Monday 19 March 2018

A dream that runs deep in the genes

Today's premier junior final will be an emotional occasion for Dublin forward Aoife Bugler

Aoife Bugler: ‘I’ve grown up with the GAA and it’s always a dream just to put on your county jersey and to represent it.’ Photo: Gerry Mooney
Aoife Bugler: ‘I’ve grown up with the GAA and it’s always a dream just to put on your county jersey and to represent it.’ Photo: Gerry Mooney

Daragh Ó Conchúir

'I knew he was there today and he'd be a massively proud man. It's just unfortunate that he missed the biggest match of our lives.' - Eilís Ní Chaiside

Aoife Bugler has been going to Croke Park dressed in Dublin kit all her life, but today will be different. Today, the 24-year-old will be a participant rather than a spectator, and most likely a very visible one, as Dublin bid to get the better of Westmeath in the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland premier junior championship camogie final.

Bugler will have no problem coping with that variance, one suspects, given her pedigree for performing on the big occasion going right back to when she was player of the match in a Féile final with St Oliver Plunkett/Eoghan Ruadh 10 years ago.

What will need processing however is the absence of her father, Pat, who brought her to the national hub of Gaelic games for the first time and on countless occasions thereafter. For even without mentioning his name, it is evident from the waver in her voice as she speaks of the personal circumstances that caused her to withdraw from the senior panel at the start of the year that she is thinking about him.

It is only eight months since the Bugler patriarch and Plunketts chairman died suddenly. The shock permeated the entire community for he was an energetic and passionate man, ambitious and full of plans for the future.

He has left a legacy to be proud of however. The club is thriving and he was proud of the development that had taken place on the Navan Road. It is with the kids, though, that he left his mark most indelibly, with the invaluable support of his wife Aideen.

"As long as I can remember I've been rooted in the GAA and I come from a family that is very much GAA-rooted as well," explains Aoife. "My dad played and managed in my club before going on to an executive role as chairman. My ma played for the club. I've two younger brothers. My 19-year-old brother is playing senior football with the club and he was also with the Dublin under 21s who won the All-Ireland this year. My youngest brother is 11 and playing hurling and football for the club.

"If I go way back when, before I was even born, my grandad's brother, JJ Bugler represented Clare senior hurlers in the late 1940s and early '50s. So the GAA is etched there in the Bugler genes and I'll always remember being on the sidelines at matches every weekend growing up and heading to Croke Park with my dad. So it stemmed from home."

The Gaelic games family embraced the Buglers in their darkest moment and continues to watch over them. And there will be added support from on high today after Aoife's nana, Aideen's mother Clare, sadly passed away on Thursday.

One is reminded of how, four days after their father Thomas died, Aoife (the captain), Eilís and Bróna Ní Chaiside lined out in an Ulster senior club camogie final with the Slaughtneil team he had jointly managed.

Their brothers Seán and Éanna togged out for the hurlers afterwards in the second game of a double-header taut with emotion and meaning. The hurlers went on to win the Derry club's first title at the level, while the camogie team continued all the way to Croke Park last March, where they became All-Ireland champions.

"I knew he was there today and he'd be a massively proud man" said Eilís on the pitch afterwards. "It's just unfortunate that he missed the biggest match of our lives."

That regret will be eternal but so is the man for what he gifted his children. As it was with Thomas Cassidy, so too Pat Bugler.

Initially, Aoife could not countenance continuing her inter-county commitments. Not giving herself totally to it wouldn't sit right. It wasn't the Bugler way. But she loves camogie. It's etched in the genes, remember? So when Shane Plowman extended an invitation to come in with the premier juniors, she accepted.

"There are different circumstances for me personally which I had to consider but I've grown up with the GAA and it's always a dream just to put on your county jersey and to represent it. So for me, I just want to be representing Dublin and doing the best that I possibly can to help Dublin to win titles such as the league title that we won earlier in the year and now the All-Ireland. It's just about doing the best that I can for the county, to put on the jersey and do it proud. We'll see where we go from there."

Professionally, Bugler is a PE, science and biology teacher at St Joseph's Secondary School in Drogheda. The recent study revealing that children as old as 12 cannot run, jump or catch a ball came as no surprise to her, while there have been repeated warnings about the increasing spectre of obesity among Irish children. As a result, there is growing momentum around giving PE a much more prominent role in the school syllabus.

"For the sporty kids it's fine because they're not relying on the hours that they're getting in school, but it's for the other kids who aren't playing sport or aren't into any exercise outside of that. They may be solely relying on that time in the school so it's important in that time they're learning the basic skills - running, jumping, catching and being active, getting the minimum requirements that they need," says Bugler

"My final year project in college was looking at those fundamental movement skills in kids. You went around to different primary schools and secondary schools and you were just doing things like throwing a ball and saying, 'Can you catch this?' The results were staggering, so scary to see. I suppose many people just take it for granted that everybody can walk, everybody can jump, everybody can catch a ball but in reality it's very, very poor.

"Thankfully, PE is becoming more credible as a subject. I do think it has a way to go before it becomes exam-based but I think we're moving in the right direction which is important. At the end of the day, if children are not fully competent at a young age, as they get older they are going to drop out, not even from competitive-based sports, but out of any physical activity, which again is having a negative effect on health."

She has been a key contributor as scorer and leader as the Sky Blues moved to within an hour of a famous double, of getting their hands on a trophy named after the legendary Kay Mills, who won 15 senior All-Irelands with Dublin.

Victory would cap a memorable season for camogie around the capital, with the seniors, minors and under 16s all reaching the last four of their championships. It would also keep alive the possibility of an unprecedented treble, with the Dublin footballers and ladies' footballers returning to HQ on the next two Sundays.

Eilís Ní Chaiside spoke of having to manage her emotions before Slaughtneil's All-Ireland and it will be the same for Bugler, particularly given the days she shared with her father there supporting the Dubs. But, one senses, she will be ready.

"There are young girls all over the country who dream of playing in Croke Park. I know personally, when I was younger, I would have been heading to Croke Park with my dad donning the blue jersey. It was the stuff of dreams. It's a fantastic honour.

"Yes, there will be massive emotions with it but at the end of the day, we take it as 60 minutes of hurling. We want do ourselves justice on the pitch. We don't want to let ourselves, our families, our supporters down. We'll take it all in and we'll enjoy the experience but ultimately it's about the performance on the day."

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