It’s hard to separate the value of a club from its successes and to recognise the importance of their social impact, especially when the club is moving upstream in the eddy and on the epoch of a period of great growth. UCD Canoe Club hosted the intervarsities this year, a major competition in their calendar, and managed to finish in the top five in every category, something that had hitherto “never been done” by the club according to member Shanley Shaw.
More than 53 newcomers travelled to Tramore on the club organised ‘Freshers’ trip’ in October and Shaw said of the bus journey down and the weekend itself that “It’s hard not to make friends. It’s a great way to promote community in the club.” For both Shaw and fellow member Jack Van Lang the social aspects of the club seem very important. “It gives you a sense of place in college” according to Shaw. As an Arts student, the large class sizes can create an impersonal culture and an environment that can be superficial. Jack “forced [himself] to get involved with a sports club this year” and does not regret the decision, citing training groups as important in immersing yourself in the community and getting to know people.
“There’s a nice mix in the club, some beginners, some exchange, some foreign students.” “It’s a nice sport to jump right into” claims Van Lang, and Shaw echoed this statement, saying “some of the team sports, some people have been playing from a very young age” and even though they have “lots of teams” that certain standards are almost pre-requisite for the top team. There are beginners’ lessons, for example, for some international students interested in picking up a hurley for the first time and there is a natural difference in the standard between these lessons and the competitive grade teams, a gap that doesn’t appear to be as big in the Canoe Club. “There is a swim test” explains Van Lang, but he assures that it isn’t anything taxing and results to not much more than a length of the pool. “As long as you are comfortable in the water-that’s the most important thing.”
Polo is an event in the club that has recently gained momentum, with specific instructors having been brought in and time being set aside and dedicated to it, and its events like this which maintain the team aspect of sport if that is an element that participants are interested in. With such a broad range of disciplines available to members and the freedom to crossover and participate in several different events, it is easy to see that the club caters for different levels and different skillsets; everything from balance and technique to endurance, freestyle to slaloms. There are two weekly pool sessions for the members in the UCD pool, held in an ideal evening time slot. “There aren’t as many people around and it’s safer for practice and skill development. [It’s] warmer too.” These trainings are different to the regular weekend sessions in the river Liffey or Boyne, or sometimes even outside Dublin. “It can be daunting at first,” says Shaw “you’d be afraid of capsizing.”
The highlight of the competitive year is always the intervarsities, and this year the competition held a special significance as the UCD club was hosting the competition. A committee of ten were primarily responsible for organising the event, but it takes a village, with nearly ten people needed to be present for each event to do both the seen and unseen work necessary for the seemless running of events. “We need people for safety, obviously, and at the start and the finish for recording times and people calculating points.” Such is the demand of hosting the event, that Shaw says “It’s harder to win the competition when you’re hosting” but UCD managed to balance organising the event and competing with great aplomb. UCD’s Simon Grennell and Jayne Stephens won the Colm Johnson Trophy and Niamh Tompkins Trophy respectively for the best male and female paddler on and off the water, coveted trophies that are awarded after a vote from the captains of all competing clubs.
The challenge for next year’s charges is not just to replicate the achievements of this year’s competitors, but to take it one step further and improve on this year’s result and not just win the overall competition, but to enjoy success in even more individual events. Both Shaw and Van Lang alluded to a competitive rivalry between themselves and next year’s hosts, the University of Limerick. “It would be great to beat them down in UL. We want to do even better than this year” hopes Shaw.