Armed with info from Cork camogie statistician Niall Collins and insight from Rebel boss Paudie Murray, KIERAN McCARTHY looks more closely at Orla Cronin’s growing influence
THE QUARTERBACK: An ideal centre forward, in Paudie Murray’s mind, is a player who links the defence to the attack. He refers to Cronin as ‘our quarterback.’
‘She has a great brain and she knows how to make herself available to the “out ball” coming out of defence. Her spatial awareness from there, to bring other players into the game, is top class. Orla knows where to move to and when to move – and they are two different things,’ Murray says. Her movement is excellent – and it’s getting better. In the two Division 1 league games this year, there was an increase in the number of times Cronin would support a teammate in possession – it was over 50 times in the wins against Waterford and Kilkenny.
DECEPTIVELY FAST: Cronin is deceptively quick, insists Paudie Murray who points out that she is ‘a lot faster than people think’ and has ‘blistering pace’. That will help her in the new role Murray has earmarked for the Enniskeane woman with Cork – she’s linking the play more and is coming for the return ball which is putting her into scoring zones. It’s a work in progress but the early signs are encouraging.
GOOD TOUCH: ‘I’m not sure do people realise that Orla is technically a very good striker off both sides. If you go back to the 2017 All-Ireland final, she showed it that day with the three scores she got,’ Paudie Murray explains.
‘We have spent a long time improving our players’ striking technique – we rate that as very important in any player and we work a lot with a squash ball against a wall, just to get that striking technique corrected. Orla has put in oceans of work into her striking technique. From a girl who was probably very weak off one side four or five years ago, I don’t think it matters now what side she strikes the ball from.’ The stats back that up as there is a split between her strikes off her right and left sides.
FORWARD THINKING: Between 2015 and 2020, Cronin played 70 competitive games with Cork, starting 65, and from that she played centre forward in 55 matches. In this period, she’s scored 5-113, including 5-72 from play. Of those 70 matches she scored in 48 – and that rate will increase now that she has taken over free-taking duties. In the league wins against Waterford and Kilkenny earlier this year Cronin scored 0-9 in each. As well as a scorer, she’s a provider and a creative outlet. Cronin is now getting on the ball more per game. She averaged 12 to 15 possessions per match in recent seasons but in the league this year that rose to nearly 20 per match. From that she is involved in 40% of Cork’s scores, or two out of every five.
NERVES OF STEEL: This year saw Cronin take over free-taking duties from Orla Cotter. Technically, the Enniskeane woman is a great striker of the ball. Against Waterford, she finished with a conversion rate of 83% and it was 100% in the win against Kilkenny. Cronin’s average from frees over the years is 85%. That’s impressive, and with more responsibility now that will increase her influence on matches. With free-taking, mental strength is key. Cronin already takes frees for both Enniskeane and Carbery so she knows what’s involved, but the pressure cranks up at inter-county level. The more she takes frees for Cork, the better she’ll become and that increased input will help move her to the next level so when she stands over a crunch free in the final minutes of an All-Ireland final, she’ll back herself to nail it.
BUILDING UP STRENGTH: Paudie Murray was impressed by the condition that Cronin returned in to pre-season training ahead of the 2020 campaign.
‘Orla came back for this season a lot fitter than in previous years, she put a lot of work into her conditioning and it was paying off. Certainly with the way she started off this year she was putting herself into the next level,’ Murray noted. Her high fitness levels will help Cronin cover more ground, but she already has a high work-rate, as stats from Niall Collins highlight – she is the origin of eight to ten possessions in a game where she would have initial possession in a phase for her team while she also averages six to seven kilometres per match too.
She’s strong too. In previous years, she’d retain 75% of her possessions, but that’s now increased to 80%, or four out of every five.