Linda Mellerick: Gemma was a great player but an even better teammate and person.

Linda Mellerick: Gemma was a great player but an even better teammate and person.

Cork's Gemma O'Connor after the defeat to Kilkenny in the Liberty Insurance All Ireland senior camogie championship Semi- final at Pairc Ui Chaoimh

IT'S the end of a magnificent era as Gemma O’Connor retired from inter-county camogie during the week. 

In the red and white jersey, we’ll miss her tremendous leadership, her versatility, her athleticism, her work rate, tough defending, and wonderful scores. 

We’ll never forget her magnificent long distance equaliser in the 2017 final in the closing minutes before Julia White popped up with the injury time winner to defeat Kilkenny. 

We’ll still see Gemma in action during the club championship as she’ll continue to play for St Finbarr's and hopes that they can push on from their semi-final position in 2020.

"It was a tough decision. I never even want to say the words that I’m not going back or I’m retiring," Gemma said. 

"I never envisaged myself saying it but I suppose the last year has been hard in that respect. 

"It was coming. I’m getting married on the 10th of July and obviously that’s a priority.

"With inter-county, work, my club and personal life I just don’t feel I have that energy anymore to juggle them all. 

"When you want to play inter-county camogie, you want to give it your all and you ask yourself if you’re mentally and physically up for it?

"I think I’ve spent so many years in the last five years, I suppose over all of my career, doubling, tripling, quadrupling jobbing and it just got a bit too hectic and I just thought look I need to ultimately make the decision and go with it.

"With another number of weeks lockdown, I’d have to train alone almost as a professional athlete. 

"I’m not in a position to relax a bit as I don’t have youth on my side. 

Cork's Gemma O'Connor with her parents Geraldine and Donal (right) celebrate the win over Kilkenny in the Liberty Insurance All Ireland camogie final at Croke Park
Cork's Gemma O'Connor with her parents Geraldine and Donal (right) celebrate the win over Kilkenny in the Liberty Insurance All Ireland camogie final at Croke Park

"Going out for a small run lately I’ve niggles and aches that I was fortunate enough never to have during my career but now I’m starting to feel all of that you do have to really go away and think. 

"It’s easier if you’re surrounded by a team and the support network to get you over the line when you get to the end stage of your career. 

"We’ve all found ourselves in these crazy times where we don’t have access to those things now.

"I think I just weighed up everything and went with the decision that I’ve been very fortunate in the last number of years. 

"I’ve had a wonderful career. I’ve played with magnificent players and had some wonderful managers. 

"I’ve had a great relationship with Paudie Murray and we’ve had some tremendous wins.

"I rang Paudie and thanked him. He’s brought camogie to a different standard with a professional set up. 

"Some of the players and the set up I’ve played with have been excellent. I’m finishing not really wanted for anything. 

"Of course, I’d love to have won another All-Ireland medal.

"I’d love to have 10 not 9 but If I had 10 I’d probably want 11 and that’s the way it’s always going to be. 

"When you play at the top level you always want more."

Has a weight been lifted now as it can be a long decision at times?

"I suppose I’m really emotional about it. I spent most of my day probably crying about certain things. 

"I’m happy that I’ve come to a decision. After the semi-final defeat last year in Páirc UI Chaoimh I was saying, ‘jeez could I leave on this note’ but I could be saying that forever."

Army Sergeant Gemma will be kept busy, involved in the vaccination roll out for the country when the call comes.

"That’s all very exciting too because at the end of the day that’s like the final phase of everything so you’re just hoping that we can get in there, get stuck in and help, however we need to help and get everyone vaccinated. 

"In terms of my retirement that will free me up a bit for that."

 Award winners from left: Phil Allen, Hall of Fame award, Sanita Puspure, Sport Star of the Year award for 2018 and Gemma O'Connor, Special Achievement award, at the 'Evening Echo' Ladies' Sports Star awards ceremony, at the Ambassador Hotel.
Award winners from left: Phil Allen, Hall of Fame award, Sanita Puspure, Sport Star of the Year award for 2018 and Gemma O'Connor, Special Achievement award, at the 'Evening Echo' Ladies' Sports Star awards ceremony, at the Ambassador Hotel.

Trying to pick out stand out moments is always hard but Gemma’s face breaks into a broad smile as she reflects on the 2017 and 2018 victories over Kilkenny by a point. 

"Just because of the manner in how we won them. They brought such joy. 

"To beat Kilkenny, those little moments of chance and then again the second year running to do it all over again. 

"It still makes me giddy and excited. It’s those close games where nobody wants to give each other an inch and it’s like you have that little chance or luck and you take it and it works out and it’s unbelievable.

"I’d like to also thank my club, Marian McCarthy and the county board for the wonderful support they have given me, my teammates and managements and I wish the girls every success for the future.

"I’d like to thank my family, my Dad Donal, my brother Glenn, my aunts and my partner Aoife. 

"We’ve had great times."

Gemma’s mother Ger was a constant at every game but sadly passed away in 2015. 

Geraldine was Gemma’s first mentor. 

She hailed from Glen Rovers and was keen to get Gemma enlisted with them. 

Gemma attended one training session but as the Glen’s grounds were too far away from their home in Ballyphehane she turned to St Finbarr's, her father club. 

Ger played a key role throughout Gemma’s career and they were exceptionally close. 

She’s smiling down at her daughter, proud of the wonderful career she had and even prouder of the wonderful person she is.

Lynda O'Connell and Gemma O'Connor, at the Cork Camogie Press Night at Cork Camogie Grounds, Ringmahon Road, Blackrock. /Picture: Cillian Kelly
Lynda O'Connell and Gemma O'Connor, at the Cork Camogie Press Night at Cork Camogie Grounds, Ringmahon Road, Blackrock. /Picture: Cillian Kelly

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