Orla Cronin plays in her fourth All-Ireland senior final in four years this Sunday. KIERAN McCARTHY caught up with the Enniskeane star before the big game
‘IT was always camogie, always,’ Orla Cronin says, days out from her fourth senior All-Ireland final on the bounce.
For a player who knows nothing but All-Ireland finals in her four years on the Cork senior panel, she also knows nothing but camogie.
It was her number one love from day one.
Gaelic football didn’t get a look in, apart from a bit of Sciath na Scol and, she thinks, primary school trials at one point.
‘There was never a choice to be made,’ the Knockaneady, Enniskeane woman smiled.
‘It was always camogie.
‘I didn’t have as much love for football as I do for the small ball.
‘I just stuck to the one and it’s worked out well.’
Her last sentence is an understatement.
On Sunday she’ll tog out in the Cork half-forward line against Kilkenny in the Liberty Insurance senior camogie final at Croke Park, at 4pm. This will be her fourth senior final in four seasons, winning titles in 2014 and ’15 before the three-in-a-row bid was derailed by Kilkenny last September.
Called into the Cork senior panel after completing her Leaving Cert in Bandon Grammar in 2014, Orla is now 22 years old and well used to the big occasion. She’s rarely fazed, her journey through the ranks has stood to her.
‘When I was growing up the camogie club in Enniskeane wasn’t as big, so myself and one of my best friends from home, Sinead (Dermot Curtin’s daughter), we started playing hurling with the boys in St Mary’s when we were U10 and U12. That was the norm at the time, the girls would train away with the boys,’ she explained.
‘There was some U10 and U12 training with Enniskeane Camogie Club in Dunmanway because it also takes girls in from Dunmanway and Castletownkenneigh. Dermot used to bring us over to the training there so that’s where it started with Enniskeane.
‘It got more competitive at U12, we were competing in a West Cork competition against the likes of Kilbrittain, and it went from there.
‘There was no rule when I was 14 to say, for example, that you had to be 16 to play with the junior team so myself, Sinead and a few other girls were roped into the junior B team, or whatever it was at the time, very early. We were carried along as subs.
‘Going off playing with the boys game me more of a physical edge and then playing with the older junior B side when I was younger that stood to me as well.
‘In West Cork you’re not known for your hurling or your camogie, it’s a lot of football down here so to be able to compete at the highest level you need to be able to experience every type of situation and learn from it,’ she added, but hurling was also a big part of home with her older brother Stephen winning county titles with Erin’s Own.
‘Stephen was minor, U21 when I was growing up so I went along to all his games with dad. I remember going to his games when he played with St Mary’s before he moved to Erin’s Own, and he fell into success there winning two county titles. Dad (Humprey, from Kilbrittain) was involved a lot as well so it all rubbed off on me. I loved it from day one,’ Orla said.
A few years ago Enniskeane camogie guru Dermot Curtin told The Southern Star a tale of Orla’s talent, the time when he challenged his players, and Orla was among them, to shoot the sliothar into a small hole in Mathúnas handball alley in Castletown.
First to do it will get a tenner, Dermot promised.
Orla, his neighbour, made his wallet that bit lighter after her very first go.
She had it, he said, that talent needed to rise to the top, so it’s no surprise to see her in another All-Ireland final this Sunday and also taking her game to a new level this season.
Cork boss Paudie Murray told The Southern Star that Orla is having her best season with Cork this season.
‘She’s motoring well this year, she’s in great shape, her fitness levels are very high and she is playing with a smile on her face,’ he said.
Eight-time camogie All-Star Jennifer O’Leary agrees that we’re now seeing the best of the UCC student, who is due to start her fourth year in physiology next Monday, the day after the All-Ireland final.
‘Owning the centre forward spot on the Cork team Orla looks stronger and fitter than ever .... She is having one of the best playing years of her life this season,’ O’Leary said.
The secret to Orla’s success this season is that there is no secret. She traces it all back to hard work.
‘As a forward you’re worth nothing if you’re not working and you’re not scoring, and if you work hard then you can get a few scores off that; it’s something that myself and the other forwards have worked on this year. We’re working hard and the scores have come,’ she said.
Again, she feels that hard work holds the key to Sunday’s final against a Kilkenny team that has had the edge on Cork in recent meetings, including last year’s All-Ireland final and this year’s league decider.
‘The team who works hardest, who wants it more and who dictates the game, they’re the one that will win on Sunday,’ Orla said.
‘There is no magic wand, it’s pretty simple.’
It’s no secret that Cork were flat and out-manouevered in last year’s All-Ireland final and Orla talks about having no regrets this Sunday because she remembers how she felt at the end of that game.
‘Any team that loses an All-Ireland knows that it’s hard to take,’ she said.
‘This year we were back early and all we wanted was another chance in an All-Ireland final to show that we are better than how we played last year. We are after getting there.
‘Losing the final was hard but it gave us things to work on.
‘I’m not saying that we used last year’s final as motivation because every year is a new year.
‘It wasn’t our day last year and we want to make amends for it.’
Cork’s semi-final performance in the win against Galway was far from perfect, too, and a big improvement is needed to dethrone the Cats on Sunday.
Orla’s up for the job. It’s what she’s been training for since day one.