SADHBH O’Leary is ready to make an impact in Cork’s All-Ireland football semi-final against Galway this Sunday.
One of the recurring talking points of Cork’s march to the last four of this year’s championship is the depth of Ephie Fitzgerald’s squad.
There are 38 players vying for a place on the substitutes’ bench, let alone the starting 15. That means you must make an impact whenever an opportunity arises.
Step forward Kinsale footballer Sadhbh O’Leary. Sprung from the bench late against Cavan in the recent group qualifier in Birr, the speedy forward delivered an instant statement of intent.
Collecting possession whilst being tackled by a Cavan defender, O’Leary brushed aside her opponent and found the bottom corner for a clinical goal. No better way to send a reminder to your manager than scoring a goal with your first touch.
‘I was delighted to get the chance to show what I could do against Cavan,’ O’Leary said.
‘With Cork, whenever you are given a chance, you have to take it. I used my speed to get past the Cavan defender, settled down to score and enjoyed that moment.
‘That’s why I feel you have to keep a positive mind-set. You must realise the level of competition for places throughout the team, especially as Cork has always had an incredibly talented full-forward line.
‘Getting on the pitch just depends on who we are playing. I I bring speed as an option anytime they want to bring me on. The Kerry game was different to Cavan and I didn’t get on but you just take that on the chin. It depends what the team needs on a given day so you just have to always be ready to take your opportunities.’
Current restrictions have prohibited inter-county teams from arranging challenge matches. That means the only chance O’Leary gets to impress management is in practice games during Cork senior training.
‘It’s nice to be able to show the management what I can do,’ O’Leary said.
‘The coaches get a good look at us during training anyway but it is nice to take part in those practice matches. That goal against Cavan was my first at inter-county level and showed I could come on and make a difference.’
O’Leary has been a mainstay on the Kinsale senior football team over the last number of years. Despite plenty of intermediate and senior club experience, the step up to inter-county level remains as steep as ever.
‘It is such a step up when you start playing inter-county,’ O’Leary agreed.
‘Club football is intense but inter-county is much more physical and you need to be ready for it. It’s Fiona Keating’s first year with the Cork seniors this year and we have had many car journey conversations about how, sometimes, it (playing inter-county) can be a bit overwhelming when you are starting out.
‘Players need a year or so to find their feet at this level. Fiona and I play in the same position so we talk about things all the time. We are always honest with each other and give feedback. It’s good to be able to bounce ideas off her.
‘Even if I have had a bad day at training, I can just rant away to Fiona. It’s just getting things off your chest instead of your family having to hear about it. It’s nice to have Fiona with me as she is always so positive.’
O’Leary does not lack self-belief but is under no illusions about the task facing the Kinsale forward in forcing her way on to Ephie Fitzgerald’s starting team. One glance at Cork’s full-forward underlines the point as Nemo’s Saoirse Noonan, Mourneabbey’s Doireann O’Sullivan, Beara’s Áine Terry O’Sullivan and club-mate Orla Finn have been in scintillating form. It’s a learning curve but being surrounded by so many quality players means O’Leary is picking up useful information at every training session.
‘All of those players have a huge amount of experience so just watching them at training or when they are playing is very important,’ O’Leary said.
‘As for Orla (Finn), I’ve seen her success with our club and being on the Cork team for many years. Doireann, our captain, all of them, they show great leadership when they are out on the pitch. I hope to be a leader just like them in a few years’ time myself.’
There is little doubt that Galway will pose Cork’s stiffest challenge of the season in Parnell Park on Sunday. The prize is a place in this year’s All-Ireland final against defending champions Dublin.
O’Leary has shown glimpses of her emerging talent and will be ready, if called upon, to make another impact in Cork’s bid to become All-Ireland champions once again.