Success has not eroded Gemma’s hunger as she closes in on another All-Ireland medal

Success has not eroded Gemma’s hunger as she closes in on another All-Ireland medal
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

SHE has been there and done it all in terms of camogie achievements.

The game’s record All-Star holder, a winner of numerous All-Ireland titles and player of the match awards but for the 33-year-old St Finbarr’s star defender, the secret of her success with club and county is simple.

Hard work.

For Gemma O’Connor, it has always been about hard work both on and off the pitch. Work hard in every training session. Work hard in every game. Work hard off the pitch to ensure you are ready to play.

And never expect anything easy.

Cork may regularly appear in all Ireland finals but that is down to bloody hard work not a right of passage.

And right now Cork’s talented young camogie stars are helping Gemma keep in the best shape and form as much as she is helping them with all her experience.

It’s a perfect marriage. Gemma judges her ability to keep playing by trying to keep up with the young ones. They judge how ready they are for inter-county camogie by trying to beat Gemma in training.

It’s a win-win situation for Paudie Murray and Cork.

And one that Gemma hopes will end with another All-Ireland title on Sunday when Cork face Kilkenny in the final in Croke Park.

“To be in another final is superb,” said O’Connor.

Gemma signs the jersey of Ciara O'Driscoll, Enniskeane. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Gemma signs the jersey of Ciara O'Driscoll, Enniskeane. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

“It’s what you train for all year. I train hard so that I am able to play at the highest level and reach the ultimate goal of getting to an All-Ireland final. I don’t just want to get there, I want to win it.

“Getting another chance to win an All-Ireland title is something I don’t take for granted. As a team we are delighted to be back again. We always want to be in All-Ireland final not because we think we should be are deserve it because you deserve nothing in sport but because we work so hard to make sure we get there.

“This season has been great so far. Some people say it was easy for us but I disagree. Each game has its own difficulties and obstacles. We always have a different objective to achieve playing against each team. We just want to perform to our very best as a team. That’s all we can do and ask for in each player.

“I think we have played some good games and have produced some nice passages of hurling but we are by no means a finished product nor will we ever be.

“We have conceded more goals this year than in other years and the Offaly game is evidence of this. We are a bit looser in our play as a result of being more offensive. It’s something that we try to balance out. We certainly can’t afford to be as loose against Kilkenny.

“I expect Kilkenny to be very physical. They will try and smoother our defence to stop our attack from starting. They did this really well in 2016 when we lost to them.”

They will pack their own defence also to try and stop Cork’s forwards gaining momentum.

“Our forwards are not the biggest but they have serious pace behind them so Kilkenny will obviously try and counteract this. I would love the play to be a bit freer flowing but I would be surprised if this will happen.

“The middle third will be packed and freedom of movement will be limited. That’s why finals between us in the past have been low scoring. Each team won’t want to give anyone an inch.

“To be fair to Kilkenny they work extremely hard and love closing down players in packs. They have some very good players and are obviously a team that we respect. We just hope that we can bring another level this year to last year.

“Every year we have different strengths and weaknesses. So this year’s objectives, plans and plays are different to last year’s. That’s the way Paudie (Murray) operates. It’s not just him either it comes from all the stats we get from Niall Collins, then based on information we get from our performances we change our hurling training to suit our needs through our hurling coach Kevin Murray. 

"The same is applied when it comes to our fitness coach Martin O’Brien. His training is specific, applicable and essential to the game that we try to play. I have to say it’s all very positive.

“Basically, in a nutshell, it comes from the top down. If the management doesn’t work well together to get where we need to be then we will fall behind and it’s the same for us. We are giving all the tools necessary but it’s just us now that’s left to perform.

“I think the days of individuals winning games are long gone. If we don’t perform all together then we won’t win. That’s the bottom line. You can break it down into key areas of course but our key area is an overall majority in performance is the key area to win.”

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Winning an All-Ireland will be special for O’Connor however not having her mother Geraldine there is still something that O’Connor finds hard to cope with.

“I don’t think I will ever get over not having my mam around and I find it extremely hard to accept it. If it wasn’t for my mam I wouldn’t be playing at all. She taught me everything I know.

“However without her here, I have to get on with things because at the end of the day you have to get on in life, there is no choice in the matter. I do my best to play for her and the rest of my family.

“Every training session I would ring her either on the way to training or coming home from training and have the chats with her.

“She would be there at every club and county game whether hail or rain. So for her not to be around while I am still playing makes games sometimes emotional for me. It’s weird not having her by my side. After every club and county game the first people you look for are your loved ones. Not seeing her after games is hard.”

Retirement may have been on the cards in recent years for O’Connor but she is adamant that she has no final date for hanging up her boots just yet.

“Playing over the last few years I always get asked about retirement. I know I’m pushing on and being 33 certainly adds to the difficulty of playing and running after young ones on the pitch. To be honest I always think about retirement. Every year gets so much harder. The body doesn’t respond like it used to.

“I think my knee injury and starting back late didn’t help this year but to be fair I got back to where I needed to be. The players and management are great and it makes training really enjoyable.

“If I’m being honest, the girls I train with are some of the best players in the country. My standard is set by training extremely hard with them. If I can keep up with them than I can keep up with most players I come against. I train with the best to be the best I can be. However I just take each day and game as it comes and what will be will be.”

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