When TU Dublin lost to UL by two points in the opening round of the Electric Ireland Ashbourne Cup in late November, Niamh Gannon certainly did not think they would go on to top the group. With victories against DCU and Maynooth, they did just that.
This weekend, a year after winning the Electric Ireland Purcell Cup - college camogie's second tier competition - TU Dublin face SETU Waterford in the Ashbourne semi-finals.
"After that match [against UL], we were delighted with the performance but very aware of potentially not getting through, not to mind topping the group," Gannon tells Balls.
"Going up to Ashbourne this year was a big step up from Purcell last year. With that, the commitment of the team has really stepped up.
"We had a shock when we went down to UL in the league. That was a big welcome to Ashbourne. They absolutely destroyed us.
"We made a decision that we're going to commit to this. Each training session, our coaches said we were building towards our next performance. Hopefully, it'll be this weekend that we reach that big performance."
It’s the Electric Ireland Camogie Ashbourne Cup Semi-Finals!
We’re getting closer and closer to the end as @TUDublinCCGAA face off against @SETUGAAWD tomorrow in the hopes of reaching the final!
Follow along at #FirstClassRivals to make sure you don’t miss a thing! pic.twitter.com/XybZgw4ed1
— Electric Ireland (@ElectricIreland) February 10, 2023
The TU Dublin team is mainly made up of players from the capital with a smattering of Kilkenny, Westmeath, Cavan and Antrim thrown in.
"We're largely from Dublin, and a lot of us would have played together growing up," says St Judes player Gannon.
"It's noticeable that we are used to each other. It's certainly an advantage for us.
"This year, we've had some great new additions, and that has helped the team. I think there's four or five starters who are first years. The likes the Megan Dowdall, Ellie Young.
"We make a big effort to have team nights out. We nearly force everyone into coming out. It's a great night out, great fun, and you get to know players.
"Megan, who came from Westmeath, I don't think any of us had known Megan. She was straight in and didn't know anyone. We forced her to stay on one of the nights out. It definitely pays off. Everyone is comfortable with each other.
"College camogie, it's such a high level, and the training is serious, but there's that opportunity to go on those nights out that you might not get with your county set up at times."
Gannon says playing third level camogie has definitely aided the development of her and her teammates.
"Niamh (Keeneghan) says that when she goes back to Cavan for training, the girls are all saying, 'Your touch is amazing'. She's like, 'It has to be!'" she explains.
"She was saying to me that with Cavan, and the division they're playing in, you might get more time on the ball but not when she's playing Ashbourne. She's noticed it.
"I've definitely noticed the difference this year with going up to Ashbourne. It seems to be more physical, and the ref seems to let a lot more go. It's just a different, more physical standard, as well as skill-wise and intensity."
Gannon was given her Dublin debut as a 17-year-old by David Herity. She started her senior inter-county career has a corner-back but has since played in midfield and as a forward.
Last season, in their second season with Adrian O'Sullivan as manager, Dublin looked to be making significant progress as they reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals. The winter saw yet another change in management with O'Sullivan stepping down and Tipperary man Paul Kelly appointed as his successor. Gannon says the constant managerial change is "definitely frustrating".
"Last year, we had a great campaign, and if one or two results had gone our way instead of draws, we could have ended up in a semi-final," she says.
"That was my fifth year, and I think we've had four or five managers within that. It's very hard that each year you make progress and then a new manager comes in.
"Obviously, you're going to have a different style of play. They might have a different idea of where players are playing, different positions. It's tough to keep coming back when the system might be changing again. You look at the top, successful teams, and their management teams have been in place for three to five years."
That lack of managerial consistency with Dublin certainly contrasts with Gannon's experience at TU Dublin.
"Bill McCormack and Kevin Gorman, they've been the coaches since I've been there, and a few years before," she says.
"We have a lot of past players who come back and help.
"It's massive. They understand us, and we understand them. We know what to expect. You can see it now, winning Purcell, and heading into a semi-final of the Ashbourne, having the same two coaches is definitely a factor."