AISLING O’Donovan leaves a good first impression. Bubbly, outgoing, chatty and confident, she’s made for centre stage. That’s why it’s hard to picture her standing in the background, and stepping out of the spotlight, but she’ll admit she was caught for words at the county senior camogie championship, just days before the competition’s throw-in.
The 19-year-old Newcestown captain was there, representing her club, rubbing shoulders with the established super powers of Cork camogie. All the big guns were present. Sarsfields. Inniscarra. Glen Rovers. Milford. Courcey Rovers. And Newcestown were there too, sitting at the top table for the first time in the club’s history.
Last Saturday week they played their first senior county championship game, against Killeagh at Castle Road. At half time, it was all square, 1-5 to 0-8. The East Cork club pulled away in the second half to win 1-23 to 1-5 so Newcestown learned quite quickly that senior is a different ball game than the intermediate grade they campaigned in for the past few seasons.
‘The standard at senior is the next level altogether,’ Aisling O’Donovan told the Star Sport Podcast.
‘There are players on those teams that you thought you’d never be playing against but there they are, standing in front of you. It’s exciting more than anything else.’
In the run-up to the championship, Newcestown played Inniscarra in a challenge game. Cork GAA great Rena Buckley lined out for ‘Scarra. O’Donovan almost took a double-take, but this is the level that Newcestown are now at. They’re the only Carbery club in the senior championship and their rise in recent years, from junior to senior, mirrors the rise in standards in Carbery camogie in recent times.
Go back ten years and one player from the division, Barryroe’s Jennifer O’Leary, was a regular with the Cork seniors. This year three Carbery women are involved with Paudie Murray’s set-up – Enniskeane’s Orla Cronin, St Colum’s Libby Coppinger and Newcestown newcomer Ciara O’Sullivan. That’s progress right there. Cronin and Coppinger have been Cork regulars for the past few seasons while 18-year-old O’Sullivan, in her first year with the senior squad, is pushing hard and impressing the people that matter.
The Newcestown forward won her second All-Ireland minor A camogie title with Cork last year. O’Sullivan was one of a number of Carbery girls involved, along with Hannah Sexton (Kilbrittain/Timoleague), Claire Kingston (Ballinascarthy) and the Enniskeane duo of Sinead Hurley and Tara Sheehan. Newcestown’s Emma Tarrant was also involved with the 2019 Cork minors. In 2018, Ballinascarthy’s Moira Barrett captained the Cork minors to All-Ireland glory, and the Newcestown pair of Aisling O’Donovan (current club captain) and Ciara O’Sullivan both played too. Again, another indication that players from Carbery are making their presence felt.
Newcestown’s Maeve Lynch, Caroline Sugrue of Ballinascarthy and Kate Wall of Kilbrittain/Timoleague are just some local players who have been involved with the Cork intermediate panel too in recent times.
There’s talent in the Carbery division and it’s coming to the fore, highlighted by the local clubs’ success in county championships. Newcestown are the obvious example, they’ve won two of the last three county intermediate titles and now they’re a senior club and their players have lined out at senior, intermediate, minor and underage levels for Cork in the past 18 months. There’s a conveyor belt of talent in the club now, and it’s also fielding a junior team. That’s more playing camogie. Success breeds success. More want to get involved. Think of the bounce that Irish rowing received off the back of Gary and Paul O’Donovan’s Olympic medal success in Rio 2016.
Not too far away from Newcestown, Enniskeane are another club with ambition. They lost last year’s county intermediate final to their neighbours by a single point but will be in the mix again this season. They beat Ballyhea by 4-19 to 0-9 in Round 1 last week. Recently, they also fielded a second adult camogie team for the first-time ever. Again, their numbers are encouraging. It’s brilliant to see. Kilbrittain/Timoleague and Clonakilty are another two Carbery clubs operating at intermediate level. Ballinascarthy got their county junior A camogie campaign off to a winning start recently too. Barryroe, Kilbree, St Colum’s are all in county championship action these weeks as well.
There’s also the Carbery senior camogie team that reached the quarter-finals of last year’s county championship and only lost out by one point after extra time to eventual champions, Sars. That divisional team is packed with talent. Newcestown’s Aisling O’Donovan lined out for Carbery last season and she knows better than most how much the game has improved locally in recent times.
‘The standard here is incredible, I don’t think it gets enough recognition to be honest. We only lost to Sars in the quarter-final so that shows that we have savage talent here,’ O’Donovan pointed out.
That talent is being recognised. Just look at the representation of the various Carbery clubs on Cork panels. Camogie is growing in Carbery. More girls are playing it and now there are local clubs that can field two adult teams. It helps that Orla Cronin and Libby Coppinger, two local players, are the ideal role models for young girls across the division. They don’t have to look too far to find a hero to aspire to be like. Cronin and Coppinger, like the legendary Jennifer O’Leary before them, have shown that the path exists from Carbery to the very highest level. They’ve shown it can be done and now there are several players lining up behind them, ready to show that they have what it takes to light up the big stage. Ciara O’Sullivan is one of those but before she switches her focus back to trying to break onto the Cork team she will want to get Newcestown back on track in the senior championship. They’ll need time to find their feet at senior level. It’s faster, harder, a huge step up from intermediate, and the loss to Killeagh was an eye-opener.
‘We will live and we will learn. It was our first time experiencing that quick, high-intensity game, but it was worth the experience,’ Aisling O’Donovan explained.
They’ll have to call on that renowned Newcestown fighting spirit to get back on track when they play the winner of Imokilly and Seandún in a few weeks. It will take time to acclimatise to life in the fast lane but given their upward trajectory they’ll soon adjust. And the next time there is a senior camogie championship launch Aisling O’Donovan won’t look around at all the other established senior clubs because Newcestown will be one of them. It’s going to take time, and probably some suffering along the way, but they’ve the right attitude and they’re willing to work hard to survive at the top level.