Innishannon woman will line out for Dublin in Sunday’s national league opener
BY KIERAN McCARTHY
ON Sarah O’Donovan’s Twitter biography, it reads #Second #Chance #Sunday.
Not many people get a second chance to play camogie at the top level – but this Innishannon woman has, with a different county, and she’s grasped it.
Back in 2005 when Fiona O’Driscoll was in charge of the Cork senior camogie team, Sarah was brought into the set-up but these days she lines out with Dublin, having swapped Rebel red for light blue.
This Saturday in the opening round of Littlewoods Ireland Camogie League Division 1, Sarah and Dublin travel to Leeside to take on Paudie Murray’s Rebels, the latter smarting from relinquishing their All-Ireland crown to Kilkenny last September.
It’s the first time Sarah will have played against Cork on home soil.
‘I’m expecting a warm welcome!’ she laughed.
‘It will be weird, my first time going home to play in Cork with the Dublin jersey, and I hope I don’t start roaring “Come on Cork!” during the game.’
The match itself will be a testing examination for Dublin and their new manager David Herity, who took over in September 2016 from Shane O’Brien, the man who invited Sarah into the set-up in late 2014.
‘Cork are back training since December, they have decided to take the league incredibly seriously, they have done a lot of work,’ explained Sarah.
‘In previous years Cork wouldn’t have taken the league as seriously and saw it as a chance to blood new players, so you might have an easier day going down to Cork.
‘I expect them to show exactly where they are now, which means we will have a tough day on Saturday – but I think that’s a good thing for us.
‘We have a new manager in David Herity, he has put in a lot of work with us over the last few months but it’s very hard to know where you are until you get a game like this. This will be an education for us to see how much we have come on in the last few months and how much work we need to do to compete in this year’s championship.
‘We want to go out and win it but Cork are smarting and hurting from last September.’
Sarah (32) plays her club camogie on Dublin’s northside with St Vincent’s and she’s been beaming in the bright lights of the capital since 2013, but she hasn’t lost any of her Cork accent.
It’s as strong as it was during the days she spent here at home, playing senior, junior and minor camogie with Cork, as well as making a name for herself as captain of the Ireland U19 soccer team that competed at the 2002 European championships.
A law graduate, she couldn’t resist the lure of the big smoke four years ago, leaving Innishannon and home behind her.
Currently working as the engagement & communications lead for the Mark Pollock Trust, she had thought her camogie days were behind her.
In recent years and before the move to Dublin, she lined out with Cork City Women’s FC in the Women’s National League – but once settled in the capital, a friend from Ballygarvan, Emer Dillon, convinced her to sign up with St Vincent’s. It was the start of her second chance.
‘Emer was playing with Vincent’s, I was living on the Southside and I should have gone to Ballyboden because they would have been my closest club,’ she explained.
‘Ballyboden had a monopoly on the senior championship and Emer convinced me to go northside to Vincent’s to help break the hold of Ballyboden.
‘We got to the county final in October of 2014, and lost. That week, Shane O’Brien, who was taking over the Dublin team, rang me to ask me would I come in for a trial with the county team.
‘It’s something that I hadn’t thought about.
‘I rang dad at home and he said, “Well, Cork aren’t looking for you, you’re 30 years of age and they’re very unlikely to come looking for you again’. He told me to go for it.
‘When Shane O’Brien came in he had massive backing from the county board, he brought in an entirely new culture.
‘Dublin went to Cork in July of 2014 to play in the championship and they lost by 37 points; they were beaten out of the gate. That was my background to Dublin camogie when Shane asked me to come in.
‘We put the head down in December 2014 and January 2015 and then we played Cork in Parnell Park in February where we lost by five points – but that was a 32-point turnaround since the previous meeting.
‘That was the start of everything with me and Dublin, I saw that they were on the right track and that it was a cause to commit to.’
Sarah had effectively retired from camogie without actually saying it.
Soccer in recent years had seen her veer away from camogie – but Emer Dillon, St Vincent’s and Dublin offered her a second chance.
‘When I was writing for The Examiner and The Evening Echo, watching matches in Croke Park and in places like Macroom and Milford at games, I was retired and happy,’ said Sarah, who was also a sports journalist in a past life.
‘I think that winning so much with Cork when I was younger gave me a sense of accomplishment and I thought it was enough, that I was done with it.
‘Getting the opportunity to play camogie in Dublin and in Parnell Park and get that chance to reinvent myself is why it was so attractive. This is my second chance.’
In 2015 and 2016, Sarah has lined out for Dublin and she made such an impact in her first full season that she was nominated for an All-Star award in 2015 and won the player-of-the-match award in the infamous ‘coin toss’ game between Dublin and Clare that summer.
She’s enjoying every moment of this second coming with Dublin.
‘I would be different to a lot of people,’ Sarah said.
‘I grew up with Briege (Corkery), Rena (Buckley) and Anna (Geary), played with them, they’re friends of mine and they are also synonymous with Cork GAA – but they would consider it alien to even think about playing with another county.
‘Because I played soccer for so long – and with soccer you can play with numerous teams and put on different jerseys – you end up committing to a team culture rather than an emblem or a crest.
‘When I was playing with Cork City or Ballincollig or whatever team, you buy into the team itself rather than the name.
‘In Dublin everyone was so welcoming, I bought into team culture and what the team was trying to do, rather than the colour of the jersey.’