BEFORE the first lockdown in March Orla Cronin was in flying form for Cork.
She scored 0-9 in both national league wins against Waterford and Kilkenny, and was ticking a lot of boxes – she was averaging more possessions per game, was involved in 40% of Cork scores, had taken over free-taking duties, was retaining more possession and was more of an overall influence.
As Cork camogie manager Paudie Murray pointed out, the Enniskeane woman was moving her game to the next level.
But then the inter-county scene was put on hold and we had to wait to see if the West Cork native could keep on that upward trajectory when the season resumed. The answer is a resounding yes.
In between this split inter-county season she was the driving force in Enniskeane’s county intermediate championship triumph and racked up 0-11 in a player-of-the-match performance in the county final.
Cork centre-forward Cronin has carried that impressive form into the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship and a quick look at these stats back that up:
- She has scored 0-20 in three games (against Wexford, Galway and Clare), 0-17 from placed balls.
- She has a 100 percent record from frees so far in the championship.
- Cronin is Cork’s top scorer.
- She is the fifth top scorer in the senior championship.
- The Cork centre forward has also played every minute of all three games.
Her performances haven’t gone unnoticed either, with former Cork goalkeeper Aoife Murray impressed by Cronin’s powerful showing in the All-Ireland quarter-final win against Clare at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
‘Movement from Orla Cronin was outstanding again, great game for Cork,’ nine-time All-Ireland winner Murray commented on Twitter.
As well as topping the scoring charts, she’s also a creative outlet and is making the Cork attack tick. In injury-time against Clare, she burst through their defence, hand passed to Amy O’Connor who hit the back of the net. Cronin’s fingerprints are all over this Cork team and she’ll be a crucial figure again this Saturday afternoon when the Rebels battle old foes Kilkenny in an All-Ireland semi-final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
‘That movement is part of the hard work,’ Cronin told the Star Sport Podcast this week.
‘If you’re not moving, you’re not going to get yourself in the game or you’re not going to create opportunities for others around you.
‘My goal every game is to work as hard as I can off the ball as I can on the ball, and hopefully good results will come from that.’
The results have followed and it sees a new-look Cork back in the last four of the championship. In recent seasons they’ve lost leaders like Aoife Murray and Rena Buckley, while Orla Cotter is not available this season, and both Gemma O’Connor and Julia White have missed the recent games through injury. It means, so, Cronin (24) has to take on more of a leadership role, alongside Amy O’Connor, dual star Hannah Looney, rock-solid full back Laura Treacy and the experienced Ashling Thompson.
‘Gemma, Aoife and Orla are massive losses and have left big boots to fill,’ Cronin said.
‘Myself, Amy, Laura, Hannah, we have played with them for a number of years and learned a lot off them, and we realise it’s up to us to help carry the team and bring the others along. It happens organically. You fit into that role without even realising it.’
Those leaders will need to stand up this Saturday against an experienced Kilkenny team that has lost the last three All-Ireland senior finals.
‘They have been down this road so many times in the last few years that they won’t fear it and there will be nothing in the game on Saturday,’ Cronin said, but she feels that Cork are building towards a big performance.
After getting a walk-over from Offaly in their opening group game Cork beat Wexford by 3-12 to 1-8 (Cork’s first competitive game in 237 days). That was followed by a 0-15 to 0-12 loss away to reigning champions Galway in a repeat of last year’s semi-final, but Cork were back to winning ways when finishing strong to defeat Clare in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
‘The Galway game was all about getting a performance that day and I think we did show a lot of character,’ Cronin explained.
‘We were very disappointed after last year’s semi-final defeat, I don’t think we did ourselves justice. Galway brought an intensity that day and we didn’t match it and didn’t handle it as well as we could have. We had that in mind going up to Galway, that we weren’t going to play like we did last year and let them play more intense than us. Against Clare, that’s where our resilience and attitude came in. That game will stand to us, it showed that we can keep going for the full 60 minutes.’
And Cork will need to hit new heights on Saturday if they want to get back into an All-Ireland final. It’s also the ideal stage for Cronin to rubberstamp her growing reputation as Cork’s go-to player and see her move to that next level, like Paudie Murray predicted earlier this year.