By Michael McMullan
LOUGHGIEL attacking ace Caitrín Dobbin is well used to the big stage and she’ll be back under the spotlight in Sunday’s Ulster final against Liatroim.
It won’t be as hectic as her semi-final weekend. Less than 24 hours before pegging 0-4 in their win over Sleacht Néill, Dobbin was picking up an Ulster Irish Dancing title.
It’s not new. Camogie and dancing have always been intertwined. Her mother Denise is a teacher with the Loughgiel School of Irish Dance.
Since she was able to walk, Caitrín has been brought up with dancing, and camogie has followed suit.
Mixing it is difficult. Competing at the top level, well, that must be even tougher.
But there is a love there that overrules the annual inkling of hanging up the dancing shoes.
“Every year I dance, I say it will be my last,” she said, referring to the difficulty of peaking on both fronts at the same time, never mind being a focal point in Antrim’s attack at county level.
Managing the preparation isn’t easy, but mentors on both sides help. They understand. A struggle is met with a night off. There is give and take.
“You couldn’t have written it that the Ulster match was the day after my Ulsters (dancing) down in the Carrickdale,” she laughs of the action packed weekend.
It was even busier given Dobbin lends a hand with teaching the young dancers. Like mother, like daughter.
The road from Newry to Loughgiel was a well travelled one for training.
“On the Saturday, it felt like a very long day because there’s a lot of waiting. I wasn’t finished up dancing until nine o’clock,” she pointed out.
Then it was time to get the gear packed and the focus switched to camogie and a showdown with a Sleacht Néill team they’ve had annual battles with.
“The dancing probably kept my mind off it which didn’t do me any harm,” she offered.
There has been plenty of travel with dancing. The roads of Ireland have been traipsed. The World Championships have taken her all over. There have been trips to Wales and Italy.
“When I was in Wales, I had to fly home because Antrim were playing Tipperary in the quarter-final, so they seem to have clashed a lot this year,” Dobbin pointed out.
The ice baths have been her “best friend” with recovery the magic word to make sure her feet are fit for dancing around defenders when camogie time kicks in.
Last year, victory over Sleacht Néill left Loughgiel one game away from Croke Park. It’s different this season with Liatroim joining the Ulster race.
The Shamrocks got a taste last year only for Sarsfields to end their All-Ireland dreams.
“I don’t think we will ever really get over it but it was great to get there in our first year after getting beaten seven or eight in a row by Sleacht Néill,” she added.
A final was a “bonus” but getting so close only whets the appetite for another sitting at the top table. It’s only natural.
“When you get somewhere you want to get there again and to get to Croke Park is a dream, especially to get playing there for your own club,” said Dobbin before highlighting the competitive nature of the Antrim scene they came back into this year.
Dunloy have been close. Beaten finalists Ballycastle have always had a talented bunch.
“Cushendall ran us close in the first half of the semi-final,” she said. “In Antrim, the standard is a (now) lot higher and it is tough to get out of.”
Half-time in the Sleacht Néill game was another fork in the road. Trailing 0-4 to 0-1, Loughgiel had a decision to make.
“Do we really want this?” was the question they asked of themselves.
“We all realised it wasn’t a true reflection of us and we did showhow much we wanted it,” Dobbin explains of the second half improvement.
“You feel they have extra players on the pitch when you are playing up front, they hunt in packs and are definitely a tough team to get through,” Dobbin said of the Emmet’s.
Loughgiel outscored them 8-1 in the second half to took a place in Sunday’s final in Armagh.
“I have said this all year, we are a second-half team but we have been trying to work on that.
“I know when we find our way, there is not really any team so far that can touch us when we click, but it’s trying to get to that.”
The victory takes them to Sunday, but there is no cup on the sideboard. Dobbin said their full attention is on Liatroim with the knowledge of their tough path to emerge from Down.
“We are happy to have that two-week break to work on the rehab and focus on the final to try and get that cup,” she concluded.
Dancing, teaching and playing camogie, it’s a hectic schedule for Caitrín Dobbin. As a Civil Servant, flexitime is every bit as important as the ice baths as she bids to keep putting her best foot forward.