BEING named Cork captain won’t change Martina O’Brien’s approach this year. She insists she’s still the same player, albeit with a new title.
‘I won’t see my role as any different to what it was,’ the Ballinascarthy woman says, but that’s because she’s already a natural born leader.
On her shoulders, captaincy rests comfortably.
She’s 30 years old now, vastly experienced with an impressive GAA CV at inter-county and club levels – and her leadership qualities have been recognised.
Cork shot-stopper O’Brien was nominated for the captaincy by 2020 county senior football champions West Cork, and she ticks all the boxes.
She’s a leader. A motivator. Has a presence about her. Is one of the best goalkeepers in the business. She’s very vocal. A great organiser. An even better listener. A superb shot-stopper. She’s commanding, too.
It feels like this is O’Brien’s time.
‘It is a great honour, there are not a lot of people who can say that they captained their county so when you are given the chance, you jump at it,’ she told this week’s Star Sport Podcast.
‘I’m coming towards the end of my career now and there are a lot of players who have gone that never got the chance to captain the county so I do feel I am in a very privileged position.’
O’Brien takes over the Cork captaincy role from Mourneabbey’s Doireann O’Sullivan, and the West Cork woman explains that the Rebels can call on a number of leaders within their ranks.
‘It’s nice to get this honour at this time of my career,’ she says, pointing to her long journey with Cork that started back in 2013 and that has included four All-Ireland senior titles and six Division 1 league crowns.
‘What makes me feel even better about it is that the older girls on the panel – like Orla Finn, Ciara O’Sullivan, Ashling Hutchings, Orlagh Farmer and all those – are natural leaders on the team and you always have them to fall back on if you need a bit of advice. You know that they are driving it on anyway and it’s not going to be left to the captain to do that. The team is in safe hands with the group that we have at the moment.’
The Clonakilty clubwoman insists her role won’t change with this new title and she’ll keep doing what she has always done – and that approach has brought her to this moment.
‘It’s a title you get but I firmly believe that if you are going to be a captain then you’re not going to change yourself too much,’ she says.
‘You do have a role in the team, but there are a lot of players within our panel who have stepped up and who are continually stepping up as leaders on our team.’
O’Brien has captained club sides before, and was captain of the West Cork team that reached the county senior final in 2019, as well as captaining Cork to victory over Galway in the 2019 Division 1 final, in the absence of Doireann O’Sullivan. O’Brien’s experience is an asset as Cork plot the downfall of the dominant Dubs, who have won the past four All-Ireland titles. Their latest triumph, in December 2020, came at the expense of O’Brien and Co. That 1-10 to 1-5 loss to Dublin stung the Rebels, but it also showed O’Brien that they’re not too far away from catching the Dubs.
‘Over the last few years we have fallen to Dublin – two finals and a semi-final – and people are looking at us now, thinking that we need to be doing better than just coming up short against Dublin,’ O’Brien says.
‘I think we have made great strides and I think we are very close in the sense that we have improved in a lot of areas. We are taking strides forwards. People need to remember that this team is entirely different to when we last won an All-Ireland in 2016. Since then there has been a big transition of players. It was a rebuilding phase.
‘We are coming up against a Dublin team that has been together maybe ten years, those core players have been together for that time, whereas we are now getting that experience. We have been together as a core group for three years and I really believe our time is going to come.
‘We realise that we have to work very hard to get to that level and to be fair to the management, they have gone over and above for us as players, and they have given everything they can to make us better.
‘As the years go on you get that bit hungrier. We were chomping at the bit last year and I really thought we could have done it. In the end, we didn’t. But you have to look at the positives, we are there or thereabouts. We have to look really deep into ourselves as players and work on our weaknesses and build on our strengths. When we knit it all together we should be better for it.’
O’Brien is coming off the back of a memorable 2020 when she won the county senior football final with West Cork and also a county intermediate title with Clonakilty.
The latter success means that Clon will campaign in the senior ranks this season and O’Brien will be between the posts with them and not West Cork. She won’t forget her West Cork experience and it’s that journey that has given her the opportunity to captain her county. Now, the Cork number one wants to do everything she can to lead the Rebels back to the number one spot.