CORK goalkeeper Aoife Murray has hailed the efforts of Cork’s two injury-time heroes to even make it onto Croke Park for Sunday's Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie Final.
Match winner Julia White ruptured her Achilles tendon last year and then broke her foot in April, and had played little camogie at club or county level in the past two seasons.
Meanwhile, Gemma O’Connor, who sent over a raking equaliser just as regulation time concluded, was in doubt right up to the final whistle, although the rumour mill had it that the St Finbarr’s talisman would be starting despite not being named in the team.
Murray roomed with O’Connor the night before and even taped her knee in solidarity with her long-time teammate
“She did the training on Thursday and she was moving quite well so we all kind of presumed that she was gonna start but we didn’t know would it be 10 minutes? Would it be 15 minutes? But we all felt if there was one player or one teammate that should get the honour of doing the march and starting that match it would be Gemma and I think we were all very happy to give her whatever she needed.
“When you see the work that she’s put in over the last three weeks… Just seeing her tog out was an absolute inspiration.
“Listen, Gemma’s phenomenal.”
White is probably the polar opposite to O’Connor in terms of steely-eyed focus before a game. Her nature has helped her deal with plenty of setbacks, even if the fractured foot this year did test her resolve, coming so soon after going through the mill to get back from a potentially career-threatening injury.
“When I saw Julia come on I was pretty confident a bit of space would open up because of her speed. I’m so thrilled for her, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer girl.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less from her. Julia is just calm. There’s not ups or downs with Julia. She’s just really relaxed the whole time. You’d worry at times, wondering ‘Is she clued in here?’ Then one touch and she’s gone and you’re going ‘Fair enough.’
“I’m delighted for her and it just shows all her hard work because it was a pretty horrific injury. Anybody that’s had an Achilles will tell you it’s very hard to come back. She’s had another couple of knocks this year. It just goes to show any kids out there looking at this, the fact that she was a sub, to come on and do that in the 66th minute, she’s an absolute hero.”
Murray was the epitome of perpetual motion between the posts, a jack-in-the-box constantly pumping her fists, leaping in the air and issuing rallying cries to those in front of her. Being goalie can be tough, with few chances to crash into opposition bodies to release the tension and pent-up fury, but Cork had resolved to not just mean business, but to display that in their body language at every opportunity.
“You use as much energy as everyone else, but we agreed we needed to show a bit of passion, that last September we didn’t show that passion. That annoyed us to a certain extent. It wasn’t losing because there’s always a winner and a loser.
“I looked at the clock after Julia scored and thought, ‘Jesus, when did that happen’, where did the six minutes go. We wanted to give it a go and if we lost at least we’d hold our heads up going back to Cork.”
Her final word was for the skipper Rena Buckley, who has won every major inter-county medal in both codes with Cork from underage upwards, as well as all the ones at club level apart from an All-Ireland in camogie, getting close when Inniscarra reached the final in 2011.
On Sunday, the 30-year-old Buckley was bagging a record 18th All-Ireland Senior medal for the Rebels and her seventh in Camogie. She became the first person of either gender in Gaelic games history to captain her native county to All-Ireland glory – Mary Geaney was the trailblazer with an even more unique feat of leading Kerry to football success in 1975 before repeating the feat with the Cork Camogie team five years later – and gave her victory speech entirely in ár dteanga dúchais.
“She’s gas, so unassuming, that she’ll probably be embarrassed people will be saying that about her.
“That’s Rena. She doesn’t roar and shout, she’s very calm, but what she says she means, and that probably hits people more than me roaring and shouting.
"She’s completely honest on and off the pitch. What else would you want from a captain?”