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Ashling Thompson of Cork in action against Siobhan McGrath of Galway. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Ashling Thompson of Cork in action against Siobhan McGrath of Galway. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
SOCIAL BOOKMARKS

Ashling Thompson is a Rebel role model for doing things her way while still delivering on the pitch

ASHLING THOMPSON has always done things her way.

She has put the rebel into Rebel.

Her arms are comic-book panel explosions of tattoos and her nose is pierced. She has jet-black hair and a style you don’t associate with traditional camogie.

She hurls with the same colour, swagger and self belief. Fast and furious off the ball, precision passing when in possession.

Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane
Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

Thompson broke barriers back in 2014 with her frank interviews on mental health. Ireland has become more open on the topic of depression in recent years and there’s no doubt she was at the forefront of this.

In the NBA last month basketball stars Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozen went public with their struggles off the court and have been lauded for their honesty. Thompson was able to open up about her difficulties four years ago, coming in the wake of Cloyne’s Conor Cusack leading the way in 2013.

Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Unquestionably it gave her a massive profile, making her the most famous camogie player in the country aside from another former Rebel, Anna Geary. She has sponsorship deals with Red Bull and Puma and has chatted to Ryan Tubridy and Ray Darcy on prime-time TV.

The key is she has walked the walk as well as talking the talk. In the modern era Thompson has four counties, four Munster titles and three All-Irelands with her club Milford, three All-Irelands with Cork – one as captain – and two All-Stars.

Milford players Elaine O'Riordan, Orlaith O'Mahony, Ashling Thompson and Anna Geary. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Milford players Elaine O'Riordan, Orlaith O'Mahony, Ashling Thompson and Anna Geary. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

When the chips are down Thompson delivers. Though primarily an all-action midfielder – she can offer a bit of Michael Fennelly-esque toughness to go with her Daniel Kearney-style dynamism – she’s also adept at number six. In the big games, especially Kilkenny, she’s often at her best which is about the biggest compliment you can pay any player.

Her fascinating career is documented superbly on Wednesday on TG4 as she features in the 16th series of the brilliant Laochra Gael show. The new hour-long format has been terrific so far, with Lar Corbett and Graham Geraghty covered to date, and Henry Shefflin and Mickey Harte to come.

Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Dubbed the ‘Warrior Woman’, Thompson is just the second female Leesider to appear after ladies football legend Juliet Murphy and the 17th Corkonian overall. It’s a genuine honour when you reflect on the Rebels who TG4 have worked with.

Hurlers Con Murphy, Justin McCarthy, Tomás Mulachy, Donal Óg Cusack and Gerald McCarthy have appeared, as well as footballers Billy Morgan and Larry Tompkins.

Then you have the dual players – emphasising Cork’s tradition in that regard – Jack Lynch, Dinny Allen (who lined out for the Cork hurlers in the mid-70s), Ray Cummins, Teddy McCarthy, Jimmy Barry-Murphy, Brian Corcoran, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín and John Allen.

The only pity is the longer format wasn’t an option for some of those iconic figures. The truncated approach used previously meant players’ careers were often reduced to highlight reels.

As the press release for Wednesday’s episode explains, Thompson details: ‘The highs and lows as well as the struggle to maintain professional standards in an apparently amateur sport.

‘She also speaks about how her camogie bruises affected her brief career as a fashion model, mental health advocacy, sledging, referees, the challenges faced by a top female sports star, and her Red Bull colleague Joe Canning.’

Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Her sporting brilliance is there too, but dovetailed with her life, particularly the way former Milford manager Frankie Flannery ensured she emerged from a dark time as a stronger person while also excelling on the camogie pitch.

This is a golden age for Cork’s female GAA stars.

Rena Buckley taking on the Dubs. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Rena Buckley taking on the Dubs. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley are on a par with Jack Lynch, Teddy Mac and JBM as the greatest dual aces the county has produced.

Gemma O’Connor is the best Rebel centre-back since 2000, hurling, camogie, men’s or ladies football. Juliet Murphy, Valerie Mulcahy, Aoife Murray, Bríd Stack and Angela Walsh, like Thompson are absolute warriors.

Anna Geary called time on her playing career too soon – she was just 27 in 2015 – but in switching into a career in media and television, she’s done an incredible job promoting camogie.

Anna Geary and Kai Widdrington dancing a Tango to ‘Rebel Rebel ‘by David Bowie. Picture: kobpix
Anna Geary and Kai Widdrington dancing a Tango to ‘Rebel Rebel ‘by David Bowie. Picture: kobpix

Geary, Thompson and more have shown you can be glamorous and an elite player. That’s an important message to send to young girls when the drop-off rates among teenagers are especially high in female sport.

Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

It’s one of the reasons last weekend’s spat between UCC’s ladies footballers and the Cork camogie team was so disappointing. Hannah Looney, Meabh Cahalane and Libby Coppinger were caught in the crossfire as the College had an O’Connor Cup semi-final on Saturday, with a possible final the day after, while Cork hosted Limerick in the league semi-final on Sunday.

Looney and Cahalane sat out UCC’s loss, with Coppinger, who also plays senior ladies football with Cork, starting. She subsequently did not feature for the Cork camogie team in their win over Limerick.

UCC boss Shane Ronayne and Cork manager Paudie Murray went back and forth in apportioning blame, but whoever is at fault, the players should not have been put in this position. The sooner the camogie and ladies football associations are amalgamated the better.