FORMER Cork camogie star Jennifer O’Leary has come out of inter-county retirement to play with Armagh this season.
O'Leary who won four All-Ireland senior medals with the Rebels and eight All-Star awards initially retired from inter-county camogie after helping Cork win the All-Ireland title in 2014. O'Leary, who now lives in Armagh, is enjoying playing inter-county once again.
“I am really enjoying the training and the challenge playing with the county poses. There is a fantastic panel of players on board, a mixture of young and emerging talent and more experienced players. The training itself is intense but short and snappy. We have a good management team, so I am delighted to come on board this year."
The talented camogie player said she made the decision back in February to come back to play inter-county camogie as she wanted ‘another challenge’.
“I was following the progress of the county team last year. Mattie Lennon was their manager and he got people to train hard and it made me think about coming on board. I was pregnant with my son Tiernan last year, so I waited to see how I felt earlier this year before making any decision.
"I wanted another challenge. Playing camogie is a joy and something I really get a kick out of. I love training and improving, so all these things led me to this decision. I am glad I decided to take the plunge in February.”
O'Leary made her competitive debut for the Orchard County in recent weeks against Down. The modest star has operated in both the full forward and half-forward line for her newly adopted county.
“I have been training over the past few months with Armagh, but I have not played many games yet. I missed the league campaign as I was waiting for my transfer to come through. I played in the Ulster Intermediate semi-final recently and we won well against Down’s second team.
"I played in the full-forward position in the first half and moved out to half-forward in the second. I was happy enough but there are always things to improve on. Hopefully, I will get there with the team.”
The 38-year-old who moved to Armagh in 2013 said there is a huge love of camogie in Armagh and the team has targeted reaching Croke Park at the end of the campaign.
“There is a great bunch of girls on the panel, and they are all willing to train hard. We have one focus this year and that is to reach top performance. If we do that, we hope to climb the steps in Croke Park at the end of our season.
"Our aim for the county team is to get to a Junior All-Ireland final and win. Enjoying the process is also one of the most important things for me.
“Ever since I moved here in 2013 there have always been passionate camogie players in every club, trying to improve and drive things on. They are camogie mad in Armagh. I guess that is one of the reasons why I settled so well into a new place, a new home.
"Camogie is strong and improving all the time. For years there were only two clubs contesting a county championship. Now you have about four or five teams who could pull it out of the bag every year."
The former Barryroe player is now playing her club camogie with Middletown following her move to Armagh back in 2013 She said the felt an instant connection with her new home due to the strong GAA presence in the local community.
“I moved to Armagh in 2013 and married in July 2014. My husband Paul grew up here and his family is only a few kilometres from us. We have two children, Lauren who turned two last December, and Tiernan who is nine months.
"I play camogie with three of Paul’s sisters. It’s a lovely place to live as the community is very welcoming and looks out for each other.
"There are strong GAA teams in the community too so instantly I felt a connection to the place. Middletown is a fantastic club to play for.
"We have contested many senior finals over the years. We are currently building again but still have a strong cohort of players.”
Her last competitive appearance for Cork was in the 2014 All-Ireland final against Kilkenny. Jennifer played a key role in their six-point win, as she netted one of the goals.
She said the pace of the inter-county game has increased since then.
“I think the inter0county game has got quicker. I feel the game has gone from strength to strength. When I go to cheer on the Cork senior team now on All-Ireland final day the pace is just phenomenal.
"It’s like a professional sport to watch. The time and effort these players put into their camogie training, gym, mindset, and nutrition is admirable.
"I feel the speed and strength of the players have also certainly improved. I know I am no spring chicken anymore and I must be a bit smarter about how and when I train.
"I am keeping up with my team-mates at the moment and hopefully, I will bring something to the table to make our team gel and perform even better. I am also learning from others which is always good.”