Echo Sport Replay: Nic Coitir on a great career that has navigated immense tragedy
By Stephen Leonard
SÍLE Nic Coitir is the type of person who is more inclined to stress what is missing from her own roll of honour rather than what is actually on it.
Undoubtedly one of the great stalwarts of Ballyboden St Enda's and Dublin GAA, she was nevertheless left scratching her head, wondering why she was to be the subject of an in-depth feature such as this.
One of Ballyboden and Dublin GAA’s great stalwarts, Síle Nic Coitir looks back on a superb career so far and how family and sport helped see her through immensely tragic times in her life Photo by Paddy Barrett
"I'm no Angie McNally or Sinéad Aherne. I’ve never represented my country and I don't have rows of All-Ireland medals" she was quick to point out.
Yet Nic Coitir's story is one littered with success and heartbreak, one that has seen her help Boden to no less than 10 Dublin Senior Camogie titles and one in Leinster in that code together with four County Football Championships as well as three at provincial degree in a career that is still ongoing.
A superb dual player for her county from Under 14 right the way through to senior level, she scooped a Leinster title and All-Star with the Jackies and also has a Junior All-Ireland Camogie medal in the back pocket.
Yet in the midst of all this success, Nic Coitir had to navigate her way through some immensely traumatic times, losing her sister Deirdre and niece Liadán in a car crash in 2001 before her father Don, a former Dublin County Board chairman from 1980 to ’85, passed away just 10 days later.
The Balally woman leaned heavily on the support of her family and team mates during those dark days and others that followed the tragic loss of her nephew Cúán in 2019, but what was more disconcerting was the fact that alcohol also came to be used as a crutch to see her through at times.
And while she could lose herself in a sport she dearly loved, GAA itself also presented huge dilemmas at times when she, like so many other dual players in Dublin, was forced to choose between camogie and football, club and county – agonising decisions that still haunt her today.
That said, Nic Coitir is quick to stress the benefits that GAA has brought to her life from her time as young student playing for Scoil Naithí and the neighbouring club Ballinteer St John’s.
Nic Coitir pictured ahead of doing co-commentary on all streamed championship matches.
“I went to Scoil Naithí in Ballinteer and I was about seven or eight when I joined Ballinteer St John’s” recalled Nic Coitir.
“I think I was the youngest player ever to make the Dublin Under 14 camogie team at 11. My dad brought be out to the trials, he brought me everywhere.
“So I was on the Under 14 team from there all the way up to senior and when I was 13 I was playing ladies football in the school with Coláiste Íosagáin as well as camogie.
“When I was in secondary school I think I might have been on about 14 different teams between football and camogie, inter-county, club and school. I was even playing with a basketball team in first year.
“Naomh Olaf were just up the road and they were starting up a ladies football team and I played with them. I loved football at Olaf’s. I was playing with my sister Ceara there and we played together with Dublin as well. That was a very proud moment for us both.
Síle Nic Coitir is still enjoying playing for her club
“I was about 12 or 13 when the team in Ballinteer folded and I knew Fiona and Grainne Ní Chorcaráin were over in Ballyboden, so I went there.
“With Dublin we won the Under 14 Leinster Football Championship. That came after extra time against Laois in O’Toole Park. It was one of favourite days because I scored a point off my left foot and the auld fella was as proud as punch.
“In camogie, the main one for me was when we won the Under 16 Leinster title against Kilkenny. It was a replay as well and I was actually made captain for that.
“That was played in Ballyboden so that was lovely, home crowd and being Under 16 captain. That was a stand-out.
“We went down to Cork a bit shell shocked on the train after we won and they gave us a bit of a lesson in the All-Ireland semi final in Páirc Uí Rinn.
One of the most decorated players to don the Ballyboden St Enda’s jersey, Síle Nic Coitir has helped the club to 10 Senior Camogie Championship titles and one in Leinster as well as four Senior Football titles and three at
“I think because I was so passionate and I loved it so much, I couldn’t stand losing. I was terribly competitive.
“I got in trouble in a camp once when his fella was getting the better of me and I lost control and slashed him across the shins with a hurl.
“But that made me learn that that’s not the way. If someone’s getting the better of you, you have to think of innovative ways of getting around them, and not just crack them across the shins.
“In fairness to my parents and my brothers and sisters, they kept my feet on the ground even when I was out playing with Dublin. Nothing was ever let go to your head.
“Playing camogie with Ballyboden, we didn’t really win anything in my age group at underage. We won a league, but we never won a championship. Naomh Mearnog always beat us in that.
Síle Ni Coitir has been a great servant for Dublin GAA Photo by iLivePhotos.com
“But when we went to Junior, we won the Junior A League and Championship that year.
“What I think happened was management stuck with us, so we had the same management all the way up, Paul Crosbie and PJ Donohue.
“And when we went Junior, it just all clicked for us. I was captain that year. It was amazing.
“With Olaf’s we managed to get to the senior county football final over a few years around the late nineties. That was brilliant. There was a really good buzz in the club at that time.
“Portobello would have given us a hiding a couple of times and then other times we would have ran them so close.
“But then I went out with the Ballyboden senior camogie team in 1999 and we won the championship.
“That was the start of a three-in-a-row. We won the championship title in 1999, 2000 and 2001 and we also won the league in ’99 and 2001.
“Vincent’s were our main rivals the first year and then there was Crumlin and Raheny. But Vincent’s really have always been our big rivals.
“We always seemed to up our game when we played them and now we would have also ‘jammed’ a few against them.
“Like the first year in ’99 it was a last-minute free from captain Irene Kirwan when Vincent’s were two-up and she buried it. I’m not even sure she struck it that well, but it bounced funny and went in the net.
“That was the club’s first Senior Camogie Championship title and I think that was the first year it went to 15-a-side.
“It was an incredible feeling. I can still remember the final whistle. It was just an incredibly proud moment.
“And it was so good for Irene as well, the captain. Her dad, John Kirwan was the manager and, for a family like that who have given so much for the club, to finally get there, it was just really special.
“I think it was about 2000 when I left Olaf’s and started playing football with Ballyboden in 2001.
“That year we also won the football championship and we actually got to the All-Ireland Final that year when we lost to Donoughmore from Cork in Birr.
“It was heavy going and then that disappointment on the day. I know I didn’t perform particularly well on the day of the All-Ireland. But looking back, it was an amazing day. The whole club got behind the team.
“But that same year I lost my dad, my sister and my niece in August. My sister and my niece died in a car crash and my dad died ten days later. It was a very rough time.
“Your life gets turned upside down and you try to do the best you can. Sport was a huge plus, but also it was a reason for going drinking too. I would have taken any reason to be honest.
“To be honest I probably would have been drinking heavily from that time. Probably not consciously.
“And it wasn’t intentional to drink. I just wanted to be having a good time and it wasn’t exactly always a good time either.
“I have a fantastic family who would come and support you and that makes you proud. But the team and the friendships were just dragging me through really.
“I was drinking too much for sure. In training and on the pitch I was functioning, but, for a young person, I was drinking too much.
“It turned into a bit of a problem and eventually I just gave it up because I just didn’t really like myself.
“To be honest I was just selfish and I was getting very down. And it’s also part of the culture as well. What do you do when you win? You go on the batter.
“But the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. Had I not had sport I would have just been drinking. At least I had sport.
“In 2001 I got this replacement All-Star in football. It was a lovely token, but I actually didn’t start a game for Dublin that year.
“So I got this replacement All-Star, but it was just a lovely gesture that was really just saying ‘Ladies Football has got your back’.
“In 2002 we won the Leinster Football title with Dublin and that put is through to an All-Ireland semi final against Mayo.
“In the meantime we had reached the final of the county camogie championship and we played Good Counsel and it was a draw. I actually gave away the last free for them to equalise.
“So it went to a replay which was ten days before the All-Ireland semi final.
“The Dublin manager came to us and said ‘Ten days, do you really want to risk injury?’
“There were four of us involved and we tried to get the management to talk to each other and that didn’t happen.
“It was terrible. It was a really awful decision to be making. Also I didn’t have the auld fella around to bang it off him and I was trying to keep him proud in some respects.
“Basically we didn’t play the camogie final and they lost. If I could make the decision again, I’d play the county final every single time.
“When you get to this stage of your career and you look back on what you’ve done and what you’ve won, I’m so proud of the achievements of the club and I’m so proud to play for Dublin. I love Dublin and I’ve been supporting Dublin my whole life.
“But there were ten days before that All-Ireland semi final. There was plenty of time.
“This is the problem. This was 20 years ago when you were talking about the football, camogie issues and it’s still going on. Players having to play twice in one weekend or sometimes twice in a day.
“I did it myself and women before me did it, but it’s just baffling that it’s continuing.
“I think the communication is a little bit better now. Look at Cork, look at all the titles they have won with camogie and football and that has to be down to communication, management, player-welfare, players getting the right training and rest.
“Still, 2002 was great as far as Dublin went because we won the Leinster Championship, but it was awful having to choose. It still haunts me to think that I didn’t play that final.
“We went on and lost the match against Mayo, but I don’t know how much our heads were in it after everything.
“There was a bit of a cloud, a few comments here and there and I can totally understand it now.
“I didn’t at the time. I still wondered why people didn’t understand the position that we were in. And I think that’s testament to the people in Ballyboden and how passionate they are about the club and how disappointed they were in us that we would choose county over club.
“It was tough and when I did get the All-Star that year, I felt like I had thrown everything into it. I had given up the camogie final, as did three of my team mates. That was a massive sacrifice.
“The same issue with camogie and football happened the previous year in 2001.
“We reached the Leinster Football Final with Dublin in 2001 and I played for the Dublin camogie team on the Saturday against Down and then I was dropped for the following day on Sunday because I played the whole match pretty much. The manager didn’t take me off until five minutes to go.
“So I was dropped for the Leinster Football Final and we lost that one. Now I came on as a sub and I was brutal.
“I was captain that year of the club football team and we won the county final against the Guards. We went on to win the Leinster Final against Shelmaliers and then we lost to Carnacon in the All-Ireland semi in terrible conditions. I tore my knee cartilage that day.
“In 2003 I went to Chicago for the summer and I did my cruciate over there, so that was my first ACL.
“I came home and then went back to Chicago for the summer of 2004. I came back and in 2005 I got back into the football and camogie, but in the county football final that year, I did my other ACL.
“In 2005 [when Boden won the All-Ireland Football title] I was on the line, just doing a bit with the free-takers and in 2006 we won the Junior All-Ireland with Dublin, but I was a sub. It’s not one that stands out for me.
“I started playing in goal in 2006. At the time I was just happy to be playing again and it was going well for me. I had amazing backs in front of me to be fair, but I got a bit sick of it.
“The auld lifestyle wasn’t so good either. I was probably drinking too much, so it suited me to be in goal and not be doing the running. Now I wasn’t very good at rehab either.
“I didn’t play football again until 2008 and in 2007 I took a break from camogie as well.
“I came back in 2008 and we won both football and camogie that year with Ballyboden.
“In the camogie decider we stole it again from Vincent’s. I came out from goal with about five minutes to go and I won a penalty. Ciara Lucey scored and that won the match for us.
“And we actually went on and won the Leinster Camogie Championship that year. We beat Rathnure on the most horrific day ever.
“It was windy and lashing rain, but it suited us because we probably didn’t have the same skill level as Rathnure, but we dug it out.
“That was one of the greatest days I suppose because I don’t think anybody expected us to win.
“We got to the Leinster Football Final as well, but we were beaten by Sarsfields Mountmellick.
“I stopped playing football and then in 2010 we did the first of a five-in-a-row in the county camogie championship with Ballyboden.
“I was captain for two of them and we played Vincent’s in both finals.
“The fifth one in O’Toole Park in 2014 was definitely special because my personal life wasn’t so fantastic that year, so to go out and win with the team, it was very special.
“The only negative on it was that, even though we were so strong in Dublin, we didn’t make any strides in Leinster.
“I started a new job in 2014 in Scoil Mológa and it just gave me a fresh new start and the following year I gave up drinking and I was called back to Dublin Camogie that year as well.
“The last few years with Dublin were great. Shane O’Brien gave me a new lease of life when he invited me back in. I actually met my wife Fiona that year as well. I had that bit more belief and a bit of confidence grew back.
“In 2015 we had a good year, but it was on the way home from one of our losses that I went on the batter again.
“I woke up the next day and I was like ‘Right, I’m done. That’s it’ I had had enough of that. And it’s been incredible ever since.
“Today I’m not an alcohol-basher. I love people going out and having a good time. I love it and I’m well able to do that. I just don’t need a pint in my hand.
“I did my knee again in 2016 playing with Dublin against Derry. I was in goal that day and Shane brought me out.
“We needed to beat Derry by 26 points to progress and at halftime he brought me out and I scored a goal and then I did my knee. I didn’t really think it was that bad at the time and I played on for the rest of the half.
“The last score of the game I got a goal and we were 23 points up, but the final whistle blew and it was then I said to the physio ‘I think we’re in trouble here.’ The left cruciate had been done again.
“When I did actually get back playing in 2018 I had an absolute ‘mare of a year and my confidence hit rock bottom.
“My mother also had emergency surgery that year and so family became very important very quickly.
“I got about 20 minutes in the All-Ireland quarter final and we were hammered by Galway, but it was nice to get on and I was very proud after doing three cruciates and having three cartilage operations to get on the pitch.
“I lost a nephew to suicide in 2019. That was horrific. It was very rough and words just can’t describe the pain that’s left, but he actually gives me inspiration now when I’m doing my work out because he was into it himself. I have his little memory card on mantelpiece.
“I still love playing and I take every day and every session as a bonus because you just don’t know when your next injury will be and when it could all end.
“So I’ll play for as long as I can and as long as I’m enjoying it I’ll keep playing. Training has been going well since we got back and the knee is holding up.
“It’s really positive for me as well because I get to see my nieces and nephews.
“When I think of what we’ve been through as a family, now when I lose, it’s not such a big deal.
“I’ve had massive influences in my house growing up, and mentors and managers throughout the years have shaped the player that I am.
“When we get talking about it and reminiscing, that’s nice and I can see that I was good at it. I was also very passionate about it and I wanted to be better all the time.
“I was lucky that I had people around me to scaffold that and keep my feet on the ground.
“I’ve had amazing experiences and I’ve done a lot of amazing things, but, with regard to sport, I probably look back and feel I left a lot behind.
“I still enjoy playing, this year more than ever probably, and what I say is, ‘Play it, enjoy it and don’t get bogged down if you have a bad day’”.