CAOIMHE O’Callaghan may not be an instantly recognisable name but the 22-year-old Kinsale defender has made a major impact since joining the Cork senior football panel ahead of the 2020 season.
When you think of Kinsale ladies football, Orla Finn spring to mind, and then it’s Sadhbh O’Leary, both in with the Cork seniors. Now you can add a third name to the list.
O’Callaghan was rewarded for years of consistent displays in the blue and white of her hometown club when an unexpected inter-county call-up materialised last year. Previously a Cork minor, O’Callaghan was brought to the attention of Ephie Fitzgerald’s management team and grabbed her opportunity.
‘Ephie and I were chatting about the players we might bring into the senior set-up and began by looking at the Cork minors,’ Cork senior head coach Paddy O’Shea told The Southern Star.
‘We sussed out a few and came across a wing-back from Kinsale. Then, after speaking to Orla (Finn), we contacted Caoimhe and invited her to training. I didn’t know too much about her starting off but, as soon as she came in, everyone could see what a talented player she is. Caoimhe is a coach’s dream. Quiet and unassuming off the pitch but once she starts training, well, you couldn’t train her hard enough and she does whatever you ask of her.’
It says much about O’Callaghan’s ability and temperament that the wing back settled in so quickly and managed to force her way into the starting 15 for Cork’s opening LIDL National League Division 1 game against Westmeath.
Those first few weeks being part of such a renowned senior county squad remain a blur. O’Callaghan was grateful for the opportunity to show what she could do at the highest level and didn’t disappoint.
‘Completely out of the blue, Orla (Finn) gave me a heads up that I should expect a call from the Cork seniors,’ O’Callaghan recalled.
‘I remember it perfectly because it was around Christmas and I was on a study week from college. There was a lot going on, but I was delighted when the call came from Michelle Dullea. I was up in a heap a bit with all my studying but went along to my first strength and conditioning session.
‘I’ll never forget walking into the District Health and Leisure centre in the Silver Springs Hotel. All the big names were there. It was a bit surreal because I never expected to get that call in the first place. Everyone was really welcoming and that made it easier (to integrate).
‘Training went well and by the middle of January I found myself starting for Cork against Westmeath in a National League game at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. It was all a bit strange that time just trying to get my head around things.
‘I fully understood the importance of that first game at Páirc Uí Chaoimh but couldn’t allow myself to think about it too much or I would have been overwhelmed. It was only afterwards that I fully appreciated what a great experience playing for the Cork seniors was.’
Currently studying for a Masters in Corporate Finance at UCC, the Cork wing-back lives with mum Sheila, dad Eugene, and older brother Gavin in the family home directly across the road from Kinsale’s GAA grounds.
That is the pitch where O’Callaghan honed her skills every available moment as a youngster before first representing the club at U10 level. Since then, her dedication and determination has helped Kinsale to divisional, county and provincial success as well as two All-Ireland club final appearances.
‘I’ve been lucky to be a part of Kinsale GAA’s success over the last number of years,’ O’Callaghan said.
‘We were struggling when I first started playing at junior level. Then a good few people got behind the team including Noel O’Sullivan and things began to change. The effort paid off and the combination of great players like Orla Finn and Sadhbh O’Leary helped deliver county and Munster success as well as reaching two All-Irelands.
‘I have always enjoyed playing for Kinsale, but my happiest memory was captaining Kinsale to a U21 county final win over our great rivals Éire Óg a couple of years ago.’
O’Callaghan is part of a tight-knit Kinsale set-up and appreciative of having a player of Orla Finn’s calibre within the club.
‘Everyone looks up to Orla and having someone like that who puts so much effort into her football is a huge positive for us,’ O’Callaghan said.
‘Kinsale’s success has been down to players like Orla, Sadhbh and a talented group coming along at the same time. Our coaches and managers, like Micheál O’Connor, deserve the same amount of credit as they would do anything for the team. It is a tight-knit group at junior and senior level here.’
As for O’Callaghan’s long-term future, Paddy O’Shea is in little doubt as to the Kinsale defender’s ability to stake a long-term claim for one of Cork’s starting fifteen places.
‘There is never any drama with Caoimhe, she just turns up and works incredibly hard,’ O’Shea commented.
‘On the pitch, she is really tough, never afraid of a tackle and possesses great speed. Caoimhe was going very well for us before the pandemic hit and played superbly against Westmeath in our opening league game.
‘She adapted to inter-county football quickly and I know Michelle Dullea, our strength and conditioning coach, is delighted with her. Ephie and the rest of us are excited to see how far Caoimhe can go as she has already proven an invaluable asset to the Cork seniors.’
Remember the name, Caoimhe O’Callaghan, as you will be hearing a lot more about the Kinsale defender in the coming years.