REALITY has set back in for the Cork camogie team after the high of All-Ireland glory in Croke Park, but it’s the blissful kind, where you have a spring in your step getting out of bed every morning.
They’ve returned from an epic summer to their normal jobs and college life, Rebel red superhero capes tucked away for the coming months, but with a short winter ahead. That’s what victory on Jones Road does for a player.
Amy O’Connor says she’s certainly still got a smile on her face even as she knuckles down to her final year studying pharmacy at UCC. Though she’s one of the younger members of the squad, at 21, she’s experienced enough to appreciate how special it was to beat Kilkenny by a point in a such a dramatic finale.
“It’s actually my third All-Ireland, because I came into the panel when I was still a minor, but it’s the best by a mile. I think that’s because, obviously it was against Kilkenny and they beat us last year, but the work that we put in all year. We changed a few things around this time and just made a massive effort.”
Manager Paudie Murray brought some new faces on board, including his brother Kevin, Cork All-Ireland winner in 1999, to do a share of the coaching, plus Martin O’Brien and Liam O’Reilly for the strength and conditioning and preseason grind.
“They brought a bit of freshness, but they did a huge amount of work with us individually too. Kevin did a lot with me on my striking, to get a cleaner strike and not to scoop the sliotar as much. I think a lot of camogie forwards have that problem.
“Martin would have you feeling like you’re as good as Henry Shefflin after talking to him. He’s a real character, same as Liam.
“We did a lot of sprinting work earlier in the year and even though I’ve always thought of myself as being very fast, I was definitely quicker than ever this season.”
That translated into the consummate team performance Sunday week ago, which the Rebels’ collective will to win, clever teamwork, and composure in the dying minutes saw off hot favourites Kilkenny, who had denied them a memorable three in a row a year earlier.
“There was a bit of ‘revenge’ involved all right, but I think it was more about proving ourselves because we had just played so badly in 2016. Like, apart from Orla Cotter I don’t think anyone did themselves justice in that final, you could have taken anyone else off.
“It was a long winter afterwards anyway. It was months of feeling awful about it.”
After letting that clash with the Cats pass her by, O’Connor made a vow with another young gun, Orla Cronin, before they headed out on the hallowed turf on September 10.
“We were saying we have to touch the ball this time. We were laughing and joking about how we didn’t get a touch the year before — but it was no laughing matter then!
“We said to ourselves we’d make sure to get involved, get on the ball, and go for it.”
Cronin ended up as the official Player of the Match with a haul of 0-3 from centre-forward while curbing Kilkenny centre-back Ann Dalton for long spells, while O’Connor was electric in the opening period, clipping over two sweets points from play. Add it Katrina Mackey’s point from the other wing and the half-forward line shot six of Cork’s 0-10.
The northsider was viewed as a goalscorer when she broke through to the set-up, but enjoyed the space being further out this time.
“My favourite position is corner-forward all right, but in the modern inter-county game there’s not much ball coming inside. In GAA if a game isn’t going well the corner-forward is usually the first player off!
“At the start of the league I went out to wing-forward and that gives you a chance to run from deeper and use your pace more. Myself and Katrina were playing deeper again in the earlier rounds but the plan for the final was for the wing-forwards to space up. There was less of the donkey work and more opportunities to get scores.”
To do that at Croke Park was the ultimate. It was something O’Connor watched Jenny O’Leary, Gemma O’Connor, and Ben O’Connor do when she was growing up.
“Jenny O’Leary was one of the most skillful Cork players ever. And so nice off the field as well. I know I’m nothing like Gemma as a player but she’s the ultimate for me. I always enjoyed watching Ben O’Connor for the Cork hurlers. The touch and finishing...”
She’ll need a bit of that herself before the year is over. Her club St Vincent’s have a huge northside derby against Na Piarsaigh coming up on October 8. They’ve been beaten by their rivals in the past two seasons and, along with Lauren Homan who came on against Kilkenny, she’d love to repay the club’s faith in her.
“They were sending buses all over the country to support myself and Lauren. The effort and time that goes in up in Vincent’s is amazing. We owe them.”
Cork’s top scorers 2017:
- 1. Orla Cotter 1-31 (0-19 f).
- 2. Katrina Mackey 1-19.
- 3. Orla Cronin 0-14.
- 4. Amy O’Connor 0-11.
- 5. Hannah Looney 2-3.
- 6. Ashling Thompson 0-8.
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