NEWLY-CROWNED 2014 West Cork Sports Star of the Year Jennifer O’Leary is looking forward to the next chapter of her life after she announced her retirement from inter-county camogie at Saturday night’s awards ceremony.
Speaking after she won the prestigious award – sponsored by the Celtic Ross Hotel, The Southern Star and C103 – for a second time in her illustrious sporting career, the popular Barryroe star confirmed she had played her last game for the Rebel county.
Unfinished business was the primary reason that Jennifer decided to reverse her initial decision, in late 2013, to retire from the inter-county scene, as she enjoyed great success with the Cork camogie team last year, helping them win the All-Ireland title.
‘Yes, definitely, this is it now. I always said I wanted to finish on a high and this year (referencing 2014) has been one of the best on the camogie front. I am happy, there is a sense of peace now and fulfilment,’ Jennifer told The Southern Star.
‘I think the way that we had finished the previous year, there was a sense of underachievement and we hadn’t reached that pinnacle that we were capable of reaching.
‘I knew that there was more in us as a team and that we could push ourselves more and we weren’t far away from other teams that year so why not give it another go.’
Now without the demands of the inter-county scene and away from the highly concentrated drill of training, the multi-award winner isn’t exactly quite ready to hang up her boots – just yet.
‘I don’t think it will stop me from working hard at what other sport I take up. I would like to take up a bit of football and challenge myself that way. Paul (her husband) is exactly like that, he’s big into hurling that way as well. We drive each other on,’ she said.
‘I feel now it’s time to move on with my life, to explore different avenues, to maybe try something different, maybe play a bit of football, maybe do my own bit of training and challenge myself in other realms, and play with my club up in Middletown.’
Now residing in Middletown in County Armagh, Jennifer is immensely proud of her West Cork roots and, in particular, her beloved Barryroe.
‘I miss the girls, the training, I miss a lot of things, I miss home in ways but that’s life, you move and make other friends, join other clubs and you enjoy it as well,’ Jennifer said.
‘But they (the girls in Barryroe) will always be my club, they have been so good to me, so understanding. I really appreciate all the efforts that they made, they are a great bunch.’
Jennifer won her first Celtic Ross award in 2002, and now 12 years later has added the 2014 Sports Star of the Year title to her honours won list.
‘I can’t believe so many years have passed since I last won it,’ she admitted.
‘I think as you grow older these awards are harder to get. When you are younger you appreciate them but you don’t really know their significance until you stop and think about it.
‘I am really chuffed that the people have supported me and helped me on to get to this position.’
As expected Jennifer is already making her mark in her new abode – her new club (Middletown) won the county title last season.
‘The pace wouldn’t be as fast as what you would get in Cork but that doesn’t take away from the effort that the girls give. They are so hardworking. They live for sport,’ Jennifer said.
‘Our town (Middletown) lives for GAA and camogie, the level (camogie) is different but it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the game.’
Not surprisingly, given her achievements, there is a level of expectation from her new teammates.
‘They see me as a person that will drive them on that bit more in training. There are players there that are capable of getting better and I will drive them on as much as I can,’ he said.
Several of the children from Jennifer’s new school just over the border in Monaghan were amongst the attendance in Croke Park when Jennifer played a key role in helping Cork win the All-Ireland. Now, they want to start a camogie team in the school.
Her specific reference to the ‘camogie front’ masked a very emotional 2014 for Jennifer, who got married to Paul but sadly lost her mother (Kathleen) and sister (Paula).
‘It gave me a type of distraction I suppose. It also gave me a bit of a drive to win something for them,’ Jennifer said.
‘I definitely think that in the final they were with me, they were looking down on us. I also wanted to try my best for my family as I think they needed a lift, everybody needed a lift in the community and anyone that knew Paula and mam, we deserved to do it for them.’
She added: ‘Dad (Joe) is my number one fan when it comes to sport and camogie. He’s been great and he’s so strong. This (the award) will give him another positive in life. His support for us never stops.’
Very conscious of the value of the West Cork Sports Star awards, Jennifer added: ‘It is really important to showcase people that are making an effort in their sport.
‘Sometimes, all the work you do is not remembered, all the work behind the scenes is left unacknowledged.
‘To achieve what the people of West Cork can achieve is just unbelievable. I don’t think there is any other place like it. It’s special.’
So too is the 2014 Celtic Ross Sports Star of the Year winner, who would make the perfect game analyst anytime in the future.