Monday 14 October 2019

No regrets for globe-trotting Dubs star Maher

Dublin’s Aisling Maher is looking forward to getting the championship under way against Meath today. Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Dublin’s Aisling Maher is looking forward to getting the championship under way against Meath today. Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Cathal Dennehy

Do you go? It's a question Aisling Maher pops up into the air without any real answer - posing the dilemma facing all inter-county stars at the end of their college days.

Go, and risk the torment of watching from afar as your county makes a run at the All-Ireland. Stay, and surrender another summer to the championship cause, looking on as your friends have almighty craic in a place that looks photo-shopped.

In 2017, Dublin reached the All-Ireland camogie semi-final for the first time in 27 years, Maher winning their first All-Star in a decade. After wrapping up her degree in medicinal chemistry at Trinity last year, she never had better reason to go - but then again she never had better reason to stay.

"It is something that I would have agonised over for a long time," she says. "It was my last year in college, my last summer off, the last time that you have no responsibilities."

And so she went, saying hasta luego to camogie in June to travel Central America with her friends: Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Costa Rica, Antigua, Colombia - they got around. The plan was to do a full year, but six months in she was back home with the bank balance in the red. Her highlight?

"All of it - not being in this weather," she laughs. "It was fantastic. Colombia was brilliant, Mexico also. Just getting away from the responsibility of final year and camogie and training and everything else for a while. It was just a really good experience."

She still wondered, of course.

"If the girls ended up in Croke Park I would have found it very difficult coming home," she says. "I would have been behind them 100 per cent but watching it would have been heart-breaking. But sport is sport and the best and worst thing about it is it's always going to be there."

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Devoid of her sniper skills in attack, Dublin put just four points on the board in the All-Ireland quarter final last year - hockeyed by 16 points by Galway. The following month David Herity stepped down as manager, with Frank Browne taking the reins in November.

"David did fantastic work with us, he brought us on to a new level," says Maher. "But a fresh person coming in, a new attitude, a new perspective, is always welcome."

When she linked back in this year the St Vincent's star found herself looking around and wondering: "Am I in the right dressing room?"

The first day out in the league, there were seven players in the starting 15 she hadn't lined out with before. "You have to get fit," she says. "You have to be as fast as the young ones doing Leaving Certs who are running rings around you. It's been an experience to get used to playing with them.

"There are a lot of girls older than me who did years and years with Dublin and brought us to where we are. We wouldn't be where we are without them but at the same time, you can only get so far if you keep everything the same."

And so they have evolved, changed things up with a foundation of youth that could allow them to reach the next step - to join Cork, Kilkenny and Galway in the elite echelon.

Dublin start their championship campaign today with a group game against Meath in Parnells GAA club, with Waterford, Tipperary, Clare and All-Ireland champions Cork waiting in the weeks ahead. The Rebels should coast to victory in that group, but Dublin's sights will be on a top-three finish to advance to the All-Ireland quarter-finals in early August.

Maher knows it will take time to shake off the rust, to fully assimilate into her former life as a rampant scorer but she knows, long-term, that the break will do her good.

"I mightn't be at the standard I should be at but hopefully I'll get up there eventually," she says. "I know myself that it takes a while to get back up to inter-county standard."

A year on, she has no regrets about the choice she made last summer.

"We all love camogie but it is never going to pay the bills - there are other things in life that have to take precedence sometimes," she says. "Players that can do it year in, year out, sacrifice things and not get sick of it or get p****d off, are few and far between."

So does she recommend other players take a hiatus during their peak years? "Anybody outside of Dublin, yeah, go off and do your travelling," she laughs. "With Dublin we're trying to get to the place where the likes of Galway, Kilkenny and Cork are where if you have a really serious team and you are seriously competing, it is much more attractive for younger players to stay."

And the latest leg of that journey, her journey, starts today.

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