All-Ireland and Dublin glory, a first All-Star and club history


2020 IS A year we’ll all remember for all the wrong reasons, but Dublin star Jennifer Dunne took more positives from it than most.

The 20-year-old enjoyed a stellar season in the Sky Blue jersey, well and truly establishing herself as one of the best midfielders in the country en route to four-in-a-row.

Last weekend, Dunne was named in the Team of the Championship, making history alongside her clubmate Martha Byrne as the pair became Cuala’s first ladies football All-Stars.

And not only was it an unforgettable season on the inter-county scene between an All-Ireland title and an All-Star, a county intermediate medal made it a clean sweep. Every team trophy that Dunne could have won in Gaelic football in 2020, she did.

“It was kind of amazing,” she said yesterday as the GPA announced that 100 female inter-county players have been awarded scholarship funding as they continue their third-level studies. 

“It’s kind of mental to think that that all happened in such a short timeframe. But obviously, I don’t take any of it for granted.

It was lovely and I guess it’s something I can take out of the year of Covid, obviously it was terrible but I can take those points out as being good highlights for me, which is obviously nice as well.”

On the first day of her teaching placement in St Joseph’s National School, Dun Laoghaire, the St Pat’s / DCU student maps the season as she tries to sums it up.

From how enjoyable focusing on club was, to finally getting over the line after a few near misses. From the return to Mick Bohan’s set-up to how “surreal” and “weird,” but wonderful, it was to lift the Brendan Martin Cup just five days before Christmas.

And with all officially wrapping up last weekend on ‘Peil na mBan – Foirne na Bliana – le AIG Insurance,’ on TG4, Dunne can’t help but smile when the All-Star is mentioned.

“I wasn’t really expecting it, to be honest so it did come as a bit of a shock. Obviously, winning the All-Ireland and the year that we had was just an amazing achievement in itself, because it was so tricky for everyone. That was something good and maybe light at the end of the tunnel for me especially, because the year was so tricky for most.

“Getting the recognition and an individual award is obviously always a bonus so I was delighted. It was great to have the six girls from the Dublin team, and also Martha. The two of us getting it was amazing.

I’d say everyone was very proud of us from the club. She was well deserving of it as well. It was just lovely to get the recognition. I guess winning the All-Ireland is always the main focus and thankfully we did that. The bonus was the All-Star.”

“It was the first time ever so that’s a great achievement,” she adds on the piece of Cuala history herself and Byrne — who she feels should have got one sooner — made.

“Hopefully in the years to come, there’ll be more younger girls coming up. I guess having someone like us maybe to look up to and aspire to be like is obviously great for them, and hopefully encouraging as well.

“It was really great for the club as a whole and with Mick [Fitzsimons] and Con [O’Callaghan] as well on the lads’ side, it was nice to finish off the year with the four of us getting them.”

A towering presence in the Jackies’ midfield, Dunne’s remarkable 2020 breakthrough is the result of years of hard work across different disciplines.

Hailing from a GAA family in Dalkey, it’s interesting to hear her talk about not playing Gaelic football in school. She joined the underage ranks in Cuala at the age of six or so and played right the way through, but at school, basketball and hockey took precedence.

Dunne (left) celebrating the All-Ireland win with her team-mates.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

In her mid to late teens, football took centre stage however, linking up with the Dublin minors, while she obviously focuses on that now along with some club camogie.

For such a versatile talent, an obvious question is would Aussie Rules interest her in time?

With 14 Irishwomen on the books of clubs Down Under — including three of her team-mates in Sinéad Goldrick, Niamh McEvoy and Lauren Magee at Melbourne FC –and many of those excelling, it’s understandable that such a venture may appeal to Dunne in the future.

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“At the moment I am not thinking about it because I am still in college and I have another year or so and by then I would like to think I would have a job. I don’t know…

Obviously I think it would be a good opportunity and I don’t know if I would turn it down. Gaelic is my main love so I would not go over if it affected my season with Dublin. I would have to think about it obviously but at the moment I am not. I am enjoying GAA.

“Looking over at the girls, it’s great to see them and obviously there are so many Irish over there now, it is great for the sport that so many are being exposed to that outlet as well. Who knows, to be honest? But at the moment I am focussing very much on college and Dublin.”

Like everyone else in Gaelic games circles, Dunne is awaiting that all-important green light for the return to activity, remaining optimistic and keeping herself ticking over with home workouts and running while enjoying the down time.

That said, she’s eager to get back into a group environment ahead of Dublin’s next All-Ireland bid.

Despite the lack of football, there’s plenty of whispers about the Drive for Five, but it’s something Dunne and her team-mates don’t buy into.

“I think it’s a fresh slate to be honest.” she concludes. “Obviously, every year everyone’s so eager to do better and motivated to build on from last year. Obviously, there’s definitely things that we didn’t do well in the All-Ireland final and things we need to improve on.

“There’s always that opportunity to get better and succeed again. I’ve no doubt the mentality within the group will be really focused on winning again. And for some people, even if there’s newbies coming in or some people coming back, it won’t be five-in-a-row for them.

“I guess it’s just an All-Ireland and obviously, if people look at it as that, that is what people see from the outside, but for us, it’s probably just pushing on and trying to be better again and push the ladies game on as well for people and spectators — to just put on a good show for them and hopefully get people interested and people from the outside involved. Just looking forward to it, and hopefully we’ll get to play soon fingers crossed.”

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