Reclaiming the land: Growing a culture of GAA in Trinity

Clare McCarthy, Sport Editor, sits down with the Trinity Hurlers; Leon Breen, Fionn O’Riain Broin and team captain Darragh O’Donoghue following their promotion to the Fitzgibbon Cup and to find out what really happened on ‘Inside Trinity’.

Fionn O’Riain Broin and his brother Cian on Inside Trinity


It’s a Tuesday morning and three hurlers are having a puck-about on the edge of the cricket pitch in the glare of the autumn sun. Two Swedish tourists stop and take pictures. “What is this sport?” one asks me. “Hurling,” I reply. “I have never seen this sport!” she tells me, in awe.

The awe in the Swedish woman’s voice came as no surprise to me. It seems that tourists may appreciate our national game more than we do. Fionn O’Riain Broin, Dublin U21 and senior hurler, tells me that when they were filming the RTÉ documentary ‘Inside Trinity’ there were hundreds of tourists watching them play on front square. Rugby, ultimate frisbee, cricket and even croquet are often seen in action on campus but hurling, one of Ireland’s national games, is a rare sight. Maybe Trinity should consider setting up a hurling exhibition on the lawn – from the sound of things it could give the Book of Kells a run for its money.

Inside ‘Inside Trinity’

Following on from their role on ‘lnside Trinity’, reluctant celebrities O’Riain Broin and the others all agree on one thing: it was great exposure for Trinity Hurling. “Even people who might not be too involved in college might have watched a bit of it and seen us and thought ‘Jeez, there’s a hurling team here’ so it’s great exposure for us,” O’Riain Broin.

Inside Trinity followed Fionn, his brother Cian and the Trinity hurlers as they geared up for the final of the division two championships, the Ryan Cup. Having previously won the Ryan Cup, the pressure was on to reclaim the title. This was coupled with the added pressure of RTÉ’s cameras capturing their most intimate moments pre and post-match.“There were parts of it that I just knew were coming up,” says Leon Breen. “There was one fellow, and he gave a speech in the dressing room. He’s vocal enough but-”

“I’ve never seen him make a speech like that before!” adds O’Riain Broin.

“The stage is set, the camera is out and he gets up and he gives this absolute belter of a speech.”

It wasn’t just egos that were flexing either. “The amount of tensing in the dressing room before the game,” admits O’Riain Broin. “We were in the dressing room before the Ryan cup final and all the lads were there, tensing, tops off.”

“Donnacha Butler, takes any chance he can get to tense, he’s some boy for it. And you can put that in the article, he’ll only be chuffed,” says Breen.

Defending champions of the Ryan Cup, their title was on the line but their street cred was also under the scrutiny of the Irish public, something they were all too aware of. “The manager brought a speaker into the dressing room and he’s mad about all this motivational talk and he started blaring – What was that song?” asks Breen.

“Jason Derulo!” laughs O’Riain Broin.

“Jason Derulo blaring to get us hyped up!”

“And we were all like, ‘Turn that off now, it’s gonna be on the programme!’”

With the suspense built and RTÉ’s cameras rolling, the months of hard work paid off in a muddy field in March. In victory, cameras were forgotten and the authenticity of the moment poured from the hurlers onto our TV screens. “I thought they captured that very well actually. It was the best footage of the whole thing,” says O’Riain Broin.

Transition to the Fitzgibbon Cup

Promotion from the second to the first division of the championship is a big step up. The hurlers will be facing stiff competition this year from hurling strongholds such as UCD, UL and Mary I. Each of these colleges would have 20 senior county hurlers on their teams compared to the two senior county hurlers in Trinity.

“Fitzgibbon is the top. It’s proper, intercounty standard nearly so chances of us winning it this year aren’t exactly huge. We’re not expecting that,” says Breen.

For Darragh O’Donoghue, the team captain, the focus is on what is achievable. “There are teams that are beatable and it would be massive for us if we could get a win.”

“There’s a very, very high standard,” says O’Riain Broin. “We have myself and Darragh, with experience. That’s it. For now we’re trying to compete. Do our best and see where we go.”

And they believe it will pay off in the long run. For aspiring hurlers, being afforded the opportunity to play in the top division is a real incentive to come to Trinity. “When there’s people seeing that you’re playing Fitzgibbon, they’ll be coming to Trinity to play in the Fitzgibbon. There’s lads who wouldn’t have played hurling with the college, they’re in their second and third year and they’re signing up this year. They see that we’re in the first division and want to play. They wouldn’t have bothered with the Ryan Cup,” says Breen.

“The bigger the club grows, the more people from outside the college will think ‘I’m not going to go to UCD just to play hurling. I can also play hurling at the same standard as I would in UCD. I’ll probably even have a better chance of playing time with Trinity hurlers’,” says O’Riain Broin.

“I was talking to a lad who plays for the Dublin minors,” says Breen. “He gets a scholarship for going to UCD. He’s unreal like and he wouldn’t even definitely be guaranteed a place on the team.”

The underdogs

With Trinity hurling still on the rise, and no guaranteed scholarships allocated to the hurlers, they can at least guarantee playing time fo incoming hurlers as they need the numbers to compete.

“We’ll be one of the only teams in the Fitzgibbon who have a special dispensation so we can play our Freshers in the Fitzgibbon matches which is unheard of. If you go to DIT, UCD or DCU, your Freshers aren’t actually allowed to even train with the rest of the hurlers,” explains Breen.

It’s unusual to pit players who are 17 or 18 years old and just out of school against players who have been playing Senior County hurling for 3 or 4 years. “With the playing population we have here, we really do need the Fresher to have a proper team,” says O’Donoghue.

And what separates Trinity hurling from the other colleges in the Fitzgibbon Cup?

“Resources,” says O’Donoghue. “Trinity gave out two [hurling scholarships] last year. I have friends who’d be getting scholarships elsewhere. What we’re getting is nothing really compared to that.”

“There’s a bit of monetary help then there’s physio stuff they say, but you never really hear. Then there’s workshops about nutrition but if you’re involved in county, you’ll have heard it all before. And there’s a bit of strength and conditioning but there’s no tailored programme. We’ve no special gym. There’s a special gym down in UL for all the sports scholars and this sort of thing.”

“Sure it’s fuck all money anyway,” says O’Riain Broin. “In first year, I was in DIT for 6 weeks and I was on €2000 there. Here, it’s not half that. And that was for a Fresher, I couldn’t even play senior!”

For now it will be the draw of playing in the Fitzgibbon Cup, not scholarships, that attracts hurlers to Trinity. “It’s not a two grand scholarship incentive but that’s what we’re building towards,” says Breen.

“To get to that stage we’ll have to be playing Fitzgibbon for a couple of seasons,” explains O’Riain Broin. “And then we can go to DUCAC and say ‘Look, to develop more we really need those three scholarships a year to entice people [to] play.’ You do need them. All the other colleges have them.”

Increasing visibility

“Hurling is on its way up,” insists Breen. “We got more sign-ups this year than any other year.” Many hurlers find college hurling and the social aspect surrounding the GAA a breath of fresh air after years of club hurling.

“I was ready to quit hurling last year,” says Breen. “Genuinely, with my club hurling, I was just sick of it and then I came in [to Trinity] and it made me like it again. Just having mates and remembering what it’s really about. It’s such a tight knit group of mates. Literally, lads that I didn’t even know last year are my best mates this year. I never expected it could happen.”

Exposure and success is the key to the growth of the GAA the hurlers tell me. The people who go to their matches and fundraising events, like the county colours night, are people already involved with the GAA putting their own money back into the club. So with exposure as a priority for the hurlers, they have some big ideas to grow the culture of hurling in Trinity.

“This year coming into Fitzgibbon, there’s a big push to try and promote the GAA,” says Breen, PRO of the hurling team. “The likes of the rugby, the boat club, etc. they get huge turnouts to matches. Even at their training there’d be more people watching them throw the ball around than at our matches.”

“The Phil would join up with Players and do these big nights so we were thinking, ‘Why can’t we do the same?’ We’re in preliminary talks with Rugby at the moment. They get so many people at their things so we’re in talks to organise a big fundraising event with them at the Pav. We were thinking of doing a GAA vs Rugby thing and put a spin on it as ‘a lost tradition’ that was banned by the college.”

“Keep an eye out for that one, that’s a big one,” says Breen.

This is our turf

As the campus groundsmen’s intolerance for hurling persists, the hurlers have no land available to them for a puck-around on campus. What they are doing this morning – a harmless puck-around on the edge of the cricket pitch – is bending, if not breaking, the rules. Trinity campus’ attitude to hurling is a world away from O’Riain Broin’s schooldays in Colaiste Éoin and the change of environment cost him a sticky run-in with campus authorities last year. In Colaiste Éoin, “literally every single day you’d go to school, you’d have a hurl. Every day. If you play hurling and didn’t have a hurl at lunchtime, like what were you doing?”

“I was stupid now, last year I was a Fresher and me and my brother Cian went down to the rugby pitch, just on the side, off the actual pitch between the sidelines and the fence. We were pucking and we were told to go off and we were like ‘grand’ so we went over to the shadow of the library, over beside the trees and were pucking there and some fellow comes out. He got thick, I got thick and I got pulled in front of the Junior Dean. Nothing came of it now but I was literally like ‘We’re not on the pitch, we’re not making any mess, we’re not taking the grass up and we’re literally just pucking around here. No one’s around and we’re not going to hurt anybody so what’s the problem?”

“I’m not sure if it’s an actual ban or even just the groundspeople being ‘picky’,” says Breen.

“Oh Jesus, don’t go saying that now,” says O’Donoghue. “We’ll have all the groundspeople against us.”

The team are working hard at further increasing campus-wide awareness of Trinity’s hurling team. “We’ve just started bringing in the hurl every day so people see you walking around with the hurl.  And when lads are free, we just write in WhatsApp ‘anyone around for a puck?’ and we’d go out for 10 or 20mins.”“And the amount of people who watch, especially with the tourists, there’s an interest there, do you know what I mean?”

I do. This is an Irish university. How can we see an Irish game proudly played on campus when there’s a ban on it?

“Sure, this is it,” says O’Donoghue. This is it, indeed.