Rising stars offer Cork hope

December 12th, 2016 4:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

One to watch: Cork's Amy O'Connor, in action in the All-Ireland semi-final win against Wexford in August, is quickly emerging as a force in Cork camogie, says eight-time All-Star and four-time All-Ireland winner Jennifer O'Leary.

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HERE we are in December, Christmas closing in fast and a new year full of fresh opportunities is just around the corner. 

It’s a time to reflect and also look forward, and it will also be an important winter for Cork camogie following All-Ireland defeats for both the senior and intermediate teams, both to Kilkenny last October.

Having been in that position in the past, I know all members of both Cork panels will be extremely disappointed with the way the year finished, with both teams losing out to the Kilkenny stronghold. 

No one remembers the hard-working team who reached the final and lost, but you always remember those who were victorious. 

However, on closer inspection, Cork camogie has many reasons to be positive leading into the year ahead. 

Young and new players: I thought many of Cork’s younger players had an impressive league and championship campaign, most notably Amy O’Connor from St Vincent’s and Hannah Looney of Killeagh. 

What these players have in abundance is confidence and a strong will to win. They stood up to the mark when Cork needed them most and they showed leadership at 19 and 20 years of age. Amy O’Connor also worked hard to gain more muscle over the past year as she recognised the need to be stronger and more enduring on the field. She gave up playing soccer at European level because of her love for camogie – this commitment and dedication is a great sign for the future. 

Another player who I feel will have a role to play in the year ahead is Linda Collins from Courcey Rovers. She had a phenomenal year for the Cork intermediate team, scoring 1-5 in the final. She was the shining light of the team and really stood out for me at full forward. Linda deserved her nomination for Intermediate Player of the Year after a fantastic league and championship campaign and is now a proud recipient of an Intermediate Soaring Star Award 2016. 

I feel that these players will have a huge role to play in the years ahead for Cork camogie and we need more youth to make the step up and realise that to make it to the top, you need to work hard and sacrifice your time.

The Cork intermediate camogie team: Having just lost out to Kilkenny by a solitary point in the All-Ireland final, the Cork intermediates should be proud of their achievements. They were beaten by a side that took their goals; as we all know, goals wins games. However, they can look ahead and believe that they are within touching distance to achieving their ultimate goal – An All-Ireland title. They will take this into the year ahead.  

There will be players from this team that should make the step up to the senior side after their performances last year. Players like the already mentioned Linda Collins, Chloe Sigerson, a midfielder from Killeagh, and Rachel O’Shea should gain confidence after their year and will hopefully push themselves even harder to make the grade at senior A level. The step up from intermediate to senior is very noticeable with the speed of ball coming at you, the intensity in training and the physicality demanded of you. 

Hunger: Every team needs motivation to drive them on to the year ahead. The best type of hunger, I believe, is emotional hunger. It can’t just be that you want to win a game or that you love playing camogie, there has to be something in your life that has inspired you or spurred you on. It has to make you emotionally connected to the game and it usually comes in the form of some heartache or upset. 

In 2014, my desire to play surfaced from the fact that my mother was sick with cancer. Knowing that camogie could provide a release for my family, and me as well, was so important. I also had a strong gut feeling that we would win that year, so the thought of a positive lift was in the back of my mind. 

The hunger needs to be both a personal and a collective team hunger in order to get the very best out of every player. The losses from this year will cause a stir in the hearts of the girls, they will use this, but they will also need to summon something else from within, and I’ve no doubt they will. 

The burden of three-in-a-row no longer exists: It’s difficult to comprehend but when it comes to camogie and talks of three-in-a-row, we don’t seem to cope very well with it. There seems to some form of mental block, not in the form of thinking straight in a very important exam, but a blockage that won’t allow Cork teams to elevate their performances to new heights when it comes to the final. 

The prospect of three-in-a-row does nothing for extra motivation. In fact, you burn so much mental and physical energy just erasing it from your memory that it just exhausts you. In the year ahead, Cork won’t have to worry about the dreaded curse that is synonymous with the three-in-a-row. 

Another year, another opportunity: With any new year, brand new opportunities are presented to teams around the country. Cork will be trying to pounce on these as they present themselves. 

There are players who may make a return to the Cork set-up. Players like Julia White who was injured last season will hopefully make a return as she was one of the most influential Cork players in 2015. Her return will be a major boost to Cork. 

Also, Kilkenny will now have to deal with the pressure and expectations of retaining their All-Ireland crowns. Can they cope with all this responsibility? The hardest All-Ireland to win is the one following a victorious year. Now that Kilkenny have broken their long absence from the victory books, it will be interesting to see how their story will be told this time next year. 

A brand new year brings different players, different injuries, different circumstances and it is never plain sailing, no matter what team you are. Cork need to look ahead and seize every opportunity they can to the best of their ability. They have been in this situation before and have come back stronger than ever. Positivity is key.

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