Mourneabbey's O'Callaghan is an unsung hero at the heart of the Cork team

Midfielder puts in the hard yards for ladies footballers
Mourneabbey's O'Callaghan is an unsung hero at the heart of the Cork team

Galway's Sarah Lynch and Maire O'Callaghan of Cork battle it out in the TG4 All-Ireland ladies football semi-final at Croke Park. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

WHEN it comes to picking the side for the TG4 All-Ireland ladies senior football final then one of the names sure to be on the list is Máire O'Callaghan.

She may not be the most vocal player on the pitch, but the Mourneabbey star is a key member of the Cork side.

Maire is one of the top midfielders in the country, ask any of her opponents and they will tell you they never fancy coming up against her, be it county or club.

You can find her back in defence one minute and seconds later up front helping set up an attack. Tenacious in the tackle and well able to drive forward with pace Máire is the type of player that all managers dream about having in their side.

Like all her team-mates Máire is looking forward to the final and, as she said, wishes she could fast-forward to the throw-in – even bypassing the warm-up.

Reflecting on the year and final Máire said: “Early in the year we thought this would be a pipe dream and it's a bonus to be getting to play inter-county. To get to play with the club was fantastic and this on top of it now is great.

“We never thought we would get to be playing football in December so hopefully Christmas will come a few days early for us.

“We play because we love it and as the year went on we wanted to get as much out of it as we could and I don't mind playing at this time of the year. The odd time you would be coming out to training and it might be lashing and you might want to be somewhere else.

“But you know you have to put it in to be right for match day, where we all want to be involved. There were a few points during the year when I thought there wouldn't be any games and the focus switched to 2021 and what that might bring.

“It was great when the hope came that the championship might go ahead and then when restrictions were lifted the first time it became apparent that we might get the chance to play and that was fantastic.

“In some ways, it feels like two years in one and when training resumed we were joking we had to remember who joined the panel this year such was the break in the season. 

Cork's Maire O'Callaghan and Jo Hanna Maher of Westmeath in action. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane
Cork's Maire O'Callaghan and Jo Hanna Maher of Westmeath in action. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

One of the factors that has changed is the protocols around matchday, including sides only being allowed in dressing rooms for 14 minutes before games, something Máire says they have gotten used to now.

“I think we have become used to it at this stage and Michelle, our strength and condition coach, has it sorted for us. 

She pays attention to every detail, even down to arriving with your shorts and socks on under your tracksuit so that we are getting the best out of the time in the dressing room.

“All these small things add up and it gives a sense of not being rushed in there and such is her preparation we have actually practiced it here (Cloughduv where they are training). It was an adjustment but this work has helped us in that regard.”

This type of preparation certainly helped them in the semi-final when at short notice the game was switched from Parnell Park to Croke Park, with the throw-in brought forward by 30 minutes.

“We panicked for about 30 seconds about the change of time in particular, then reset and just got on with it and thankfully managed to win.”

One thing that was noticeable in that game was the change of boots and slightly unusual for Máire she wore a 'flashy' white pair.

Laughing about this she said: “I'm getting a lot of stick about them with the girls slagging me saying they are very flashy for a midfielder. I don't know what it was but I got a notion a few weeks ago. My studs needed an upgrade for the winter conditions so I got them and haven't heard the end of it since.

“The slagging got worse after the Galway game when a rare event happened as I scored a point so they won't let me change them now for the final after that!”

THE DUBS

Looking at Dublin she said: “They are a super outfit and have been the team to beat for the last number of years. They are going for four-in-a-row which is a magnificent achievement and they will be formidable opponents.

“But we have to focus on ourselves and getting our game right and hope we come out on the right side of the result,” concluded Máire.

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