Akram eager to impress for DCU
By Michael Devlin
Shairoze Akram has already tasted All-Ireland success with DCU.
In 2016, they defeated Dublin arch-rivals UCD in the All-Ireland Higher Educations Freshers ‘A’ Football Championship final at Croke Park.
Akram, from the Ballaghaderreen club in Mayo, operated at wing-half back and scored a vital second half point in a thrilling 3-11 to 3-10 win that completed the Freshers League and Cup double.
DCU retained that Freshers title last year and back in April made it three-in-a-row after a hard-fought 0-10 to 0-08 win over University of Limerick.
College football’s top prize however, the Sigerson Cup, has eluded them since 2015. In fact, they’ve been defeated by the eventual winner in each of the last three seasons.
In 2016 UCD beat them in the final by two points, and a year later St Mary’s Belfast upset the odds to book their place in the Sigerson Cup weekend, dumping out DCU on their own turf after a dramatic quarter-final clash that went to extra-time.
Back in February, old foes UCD once again claimed the Dublin bragging rights, winning 0-16 to 1-19 on their way to the championship. The DCU team has undergone a lot of change since then.
Four-time Sigerson winning coach Niall Moyna has gone, and in has come former Dublin star Paddy Christie with a new backroom team.
On the field, the likes of Akram’s fellow county men Diarmuid O’Connor and Paddy Durcan, and Tipperary midfielder Stephen O’Brien, have moved on.
Despite the turnover however, Akram is confident in the crop of new players that have broken through from those successful Freshers teams, and the new squad is coming together nicely at the right time.
“We’ve had a lot of changes,” Akram told GAA.ie. “Change in management, a completely new backroom team, and with regards players, a lot of the senior players that have been there in the last couple of years have gone.
“So we’ve lost a lot of players but there’s a lot of freshers coming through. DCU have won the last three fresher All-Irelands, so we have a strong enough team there.
“Even in the league, you could see in the first couple of games we were getting to know each other. The squad hadn’t gelled at that stage. We got to the league final and were beaten by UCC in the end by one point, so it goes to show that we have improved over the last two or three months.
“There’s a good blend of lads from around the provinces, and more Dublin boys this year that we haven’t had in the last few years, so it’s nice for a change.”
A seasoned campaigner for DCU at this stage, the 22-year-old is on the fringes of the Mayo senior panel having won an All-Ireland Under-21 title with the county back in 2016. This season he made two brief substitute appearances during the National League against Monaghan and Dublin, and was part of Stephen Rochford’s wider squad for the Connacht championship.
Akram will be tipped to make a much bigger impact for Mayo under returning manager James Horan in 2019, and he believes the ever-growing prestige and standard of the Sigerson Cup can springboard not-yet-established players into senior inter-county football.
“A lot of boys are on some sort of panel, whether it’s Under-20s or an initial senior panel. If you look at the standard of Sigerson, there’s players who have played in it all through the years then they end up doing really well with their counties.
“It kind of shows that if you have a good year with your college and a good personal year in regard to Sigerson football, you’ll end up on a county setup.”