by Daragh Ó Conchúir
UNDERSTATED and for a long time underrated. For a number of years, Orla Cotter went largely unnoticed about her business, helping others shine in trademark selfless fashion.
In the end, it took having the free-taking responsibilities thrust upon her after Jenny O’Leary’s retirement to put the St Catherine’s woman in the spotlight and for people to recognise her broader range.
The tall St Catherine’s woman has won an All-Star in each of the last three seasons, the tally of four now much more in keeping with her ability.
One of the cleanest strikers around, she has an uncanny knack of scoring from distance but combines application with her more aesthetic skills and is a key element of the Cork method of suffocating the opposition in the middle third of the pitch, combining industry with guile.
This is her 12th season at Senior level. She won the first of five All-Ireland medals while Minor captain in 2006 and has been a key component of the red machine for most of the intervening period. She is Cork’s leading scorer going into Sunday’s Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship Final against Kilkenny.
One was reminded once more of Cotter’s importance in the National League Final, which she sat out until the interval due to a lingering hamstring issue.
Cork had been very poor in the first half but the Irish and PE teacher at Midleton College sparked a renewed effort with three points, including two from play, in the third quarter. It wasn’t enough to deny Kilkenny but it left an imprint on the mind.
So did her goal towards the end of the first half of the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Championship Semi-Final against Galway.
Cotter had seemed attracted to the sliotar like a magnet in that opening period as the Leesiders dominated and so it was when she fetched a long Aoife Murray delivery from over the head of Róisín Black just around the 45.
The Ballynoe native turned and made a bee line for the Galway goal and while the finish might not have matched the build-up for style and execution, and by no means did the net ripple, a green flag was raised. Cork were seven points clear as a result, in a game they won by three.
One imagines that goal was on her mind from the moment she turned.
“Oh nah sure, it kind of opened up so I just kept going” comes the response of someone who doesn’t need to big herself up but would never do so anyway.
“My finish let me down – my father’s been telling me I need to work on it anyway. By the skin of my teeth it went in at the end, it dribbled over the line but I’ll take it. We as a team need to work on our finishing of goals and hopefully we’ll be throwing in a few (against Kilkenny).”
Was she trying to pass it to Hannah Looney initially?
“I don’t know what I was trying to do really! I thought I saw Hannah half-free out of the corner of my eye but sure by the time I went to pass it, it kind of spilled out of my hands – but sure it all came off. There was a bit of luck there I think.”
She leaves out the soaring catch and run but that is typical. It is all about the end result with Cotter. Her placed-ball routine is a case in point. It isn’t classical – she is a left-handed player taking frees on her right – put her conversion rate is high. She is Cork’s leading scorer once more going into the decider.
While emphasis has been placed on them scoring just three points in the second half against Galway, there was much to admire about the Rebels’ win, particularly off a five-week lay-off.
“We started well but when we reflected on the game we were disappointed with our second half. Galway showed their worth in that second half, they really came back at us. But nothing is ever over at half-time and they kept fighting ‘til the very end and to be honest, we were lucky to come out on top at all.
“We were under pressure and to be fair to Chloe Sigerson, Laura Treacy, Rena Buckley and a few others, they’ve all stood up. We stood our ground and we ground it out for the last 10 minutes.
“We just need to work on getting the ball out of defence to set up an attack. We were playing defensively towards the end which made it really difficult for our forwards. We were low in numbers towards the top but as long as the scores aren’t going in at the other end you’ll get by.”
The totemic Gemma O’Connor left the fray mid-way through that encounter with damaged knee liagments, having gone into it with an ankle problem. Manager Paudie Murray has ruled her out of the equation for Sunday and Cork are preparing to take on Kilkenny without her.
The St. Finbarr’s legend is doing everything she can to possibly make some contribution according to Cotter, who leaves you in no doubt with her words and the tone they are delivered, about the impact O’Connor’s absence will have.
“Gemma’s injury is a big loss at the moment. We’re trying to pick it up again. We’re a small bit hopeful but you never know. At the moment we’re taking it that she’s out. Obviously she’s been a central figure for us over the last number of years so we’re just trying to figure out where we’ll go from here.
“It is what it is. We just have to get on with it and see what we can come up with. Kilkenny are the form team at the moment. They’ve gone through the Championship with no big issues or problems. We know we’re going to be up against it. They’re reigning All-Ireland champions so we’ll give them the respect they deserve but we’ve just got to find another way and it’s all on the day. We’ll give it a go anyway.”
O’Connor is maintaining a positive outlook and “popping in and out” as the rest of the panel finalise their preparations.
For her part, Cotter is raring to go although she isn’t sure if missing so much of the spring means she is any fresher.
“I don’t know really. There are so many games in the round-robin system that you make up the ground handy enough in one way. At the time it’s a big deal missing training but I was working away myself to try and get right. But every training session you miss, you’re dying to get back.”
Cork were denied a three-in-a-row by Kilkenny 12 months ago and though there were only four points between them at the final whistle, the gulf in performance was wider. That has been a massive motivation this year.
“You don’t mind losing once you’ve given it your best but a lot of us felt we didn’t perform to our best ability. We felt we didn’t really do ourselves justice. All credit to Kilkenny, they were the better team on the day, they wanted it more than us on the day and they were worthy winners by all means.
“Then we met them in the National League Final and we were only dying to play them again but they still got the better of us.
“We’ve one more chance to get it right.”