by Daragh Ó Conchúir
David Dillon grew up with such a profound love of hurling that he was never going to be constrained to following just Dublin. Indeed if he wanted to see the sport played at the highest level, he had to broaden his horizons.
In time, he had children and attempted to pass on his passion to them. It clicked with one in particular and on Sunday, David will beam with pride as his teenage daughter runs out onto Croke Park in a Sky Blue jersey to play in the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Premier Junior Camogie Championship Final against Kerry.
“My Dad got me started out the back when I was three or four” reveals Dublin’s top scorer, Aoibhe Dillon. “The nursery used be in the field down the road and after a year or two we’d head up there. I just fell in love with it from the start.
“My Dad used to bring me to matches everywhere, even if Dublin weren’t playing. We’d go to see Kilkenny and Tipp playing and teams like that. It was super to be in the middle of that atmosphere. It made me fall in love with it more and want to play more.”
She dabbled in football a little but soon cast it aside. Camogie trumped everything.
If her father was the first, most important influencer, who inculcated a love of the sport in her, there have been significant role models at Naomh Mearnóg too.
“The two Twomeys and Caitríona Power – Caitríona Power was probably the one I looked at when I was much younger. The dedication she gave to it was super. You’d see her up at the club all the time practising. She was the one when we were kids. ‘Oh it’s Caitríona Power, she plays with Dublin!’
“In recent years I’ve looked up to Laura Twomey so much. Especially in the last year or so with her doing her cruciate. Seeing her dedication to get back has been amazing. Miriam has had a bad knee injury herself now and will be a big loss for the Club Championship but you know she’ll do the same.”
Unfortunately, the curse of the cruciate has ruled captain Emer Keenan out of Sunday’s decider, having suffered the injury in the Leinster Final defeat by Westmeath. She remains an inspirational figure in a squad that has welcomed Dillon and the other newcomers with open arms this year.
“She’s super, she’s a great leader. Even though she’s injured now, she’s still there at every training session, every match, still talking to us and really driving us on.
“I sometimes forget I’ve only been on the team for a year. It’s crazy. I feel like I’ve played with them much longer. We get on so well outside Camogie as well, not just in training and stuff. It was a brilliant set-up to come into. All the girls have been so welcoming and so guiding.”
Yet another cruciate victim, Aoife Bugler has timed her recovery perfectly, having a big impact in the Semi-Final win over Offaly.
“I wouldn’t have played with her but all the girls said she was the main player last year and obviously she won the Players’ Player of the Year. She’s super. The first match back was the Semi-Final and she got 1-4. That says it all. She’s been training the last couple of weeks and she’s brilliant, she reads the game so well.”
Dillon, who has just turned 19 and was a member of the Dublin Minor team that reached last year’s All-Ireland A Semi-Final, was handed free-taking duties by Shane Plowman and is happy to take them on.
“I used to play in the back-line when I was younger and I used to take the frees there. When I got to the Under 16B team, I took them there and at the club I took them because nobody else would. I don’t see it as a massive thing because most Camogie players can take frees and half the time, I don’t win the frees, it’s the girls around me winning them. So it’s just ensuring I’ve practiced, I know what I’m doing and hit them.”
A recent Croke Park experience brought home to Dillon what lies ahead of her.
“I was working at the half-time games at the Senior hurling Final and I was out there thinking ‘God, I’m gonna be playing here in a few weeks!’ But I’m trying not to think about it too much, I can’t make it too big. The girls playing last year will be a big help. It’s a super opportunity to be there playing an All-Ireland – a dream really.”
A second year Arts student at Maynooth with the ultimate aim of becoming a teacher, Dillon has enjoyed some practical experience at the Cúl Camps during the summer.
You can visualise the awed faces now, thinking to themselves “Oh it’s Aoibhe Dillon, she plays with Dublin!”
The wheel, it keeps on turning.