Eight-time All-Star Jennifer O’Leary hails Enniskeane star Orla Cronin’s performance
ORLA Cronin came of age last Sunday.
When she came on the scene with the Cork seniors four years ago, it was my final season so we had one campaign together.
I knew she had talent. She was shy, new on the scene, feeling her way into her new surroundings but now, in her fourth season and after her best year yet, Orla has shown she belongs at the very top.
She was terrific last Sunday, scoring three points and winning the player of the match award.
Orla looked so confident on the ball. Her touch was superb. Even when she was under pressure, she did all the right things and kept her head up all the time. She is such a clever player. She never gave the ball away. If the shot was on she took it. If not she gave it to someone in a better position.
She looked so confident and so mature as a player. She has grown into this team and it’s fantastic to see a West Cork woman shine on the big stage like she did, and so did Libby Coppinger, too; she swept up a lot of loose ball and was very effective.
I watched the game at home in Barryroe but I called into the Cork team hotel, the Crowne Plaza, on Sunday night when I was on the way back up to Armagh and I caught up with the team for an hour or so. Orla was in great form, modest as ever, and it was the same with Rena Buckley, our captain fantastic who won her 18th All-Ireland senior medal.
Rena is a living legend. I think she’ll keep going for another few years. This isn’t the end of what she will achieve. There’s even more to come. What a prospect that is.
This was the sweetest one yet for Cork. It’s the way they won it. People fancied Kilkenny to defend their title and get the better of Cork again, but the Rebels had something to prove – and they did that.
I had a gut feeling during the week that Cork would win, I felt they wanted it more than Kilkenny and you could see how relentless they were on Sunday. They were ravenous.
Cork set their stall out from the start. We hadn’t seen that in their previous games this season. But they hit four unanswered points on Sunday and that showed they meant business.
Kilkenny seemed shell-shocked. Maybe seeing Gemma O’Connor lining out spooked them but something got into their heads. It was different to last year when Kilkenny caught Cork. Roles were reversed on Sunday.
You can’t underestimate the boost Cork got from Gemma lining out. It was only a few weeks she suffered knee ligament damage in the semi-final win against Galway, and the official line was that she was out of the All-Ireland final.
Anyone who knows Gemma will tell you that she doesn’t come off in games so I knew it was a bad injury.
Talking to her Sunday after the game, she didn’t know herself until Thursday night at training whether she would be good to go. She had a fitness test and did the whole session, and the knee held up. I had a feeling she would play some part but I was surprised to see her start. But knowing Gemma, she will do anything possible to line out for Cork – and that was her 13th final. Incredible.
While she wasn’t as influential as she usually is, she still came up with a huge moment late on to level the game.
I was worried if Gemma was out that Cork would have no one to solo up the field and take a score from distance like she can – but she came up with the goods when the need was greatest.
And the same can be said for the heroes on every line of this team. They were all composed and calm, and deserved their win.
Cork are back on top. And West Cork played its role in that.
The West is awake!