The big interview: Amy O'Connor on club versus county, Páirc life and playing soccer for Ireland

Cork and St Vincent's camogie star is a Littlewoods Ireland ambassador for 2021
The big interview: Amy O'Connor on club versus county, Páirc life and playing soccer for Ireland

Cork's Amy O'Connor celebrates the first of her two goals against Clare last season at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

THE new Littlewoods Camogie League campaign was launched under the tagline Style and Substance and in Amy O'Connor they have the ideal ambassador.

A skillful, quick and goal-hungry forward on the pitch, the northsider is an intelligent, bubbly and positive presence off it, always representing her club St Vincent's and Cork with class.

It's why the recent controversy as the Camogie Association looked to run the club competitions in between the league and inter-county championships was so frustrating. O'Connor, like her Rebel team-mates, cares is as passionate about club and as they are county.

The key problem on Leeside was that if camogie chiefs stuck to their proposed different format to ladies football, dual operators would be squeezed out.

"The club v county thing should never have come into it because we're all club players who are lucky enough to be inter-county players as well. 

"Club versus county was never the intention. In Cork, we made our feelings clear from the beginning. The biggest issue in Cork would have been the dual players. They're stars for their camogie club but they're stars for their ladies football clubs as well. If you're inter-county in one the chances are you're going to be a good club player in the other code. The scenario wouldn't have allowed for that, so we were glad it was resolved.

We all just wanted to be back, not dealing with any controversy off the pitch."

And for the camogie squad, that pitch is Páirc Uí Chaoimh, as Cork's more successful ladies teams are now getting more access to the marquee stadium and host Tipp in the league opener on Saturday afternoon.

"The One Cork initiative means all the senior inter-county teams get to play their home games in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and that's huge for female players. We played there in the past but not as frequently as the male teams, so we were delighted with that."

Of course, Paudie Murray's side were in the Páirc last November for the All-Ireland semi-final, where they coughed up a six-point advantage to eventual champions Kilkenny. It was a defeat that haunted O'Connor across the winter months.

"Usually you'd switch on to something else, even going back playing with your club team, but because the gap was so long, you couldn't help but think about it. We analysed it individually and as a group to see what can do going forward. We did look like we were going to win and were 1-3 to no score up at one stage. We should have won but we can only blame ourselves. That's not taking away from Kilkenny, they followed it up in the All-Ireland final."

Amy O'Connor is determined to get back to Croke Park with Cork. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Amy O'Connor is determined to get back to Croke Park with Cork. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

While they were able to return to collective inter-county training in April, Cork players had a tailored conditioning programme in February and March. Sensibly, explains O'Connor, it was more about individual responsibility than an overload of collective Zoom sessions.

"We'd great structure. Kevin Dunne came in as strength and conditioning coach and we've an app to check in on, with everyone's sessions tailored. Midfielders say would be doing more running and we're able to identify where we wanted to improve ourselves too.

"It gave us structure. I knew on a Tuesday say, I'd my running session, mobility on a Wednesday and so on. I was working from home so I was glad to have that training programme. 

"I found it much easier this time where in the first lockdown it was difficult to get motivated because we didn't know if there was only going to a championship.

"We were all Zoomed out of it, so it was a good call by the management not to do that. We met online as a group a few times when it got closer to coming back training properly but we took a step back in a way."

Communication is at the heart of her working life too. Qualified as a pharmacist, she is now employed by Workvivo, a growing software company that helps organisations improve their employee culture and connectivity.

"John Goulding and Joe Lennon founded the company and I started with them last March, just before the pandemic so I've only had a few days in the office! It's a Cork company, John is originally from St Vincent's and living in Ballincollig so they're great to work for. The GAA is known for those connections through your club."

As well as operating as their lethal weapon up front, she's very active across the St Vincent's club, helping out any age group she can. They remain on a mission to collect the Junior A title, with Cork U20 manager Keith Ricken helping in the background for 2021.

"Last year we were playing against Tracton and I got knocked out and I wasn't able to play so it was a total disaster for us. Every year you'd say we should be giving it a right go but it hasn't worked out so far. It's not for want of trying, we'd had some exceptional management teams and people involved and we have the players... Winning counties is very difficult. 

They say junior is the hardest to get out of and I can definitely vouch for that."

Clare Shine celebrates after scoring with Amy O'Connor and Katie McCabe. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE
Clare Shine celebrates after scoring with Amy O'Connor and Katie McCabe. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

Camogie is her passion, but as a teen she was a superb ladies footballer and soccer player to boot. Indeed, having first togged out for Templed United's boys teams, and then shining for Wilton, she helped the Ireland U19s make the European semi-finals in Norway seven years ago.
There was no shortage of brilliant ballers in her age group and the one above. 

"Katie McCabe and Clare Shine were a year older than me and were very prominent. Still are. Megan Connolly was around too and I think she's the most underrated player. She doesn't get the credit she deserves.

"Denise [O'Sullivan] is a few years older than me and I was lucky enough to play with her when I was U14. She's flying. Such a talent. 

"Sarah Rowe went on to become a successful ladies football and in Aussie Rules. I was lucky with the players involved and to get to go the Euros with them is a special memory."

She still follows soccer, the local women's scene and the Premier League.

  • Littlewoods Ireland is 100% Committed to Camogie. New research conducted by Littlewoods Ireland reveals 89% of the population cannot name a current Camogie player, but Littlewoods Ireland is determined to change that. 
  • Littlewoods Ireland and the Camogie Association will be live streaming a number of games throughout the Leagues for free across @LWI_GAA Twitter. #StyleOfPlay

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