BY KIERAN McCARTHY
CORK’S latest dual star admits she’s been blown away by the work-rate of the county’s all-conquering ladies senior football team.
Hannah Looney (18), who plays football for Aghada and camogie with Killeagh, is in her third season with the Cork senior camogie panel and has won All-Irelands in the previous two campaigns, but this is her first year involved with the Rebels’ senior ladies football team.
Called up by new manager Ephie Fitzgerald, the UCC first year student has made an impressive impact, making her debut in the hammering of Galway (6-15 to 1-11), and playing in the wins against Armagh (2-16 to 4-7) and Dublin (1-15 to 1-11) since, as Cork battled into a ninth consecutive Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 1 final.
All-Ireland and league champions Cork take on an unbeaten Mayo in Parnell Park this Saturday evening, at 7.15pm, with Looney looking to continue on her upward curve.
‘I always wondered how could the ladies footballers keep going year-in year-out,’ she said.
‘Being involved in the setup now, it’s so different to anything that I have ever been a part of before – every girl is so driven, from one to 30.
‘We’d be there at training, after ten runs, and you’d hear Ciara O’Sullivan say “lads, we’ll do one more” and everyone will do that extra run. That’s not the coach asking us to do it, it’s coming from the group itself. The hunger and drive is phenomenal. It’s contagious, it pushes everyone on. You have to experience it.’
While she has made a name as a rising young camogie star, and now has two All-Ireland medals in her first two seasons to prove it, Looney is keen to make an impression on the football field as well, and show that dual players are alive and well in Cork.
‘When I first got the call to join the football panel, I was expecting to just train away for the year and gain experience that way, I wasn’t expecting any game-time to be honest,’ said Looney, who has played football underage since she was 11.
‘Playing college football over the winter was my first step up since minor and it helped push me on. Playing senior is a big step up from what I have been used to. I have been playing junior B club football with Aghada.
‘It’s been a great experience so far and I feel I’ve done okay, but there is a lot of work still to do. It’s a very high standard and there’s no space and less chances so any opportunity I get, I need to make the most of it.’
Having dual stars Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley as teammates from the camogie setup helped Looney settle into the football camp, and with these two modern-day women’s GAA legends combining both codes at the highest level, it has opened the door for players like Looney to follow suit.
‘Juggling both (football and camogie) is not too bad. I’ve always wanted to play both. Briege and Rena have paved a path for that and made it possible,’ she said.
‘I know it’s been tough at times but there can’t be questions asking if it can be done because they have showed it’s possible. They have won 16 All-Irelands each, and having them as dual players for so long, it makes it a bit easier for me.
‘They are great ambassadors for the game.
‘They are so helpful and are always looking out for the younger players. They’re there to offer advice, to point you in the right direction.’
It’s a busy week for Looney as the first year Chemical Engineering student sits exams in UCC ahead of her very first ladies’ league Division 1 football final against a Mayo team that defeated Cork in the opening round of the league.
‘Mayo are unbeaten this year and watching their semi-final against Kerry, it was Kerry who were flying in the first half but Mayo fought back and pulled it out when it was needed. When the pressure was on, they responded. They’re a tough challenge but we’ve come a long way since we played them last.