Alumni engagement and philanthropy

CELEBRATING CAMOGIE - REMEMBERING QUEEN’S ASHBOURNE CUP TRIUMPH OF 1991  Members of the University's 1991 Ashbourne Cup-winning team, in green and white team shirts  in quad

23 November 2021

On Sunday 10th February 1991, a victorious Queen’s University Belfast side broke the dominance of the ‘top three’ in Camogie – University College Dublin, University College Cork and University College Galway – and brought the Ashbourne Cup to Belfast for the first time.

The famous victory over University College Galway, a sporting triumph that will long be remembered in the annals of Queen’s GAA, will be celebrated this week at a special team reunion at the University. 

The Ashbourne Cup has been described as the ‘Olympics of Camogie’ because of the disproportionate number of All Star and All Ireland elite level players that take part in the competition each year. To take on and better the cream of Camogie talent from across Ireland took a special group of players, a panel of passion and commitment.

Momentum had been building with League and Shield final appearances in 1986, 1988 and 1989. It was to take a group of players of the calibre of their Captain, Deirdri O’Doherty, Armagh Star, Mary Black and Tipperary player, Joan Tobin, winner of two Ashbourne Cups with UCD, to get the Club over the line that year.

In a recent article on the Tokyo Olympics the GAA commented on the solid grounding that Gaelic Games has provided as a launchpad into many other sports and for athletes wishing to perform in the international area. Olympic athlete Ciara Mageean, Irish Hockey Captain Katie Mullan of Eoghan Rua’s 2010 All Ireland winning team, and Ireland Hockey star Michelle Carey, the niece of Larry McCarthy, Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael (GAA President), who plays with Balinteer St John’s Club in Dublin, are notable examples of Camogie players who have achieved international recognition in other sports.

The level of talent on show in the Ashbourne Cup each year is always phenomenal, so it was against this backdrop that Queen’s set out with their 1991 team.

The Queen’s Manager, Bernie McNally, writing in an Ashbourne Tournament brochure in recent years, said:

“Queen’s began 1990/91 like every other year, more in hope than expectation and they scoured the Queen’s Freshers’ Week in search of new talent and began a gruelling training programme around the dreaded bandstand at the back of the PEC.”

It was an inauspicious start to a year that would see them win the Ashbourne Cup for the first time since Queen’s entered the competition in 1934. The team got off to a great start in the competition scoring seven goals against UCC at the Dub. In the semi-final that year in Galway, they were drawn against UCD and ran out with a fourteen-point winning margin. The final saw them challenge the home side, UCG. A whirlwind start saw Queen’s grab three goals in the first fifteen minutes, and they ended up the eventual winners by a ten-point margin.

Joan Tobin recalled in an Irish News piece last year that although she was targeted due to her high profile, it was an all-round team effort that clinched the victory:

“It was a really tough Ashbourne in Galway. I was double-marked all weekend. I suppose I was one of the few Queen’s players other university teams knew, but they soon found out that we had a super team.

“Deirdri O’Doherty was a great leader – she was the first Camogie player I saw catching high balls wearing black leather gloves! You had the McCorry sisters, Mary Black, Monica McCartan. Great, great players.”

Reflecting on the importance of the result, Bernie McNally added:

“This was the day that Queen’s broke the dominance of the top three universities, brought the cup up north for the first time, and paved the way for a new generation of Ashbourne Cup Winners and a belief that if you believe enough, anything is possible.”

Today at Queen’s, aspiring young camogs benefit from the support of the Sean O’Neill GAA Academy, which provides students from each of the five codes – Gaelic Football, Ladies Football, Handball, Hurling and Camogie – with the best possible resources to enable them to excel both academically and in their sporting endeavours. The Academy was founded in 2004 and has a strong player development programme which has helped Queen’s students reach county and All Ireland success.

The success of the 1991 Ashbourne Cup team is even more remarkable given that their players did not have access to the development and support structures available today in Queen’s. Playing against the elite of higher education Camogie, their only resources were the focus, determination, and self-belief that they collectively possessed, qualities relentlessly developed and instilled by their outstanding coach, Bernie McNally.

Despite little recognition at the time to mark this sporting triumph, 30 years later, its significance is now hugely appreciated, and this collective group of women would agree that this experience and event was highly significant in shaping their personal and professional lives.

We wish the team of 1991 every success with their 30-year reunion event and we look forward to the day when Queen’s Camogs capture their second Ashbourne.

If you would like to support future generations of Queen’s Camogie players visit our academies page or contact Paddy Gilmore, Queen’s Development and Engagement Manager, Queen’s Sport.

For general enquiries about this story, or to submit graduate news items, please contact Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Queen's University Belfast.

Photo caption - Back Row: Bernie McNally (manager), Bronagh McCorry (Antrim), Sinead McClure (Armagh), Delia McCartan (Down), Monica McCartan (Down), Roisin McCluskey (Derry), Shauna Higgins (Antrim), Eimear Murtagh (Antrim), Jacinta Morris (Armagh), Ursula Scullion (Derry) and Deirdre Cunning (Antrim);

Middle Row: Mary Black (Armagh), Fionnuala Smyth (Armagh), Lorraine Finn (Armagh), Orlaith Higgins (Antrim), Bronagh McCann (Antrim), Patricia Vallely (Armagh), Lisa Faloona (Down), Joan Tobin (Tipperary) and Siobhan McErlean (Antrim);

Front Row: Jackie McGeough (Antrim), Sinead Mullan (Derry), Brigid McCorry (Antrim), Deirdri O’Doherty (Capt.) (Derry), Roisin O’Neill (Armagh), Lorraine Devlin (Derry) and Sheelagh O’Hare (Antrim). 

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