ORLA Cronin loves music, musicals, pantos, the works, so it’s fitting that she delivered her greatest hit on the big stage last Sunday.
In college in UCC (a fourth year student in physiology), she works part-time at the Opera House in the box office – but delivered a show-stopping performance of her own to inspire Cork to the Liberty Insurance senior camogie championship title in Croke Park.
Orla looked every inch a star.
Finishing with three points from play and nullifying the threat of Kilkenny danger woman Ann Dalton, the Enniskeane woman was the easy choice as player of the match.
She went straight to the top of the charts.
And on The Sunday Game hours after the final, when she was named player of the match, Orla took her chance to remind the watching world that she’s from West Cork – and is so proud of that.
‘It’s a huge honour to be representing West Cork on the Cork team,’ she beamed, focussing the spotlight on West Cork camogie and giving it a welcome boost.
Not since the legendary Jennifer O’Leary from Barryroe – an eight-time All-Star, four-time All-Ireland winner and six-time national league winner – retired from the inter-county scene after the 2014 season have we seen a West Cork camogie player dominate the local and national headlines at the business end of the season.
Orla’s performances this season, and in last Sunday’s final, will elevate her to a new level, and also give her a profile that she hasn’t had before – but it also helps raise the profile of camogie here in the west of the county.
She’s a great ambassador for the sport. Only 21 years old she has already won three senior All-Irelands in four seasons. And there’s more to come.
‘In West Cork you’re not known for your hurling or your camogie, it’s a lot of football down here,’ she told us last week, but her eye-catching performance in the All-Ireland senior final shows that West Cork can produce talented camogie stars.
Libby Coppinger from St Colum’s is another example, she started last Sunday’s All-Ireland final and played an important role in the win.
Then you have Inniscarra’s Niamh McCarthy whose parents hail from West Cork, her mother is former Irish international basketball player Rose Breen from Skibbereen and her father is Andrew McCarthy from Drimoleague. (Incidentally, Niamh’s first cousin, rising young rugby star Enya Breen won gold with Ireland U18 girls’ sevens in the recent UK School Games; they’re a talented family).
‘There’s a lot of work going on at ground level in West Cork,’ Star columnist Jennifer O’Leary told us this week.
‘There is a loyal camogie following here and there was a big West Cork contingent at the game on Sunday. A bus travelled to Dublin from Barryroe and there wasn’t even anyone from the club involved!
‘To see Orla and Libby play like that on the big stage, it’s fantastic promotion for the game here. They are so young, there’s more to come from them and that’s a great thing for West Cork camogie.
‘It will get even more people playing camogie.
‘There is a stronghold of football in West Cork but Orla and Libby are showing that it is possible to play camogie in West Cork and play at the highest level.
‘There is a pathway there that shows we have players who can come through and make an impact on a big day like an All-Ireland final. That’s brilliant for young players to see.’
In the coming weeks, expect both Orla and Libby to bring the O’Duffy Cup to West Cork and Cork camogie powers-that-be need to take advantage of the new-found fame of the West’s best because there is plenty of talent here that can be harnessed and moulded.
Orla Cronin’s number one right now and her best years are yet to come. And as she watched Jennifer O’Leary in her prime, other young girls are now watching her with the same awe. And the big winner here is West Cork camogie.