college’s refurbished grounds at Santry Avenue on Dublin’s northside.
It’s a reflection of hurling’s improved status in Trinity that the College now provides the team with a bus to transport them there and back on the 10 kilometre round trip and O’Brien has nothing but praise for the backing he and his players are getting from people like Trinity’s Senior Sports Development Officer, Caroline Duggan.
For a long time hurling was regarded as very much a minority sport and so largely overlooked by the College authorities, but success has a way of making people step up and take notice. The players are enjoying their new-found respect.
“Of course, success is everything," says O’Riain Broin. “If you're successful, people notice you.
“You'd even have lads who in their first year wouldn't have played hurling because they wouldn't have had any respect for Trinity hurling team and didn't want to bother.
“But then a bit of success and they're in. You'd have a couple of lads who had played county minor who wouldn't have bothered. But that's all changing now, which is great.
“It feels like a club team now. All my best friends in college would be from the hurling team. A lot of lads would say the same thing.
“We're a very tight bunch, it's great. We're all in the same boat. We all want to promote hurling in the college.”
Hurling’s profile in Trinity was boosted further when the RTE documentary series ‘Inside Trinity’ focused on the hurling club’s rising fortunes in one of their episodes and documented their 2016 Ryan Cup success.
The often amusing Trinity Hurling Twitter account run by committed club PRO Leon Breen has also built up something of a cult following.
So now when hurlers like Fionn O’Riain Broin and his brother Cian wander around Trinity with their hurls over their shoulders, it’s to looks of acknowledgement rather than puzzlement.
“You would have gotten a few funny looks even last year,” says O’Riain Broin.
“But I think the documentary was massive in that people who wouldn't have had any club about sport in the college were able to see the strides the hurling team was making.
“I think that's what we're trying to do is to create a legacy and make sure that the sport is there for people coming in.
“So that when we're long gone the culture is there and the lads that are coming in understand the work that's put in by the lads that were there before.”