ON SUNDAY week last Cork took on Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park.
Most are aware at this stage of the PR disaster that game was for the Ladies Gaelic Football Association, with the change of venue from the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick to Parnell Park during the previous week.
Then a frozen pitch at Parnell Park meant a late switch to Croke Park to ensure the game went ahead. All the changes didn’t suit either side but at the end of the hour, Cork emerged as winners and are now days away from taking on Dublin in the final back at Croker.
The stadium was eerily quiet for the semi-final with the two squads joined by a few stewards and members of the press.
But what it allowed for was those few people watching the opportunity to hear a lot of what was being said on the pitch.
Standing between the posts for Cork is Martina O’Brien, one of the top keepers ever to have played the game, and a huge reason that the Rebels have enjoyed success over the years.
Since making her debut in 2013 against Clare, Martina has gone on to win four senior All-Ireland medals and six league titles with Cork.
This has been a great year so far for Martina having won county medals with Clonakilty and West Cork and is still in with a chance of Munster success with the former.
Being in an empty stadium gives you the opportunity to show just how involved Martina is in the game and her constant words of encouragement to those in front of her.
She commands the backline from goal, letting players know where they should be and is a superb reader of the game, anticipating moves before they even happen.
She certainly isn’t the quietest player on the pitch but the visibility she has from being the keeper gives her the opportunity to let all in front of her know what’s going on. And when someone like Martina speaks others listen.
On Sunday she will be hoping to add to her medal haul as Martina is well aware that they are hard-won, with Cork’s last success coming in 2016.
“It’s been a funny year from start to finish, and a successful one with the club which has been great.
“We have been very lucky to get to play with the club and the county this year. In some ways, it was a bonus as people that might have headed away couldn’t so we had full squads to choose from.
“I suppose at the start, like everybody, we thought we would be back after a few weeks but then as it went on I honestly thought we might not have any games this year.
“Even when we came back in September it was still hard to see how they were going to run games logistically with players having to travel to games on their own, but in fairness, they have done it very well.
“It has been a very safe environment and the same in training it’s very much the same. Everybody abides by the rules and even though there are rules it still gives you the opportunity to forget about the pandemic.”
Looking at the games so far Martina feels they have built momentum as they have gone along.
“Kerry was always going to be a tough game to start with and it was 50/50 for much of it and we were probably a bit nervous that day. But I think we improved in the second half and managed to win.
“Cavan was another tough one and it took us some time before we managed to break them down. We were learning from those games and bringing it back to training to work on.
“Before the Galway game we had three weeks of good training and the competition in those sessions was intense and it gave management a difficult job to pick the team and panel.
“Now we have Dublin, the title holders, and we are well aware of the job ahead. But all we can do is really put it in at training and prepare as best we can for them.”
Speaking about her involvement in the games Martina said she has found out she “doesn’t shout but screeches.”
“We have great communication all over the pitch and with the lack of crowds it has been made easier to get messages across, be it from the sideline or from the different lines on the pitch.
“I give a few roars to help out and maybe my screeches might help, but it has to be in a controlled manner. I do also find it keeps me in the game and I won’t switch off by keeping myself involved like this.
“I do find it helps and the girls like to know who is around them and hopefully it will be a help on Sunday.”
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