Gemma O'Connor: I can't turn on my knee so I'm out for the All-Ireland final

Gemma O'Connor: I can't turn on my knee so I'm out for the All-Ireland final
Gemma O'Connor surges forward during the league match in Kilkenny. Picture: Pat Moore.

CORK Camogie supporters received the worst possible news just over two weeks ago when it was announced that Gemma O’Connor would miss this year’s All-Ireland senior camogie final.

Moving towards the twilight of an incredible career, it was a massive blow both to Gemma personally and to the team.

To say she’s gutted is an understatement.

“I’ve been very lucky over my career with regards injuries and then this happens in the All-Ireland semi-final,” Gemma O’Connor said.

Cork’s Gemma O'Connor tackles Galway’s Ann Marie Starr. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry
Cork’s Gemma O'Connor tackles Galway’s Ann Marie Starr. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

“It wasn’t as if I was running and tore something, it was just a freak. Two players fell and one ran into the side of my leg and I heard a small pop in my knee.

“Sometimes when that happens they say that it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something serious, but for me it was.

“That weekend, I was staying in Limerick after the game as I was going to a wedding in the Aran Islands the following day.

“That Saturday night by myself, I had an awful night. I was devastated. I didn’t get to sleep until about 3am and I was up at eight. I didn’t know whether to go back to Cork or not.

“I was ok to drive as it was okay to press down and up but it was left to right, my knee movement, that was sore.

“I got onto a friend of mine who said that there was a very good clinic in Galway where they’d do the MRI and give you the results straight away.

“So, I went up and they did it there and then. It’s a grade two tear on my medial ligament and I suppose playing at that high level really, being able to try and come back and perform is the problem.

“It’s very uncomfortable running in a straight line and I can’t turn on it so I’m out for the final. In the morning, it’s difficult to even get down the stairs.

“When it happened, I played on for about five or 10 minutes to see if I could run it off but I had no power in my knee so I was putting myself in more jeopardy as well as the team.

“It’s a disaster, the semi-final of an All-Ireland. I just couldn’t believe it. And this year... I suppose during the last few years, after my mam (passed away), I was going back in April, nearly May and my mind was all over the place.

“Whereas this year, I went back at the start of January fresh and determined to give it a real go and then this happens.

“I was like, ‘come on, give me a break’. And especially when it’s not as if I’ve 10 years left and I’ll be honest, I don’t know if it’s my last year or not, but I know it’s sooner rather than later.”

Looking back at last year’s final, at Kilkenny’s game plan and the defeat, Gemma reflects on that loss.

“It was very hard to pinpoint what went wrong because we never got fully going and you know when you play in finals sometimes when a team is finding it hard to get going with the first few balls you’re feeling there’s something wrong. No matter how hard to try to maintain that positivity it just wasn’t going right for us and from my own point of view at centre-back the ball came down the centre just three times.

“What I always try to do, as I know they’re going to try and keep it away from the centre and feed the channels, I just try to feed off loose ball or read and intercept the ball.

“I said to Paudie afterwards that I was hardly on the ball.

“But I had something like 13 possessions and while that wasn’t the highest I still had an influence in the game but not as I’d have hoped.

“Kilkenny were very smart in their approach.”

Referring to Kilkenny’s defensive style Gemma states: “Ann Dalton sits back on the ‘D’ and someone else will fall back into the centre. It crowds it out.

“It’s crazy now. Before you’d go out and if you were hungry enough and won your dual battle you’d be fine.

“It’s all tactics now and trying to outdo each other tactically. Sometimes it can have a negative effect on your game.

“You want to go out and play the best you can but maybe it takes away that individual performance because you have a role for the team.”

Gemma’s right but I put it to her that if you work extremely hard on one plan you rarely have another to switch to mid battle because you have worked so hard in training on perfecting your game plan, that you’re programmed to it?

“Yeah, and that’s where individuals then try to step up and do something different and grab hold of the game,” she says.

It was a difficult afternoon this time 12 months ago for Gemma. Not only were Cork on the backfoot entering the final minutes of the game but she was sent off for a second yellow.

How did that make her feel?

“I thought about it for a while. Maybe the first yellow card, I can understand that.

“I thought it was our free and Denise Gaule had the ball so I went to knock it out of her hand.

“But the second one, they were impeding my run and all I did was shove a player out of the way, the ball was up in the other half of the pitch and the Kilkenny players ran to the ref’s ear.

“He didn’t even see it, just gave me a second yellow. At that stage, I had been brought out centre field and we were pushing forward but they were cynical, stopping my runs and getting into my head. I got sent off but I didn’t think it was a major incident.

“Look, I know sometimes when I go out to play, I’m a target but what I learned from last year was not to react as much.

“I remember the Wexford game in Páirc Uí Rinn this year, I never came across anything so bad as that day. I got no protection from the referee that day and that’s what frustrates me.”

Looking ahead to this Sunday’s final, Gemma feels that Cork are ready.

“We need an arrogance about us. It’s something we’ve lacked over the years. In the days when Tipperary were beating us, it was arrogance that did it for them.

“I think it’s been one of our downfalls over the years where we couldn’t continue our success.

“We didn’t have that bit of cockiness. I don’t know why. Was it that we were too nice, that we didn’t want to appear too big for our boots?

“But we need to have it on Sunday.”

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