We should be so proud of our two senior stars who have shone brightly with Rebels, writes Jennifer O'Leary
JUST as I was finishing up my inter-county camogie career, Orla Cronin’s was taking off.
Three years ago I decided to retire from senior inter-county camogie, it was the right time to go, we had won the 2014 All-Ireland and I knew myself that it was over – but West Cork’s camogie following had no reason to fear that our region wouldn’t be represented on the big stage.
Two words: Orla Cronin.
We had one season together, that 2014 campaign, and as my career finished up, she was heading into her second senior inter-county campaign and an adventure that now sees her contest her fourth All-Ireland senior final in four seasons this Sunday; an incredible record.
Orla has been joined in the Cork senior team by Libby Coppinger of St Colum’s and while I never played or trained with her, all the reports I’ve had back have been glowing; another West Cork sportswoman with talent to burn.
Dual star Libby was in the headlines ahead of the All-Ireland camogie semi-final against Galway a few weeks ago when both the Cork camogie team and ladies’ footballers were fixed to play on the same day. That’s a situation I had hoped we would never see again. It’s not good enough and both organisations need to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Our players deserve better.
Libby lined out for Paudie Murray’s camogie team and played her role in a win that sees Cork back in the All-Ireland final and ready to make amends for last year’s loss to the same opposition, Kilkenny.
It’s great for West Cork camogie to have two great ambassadors in Orla and Libby, both have enjoyed impressive campaigns and both have contributed to Cork’s success this season. I’m going to have a look at both, starting with Orla Cronin, Enniskeane camogie’s pride and joy.
She is having one of the best playing years of her life this season. Incredibly skilful, I always remember her being a wristy camogie player when striking a ball. Orla has shown in championship games this year – against Limerick, Wexford, Tipperary and Galway – that she knows where the posts are as she has weighed in with an impressive ten points in this championship run.
Orla can score with ease from distance and also from difficult angles but also is a very creative and influential play-maker, setting up the likes of Orla Cotter and Amy O’Connor to launch attacks.
Owning the centre forward spot on the Cork team Orla looks stronger and fitter than ever and possesses that grit and determination a player in that pivotal position needs. She will be up against the likes of Ann Dalton, Kilkenny’s flawless centre back and playmaker in the final – but I have no doubt that Orla will spoil her game and won’t allow Ann to make those surging runs forward or carry out those long and accurate clearances from the back that have become a trademark of her game.
From travelling with Orla to trainings and games in the past – our collection point was at Kevin O’Leary’s garage in Bandon – she comes across as a smart, cool and calm character, who always has a smile on her face. Her relaxed attitude will stand to her on the biggest day of the camogie calendar and she will possess no fear. She is a reliable forward who can ably field a high ball coming into Kilkenny’s defence and she has all the skills to be a big figure in Sunday’s final.
Now, onto Libby Coppinger from Kealkil – this girl amazes me and inspires me with her incredible commitment to both codes in Cork this year. It’s a 170km round trip for training, and she’s with the camogie team and the footballers. It just highlights her determination. Both Cork camps are lucky to have a player of Libby’s attitude and ability.
Many players who are just a stone’s throw away from their training grounds will still admit that the constant rush and run to training can often be tiresome and demanding. But here we have a girl who has to pack her gear, ensure she’s eating right, train, study, drive and mentally prepare herself for a journey that will probably take her over two hours every night. Not everyone is made of that committed mettle, but Libby is.
What she brings to the Cork set-up this year is an insatiable work-rate. I’ve heard someone say recently that she is like Briege Corkery because she never stops and she never gives up.
I compared Briege to a Duracell bunny in the past, and perhaps Libby is the latest model. She possesses great energy in the midfield area and makes her presence felt.
Libby has been given the role of man-marking in the past and has succeeded in making it tough on her opponents. The physicality she has gained through football has added an aggressive and solid dimension to the centre of the field and alongside Aisling Thompson, they are a formidable force.
Libby never shies away from a tackle and will need to bring an endless amount of work-rate if Gemma O’Connor (injured in the semi-final win), as we all fear, is definitely out for the final. It looks like that centre back position will be filled by another and the demands on the midfield area will be at a premium.
Both Orla and Libby will fly the West Cork flag in Croke Park on Sunday and they’ll do our region proud, and hopefully we’ll be celebrating Cork senior and intermediate success – both teams are capable of bringing All-Ireland titles back her to Cork.
Best of luck, girls.