Echo Women in Sport award: Amy O'Connor delivers time and again

Deadly camogie forward was also a promising soccer player in her youth, as she explains to Rory Noonan
Echo Women in Sport award: Amy O'Connor delivers time and again

The Echo Women In Sport monthly winner Amy O'Connor is presented with her award by Rory Noonan, The Echo. Picture: Larry Cummins.

A COINCIDENCE and a tough decision were Cork camogie’s gain and soccer’s loss as Amy O’Connor picked the small ball over the big one.

For a number of years now she has been a star for both her county and club and for her recent display in the Munster final, amongst other games, she has been picked as the May winner of The Echo Women in Sport awards.

But it all could have been so different and just like her fellow northside star Roy Keane, we could easily have been saluting Amy for her displays with Arsenal or Chelsea or some other professional soccer side.

Amy started playing camogie fairly young and it was pure coincidence or random as she puts it that the St Vincent’s star picked up a hurley.

“My cousin started playing and his mum bought him all the gear and he quit after a few weeks,” said Amy, “She was talking to my mum Tracy and was telling her that she might have to just give the gear away.

“Before that, my dad Connie had bought me a hurley and we used to be pucking a ball on the green most evenings. He never played himself but we used to go out in the evening to have a puck around for fun. There was hardly a night of my young childhood that we were either out in the park or up at the pitch pucking a ball around.

 The Echo Women In Sport winner Amy O'Connor, Cork Camogie. Pic: Larry Cummins.
The Echo Women In Sport winner Amy O'Connor, Cork Camogie. Pic: Larry Cummins.

“I was doing a bit of dancing as well and I decided to join and my aunt gave me the gear and from the minute I started playing I just loved it. Then I woke up one morning and I said to my mum that I didn’t want to do dancing anymore and that I loved the camogie and wanted to concentrate on that.

“I was playing soccer too at the same time and I joined the boys’ team at Temple United as my grandfather (Felix Manning) was one of the founding members. 

I played away with them for a couple of years but then you get to an age where you can’t play with the boys anymore and I had to transfer to Wilton United when I was U14.”

Amy felt that playing against boys until then was a good thing and it helped to make her a better soccer and camogie player.

“I definitely think it helps alright, even there with Cork now you could pick out the girls that played with the boys when they were younger. I don’t think it’s as common anymore as there are more girls clubs available which is a good thing.

Wilton United's Amy O'Connor celebrates a goal with Ericka O'Sullivan against Peamount United. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Wilton United's Amy O'Connor celebrates a goal with Ericka O'Sullivan against Peamount United. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

“But I do think it does help you with fitness levels and being a bit more physical in games. Even with soccer, we used to play challenge matches against the boys teams because you come on a level. Last year with Cork we played a challenge match a lot of weeks against the U16 boys as they are just that bit faster and stronger and it brings you on.”

BREAKTHROUGH

Amy has enjoyed a lot of success over the years, just take one look at her list of achievements to see what a star she is.

She is a very proud St Vincent’s player and said it’s important for young players to see that clubs like hers can produce Cork players.

“Paddy O’Shea was the club’s only Cork player for a long time and then I made the breakthrough from underage all the way up and I think that’s important to show younger members that clubs like ours can produce inter-county players and you don’t have to move to other clubs to be seen. 

Cork's Amy O'Connor takes on Watefford's Mairead Power. Picture: Noel Browne
Cork's Amy O'Connor takes on Watefford's Mairead Power. Picture: Noel Browne

"A lot of them come to the Cork matches to see me, and the rest of the team, playing and I love that. I could be up the club then and they would ask you to sign their hurley. I’d say shear I have signed it already but they want you to do it again and that’s brilliant to see.

“But now we are seeing a lot of boys coming to games and they are asking us to sign their jerseys as well, that wouldn’t have happened before.

“I think that camogie is a bit of an untapped gem, we are only scratching the surface as far as I’m concerned and I think there is a lot more to come in the next few years. In some ways, the lockdown was a blessing for camogie as people didn’t have much to do so they might throw on the game.

“They then saw that Katrina Mackey hit the ball over the bar off her left side from 50 metres out or others as well who can do the same.”

Reflecting on her senior successes Amy said the one that stands out was 2017.

“We had lost in 2016 and we were trying to come back from that and I felt really involved with the win in 2017, so it stands out for me. The sheer joy at the final whistle is just a magical feeling.”

But days like that may not have happened if Amy hadn’t made the decision to give up soccer at U19 level, despite the fact she was an established underage international at that stage, with nine goals to her name between U17 and U19. By then she has played in a European Championship semi-final where they lost to Holland, but had victories over countries like Sweden and England to her name.

Twice in internationals against Sweden she was named Player of the Game and her success at soccer led to a scholarship to UCC for that, rather than camogie.

Eventually, she had to make the decision to give up one or the other and Amy picked camogie rather than soccer.

Reflecting on that decision Amy said: “Looking back on it at the time it seemed like one of the most difficult ones I ever had to make. But really it wasn’t because I loved camogie. When I was away all over the world playing soccer all I wanted to do was be at home either training or playing camogie. I always felt like I was missing out on this when I was playing soccer.

“At the time Declan Kidney was head of sport at UCC and I had to go see him to say I was giving up soccer and thinking this was so hard to have to tell him. But he said to me that I was so lucky to have two sports that wanted me to play with them.

Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE
Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

“But I have great memories of playing soccer and when you got player of the game you got a special pendant and it’s nice to have two of them at home. 

I look now at sides like Arsenal, Man City, and Chelsea and see some of the girls I played against with them. 

"But it was never for me, I was always into my education as well as camogie so it was never for me. I went to UCC and studied pharmacy and then I went on to the Royal College of Surgeons and did a Masters in Pharmacy for 18 months.”

Ironically after all that she now works for Workvivo, which has nothing to do with her studies.

“My poor mum and dad were traumatised when I told them I wasn’t going into pharmacy but I love what I do now, which is involved with internal communications within big companies. It was the best decision I ever made to join them.”

O’Connor is delighted with the way the season has gone so far for Cork and hopes that it will continue into August to see them lift the O’Duffy Cup at Croke Park. But she said no one is getting carried away and there is a long road ahead yet before they get there.

This season had seen Matt Twomey come in as manager and Davy Fitzgerald as a coach, a decision that shocked many when he agreed to get involved.

“It has been a very positive year so far and I think we have built a good atmosphere within the group,” said Amy, “it has been different from what we used to do and it has been tough at times with all of Davy’s training, but it has been great to have him involved.”

Speaking about Fitzgerald’s involvement she said: “I don’t think anyone can build an atmosphere within a group as he can. We had it last year but he has brought it on, even more, this year.

“I didn’t believe he was going to get involved, I thought it was a bit of a joke that was trending on Twitter. But it’s great that someone of the stature of Davy was willing to get involved with a camogie team.

“I remember at the start they were saying he might only be involved once or twice a month or maybe once a week. I didn’t think that was right because at this level when you commit you have to commit 100%.

But he never misses a session and he is the first one at training and the last one to leave, so he has been very committed right from the start and it’s unbelievable to have him involved. 

"He also brings a few people down from Clare with him and the dynamic between himself and Matthew is brilliant.

“It’s great as it might lead to other top coaches getting involved with camogie around the country. I’d say there are coaches who would have turned their heads at getting involved with camogie sides. But when you see someone like Davy making the move across from hurling then hopefully others will follow.”

O'Connor has hit an average of 1-4 per game this season.
“I’ve been plodding along nicely but happy enough overall, but there’s plenty more in the tank and like everyone, I will be looking to improve with every game. I had a couple at the start that I wasn’t happy with but we are taking it game by game and looking to get better all the time.”

DIRECT

The Rebels are now straight through to the semi-final. 

“It’s kind of a hard one as we have won going both ways, but the only thing with a quarter-final is you don’t know who you are going to draw. You could get caught, so I prefer to go straight to the semi-final.

“Going straight through the front door is better but the main thing is always to get out of the group and to make sure you are involved in the knock-out stages of the All-Ireland.

“We have a whole new style of play this year and we are not shooting the lights out at the moment but we are improving all the time and the aim, like all sides, is to peak in the All-Ireland final. There is a lot of work to do before then though, but hopefully, we can keep going and get there."

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