THIRTEEN is an unlucky number for some but not for Cork ladies’ GAA.
Thirteen is the number of 2015 All-Star awards – in both camogie and ladies’ football – that made their way back to Cork last month after a phenomenal year that saw the Rebels defend both All-Ireland camogie and football titles.
Another double to follow last year’s clean sweep: good times, indeed.
To cap a fantastic season, seven Cork camogie girls and six from the ladies’ football team got their hands on All-Stars – that bronzed statuette, an award every player at the highest level wants to obtain.
Pamela Mackey, Player of the Year nominee Orla Cotter, captain Ashling Thompson, Players’ Player of the Year Gemma O’Connor, dual recipient Rena Buckley, goalkeeper Aoife Murray and Football’s Players’ Player of the Year for the second time and dual recipient Briege Corkery all deservedly won camogie All-Stars.
Adding to those already mentioned, the players who represented Cork on the football All-Star list were Valerie Mulcahy, Geraldine O’Flynn, Vera Foley and Marie Ambrose. What a special group of girls they truly are.
Briege has achieved what no other ladies’ football player has achieved and that is winning Players’ Player of the year for the second time – a humbling honour as it is voted by the players.
Briege certainly is a well respected and much-loved personality and player. She now stands just one football All-Star away from Mayo’s Cora Staunton and Kerry’s Mary Jo Curran, who both have ten All-Stars.
Many of my former Cork camogie teammates such as Lynn Dunlea, Fiona O’Driscoll and Linda Mellerick never gained the recognition they deserved in the form of an All-Star trophy due to the event’s late inception in 2004. It signalled the beginning of player appraisal for their efforts, commitment, and high skill level at a national level.
With 45 players from around Ireland nominated, the best 15 players are picked based on their performance during the year, although it is mainly limited to how players perform come championship time. If you progress to the All-Ireland final stages, your chances of achieving this accolade are greatly increased.
While I always questioned and wondered why I deserved an All-Star award over other nominees, I began to realise that no matter what you achieve in life, there are unfortunately others who will be disappointed. There are always those who too question why they may not have got one.
You eventually learn to enjoy receiving any award by not over-thinking it and acknowledging the fact that it began with others who thought of you, believed in your ability and took notice of the vast efforts you made to win one. Nobody can take that confidence away from you.
There are always surprises on the night and I don’t believe any player attends the ceremony truly certain that they will take home the prize. That’s the beauty and excitement of the occasion, something I feel could be integrated into the men’s All-Star night to add a feeling of anticipation to the occasion.
While all of you have heard of the All-Star recipients, many of you may never have attended the occasion itself, so I’ll help to paint a brief picture of the camogie All-Star ceremony as I experienced it a number of times.
No matter how close I was to Dublin – living in Cork or Armagh – on the day of the All-Stars there was never a year that I wasn’t rushing in order to get to the Citywest Hotel in time for the black tie proceedings.
Whether it was down to delayed hair appointments, tanning gone drastically wrong or plain and simple miscalculated timings, I never reached the hotel ever feeling relaxed and ready for the big night itself.
Most of the time I had no reason to be behind schedule – rushing is just in my nature. It’s the same to this day. For any big event I attend, timing is always an issue, a frustrating one at that. (Only now I can blame our new dog Jessie – the labradoodle – for my tardiness)
For the first few All-Star events we had to congregate outside the banquet hall to be briefed on the setup and working order of the night – where to stand, how to enter the room, how to smile and most importantly how to behave like a lady!
However, if you have ever been in a room with 45 All-Star camogie nominees you will soon realise that lady-like behaviour is quickly overtaken by rowdy dancing and loud laughter. I always found this briefing by the organisers of the event so comical, as did many others.
From there we took a walk into the dining room where finding your table and remembering your table number was of the utmost importance.
Believe me, you don’t want to be one of those poor souls lost in the crowd like a deer caught in headlights, completely embarrassed by the fact that you are the only eejit still looking for your family’s table. You are dazzled by the lights but five minutes later you find your safe haven. All eyes have been on you, of course, the whole time…
So you are now sitting down and relaxed, but suddenly a mountain of nerves hit your senses and you finally realise why you are here. In a way, you dread the thought of your name being called.
If your name is called out, it will signal the long walk up to the stage, escorts on either side of you, again blinded by the spotlights and tripping over your ball gown as your high heels threaten to give way.
However, you get there, smile for the camera, take your prize and become very humbled by the guest of honour presenting you with your award.
In the past legends like Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh, Brian Cody and Donal Óg Cusack have been present and I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to shake their hands.
It’s not every day you get to dress up and feel very special to be part of an All-Star awards ceremony. To share a room with the best camogie talent in the country is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.
What makes it more special is the fact that you are given the opportunity to meet your enemies on the field of play but in a completely different arena. There will be no battles on a night like this, all swords will be surrendered and camaraderie prevails.
After all, these girls from Kilkenny, Galway, Wexford, to name but a few, are here because they love playing the game you love with the highest level of commitment and skill. They are more like you than you think, although this may not be very apparent in the height of championship.
The (eight) All-Stars now sit on a ledge in my kitchen, a reminder every day of my past achievements but more so memories of the incredible journey I have travelled to win them with my fantastic Cork teammates.