by Sarah Stanley
Success in Camogie has been a frequent feeling for young Rebel Amy O’Connor, but the multi-talented ace is “never really satisfied” as she looks ahead to today’s All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final showdown against Galway.
Despite being unbeaten in the Provincial and the All-Ireland series so far, there is still much improvement to be made in the eyes of the Cork star as they face off against this year’s Division 1 league champions.
“This year has been up and down really.” O’Connor recalls. “We didn’t perform well in the league, beaten in the Semi-Final but we could have been a whole lot better. It’s great to win the Munster title but we haven’t reached the performances we would have liked to. There are loads of improvements to be made as well and that’s a good thing that we know there have to be improvements made.”
When the Camogie Association launched their Littlewoods Ireland Camogie Leagues back in January, O’Connor was making headlines for comments that were circulating about the physicality of the game, however the right-half forward feels those comments were taken out of context and unfairly so.
“At the start of the year my comments were totally misinterpreted. I came out and said there needed to be more flow to the games, I never said I wanted more physicality. I’m not the type of player that’s looking for physicality, that’s not how we play the game.
“I remember after I gave that interview at the start of the year, I was playing a game soon after and I got shouldered, it was a clear free and the referee said “well, you were looking for more physicality” and I never said that. It was taken out of context. I don’t blame the referees at all. They’re sticking to the rulebook and they are doing their job. If you were to analyse their performances, they’re probably excellent, based on the rulebooks.”
As a youngster growing up in a rough area of Knocknaheeney, the prospects of going to college or even being an intercounty star wouldn’t have been a realistic expectation. She watched many young people turn to drugs and alcohol, rather than getting the chance to have a good career.
“The area I come from wouldn’t be a good area for people going to college and people getting into the wrong things, drugs and alcohol. My mam and dad were always with me and my brother advising us education, education, education. Even though it wouldn’t have the best name I am very proud to be from there. I have seen people my own age going down the wrong road, but I never wanted that for myself.”
Thanks to her dedication and that of her parents, O’Connor defied the status quo and went on to achieve success in Camogie, soccer and with her education. She is a former Ireland underage soccer player, an All-Ireland Champion in Camogie and a graduate of UCC where she received a dual scholarship and a special recognition award for excelling in both her sport and her studies.
“Sometimes I don’t think it will ever compare (winning the college award) to wining an All-Ireland but at the same time it is probably my biggest achievement in another way as well. My mam and dad literally travelled the length and breadth of the country every match to make sure I was involved in something. I am the first in my family to go to college, my brother now thankfully went on and he’s in college and it was such a proud day for my mam and dad”.
Despite the pressure of playing two sports in college along with studying and doing exams, the pressure never phased her. There were more important things in life than stressing over her studies.
“It wasn’t my whole life and I think that was the key to it. I didn’t allow it to overcome me, I had my sport I had other things going on other than sport and I think that’s very important.”
Victory in today’s Semi-Final will see O’Connor return to Croke Park in September, where almost twelve months ago, she was on the scoresheet as Cork beat Kilkenny by a single score to retain their crown. Getting to raise the white flag in a game of such magnitude and in an iconic stadium was her dream becoming a reality.
“It is definitely a dream come true. You have probably done it in your head a million times before you actually do it, your imagining it all the time. That is something our hurling coach Kevin Murray would always say to us, you’re after taking the shot a million times already. It is a brilliant feeling.
“The stadium, there was over 20 thousand here last year and it is brilliant but imagine how the men feel when there is 80 thousand people in here. Obviously, it is brilliant and it is a dream come true but wouldn’t it be great to see in a few years the stadium more full for the women’s game.”
Having achieved so much already, what does the UCC graduate want to achieve in the future?
“I’m the type of person that is never really satisfied. I’m probably over critical of myself at times. I’m not sitting here saying I want to win 16 or 17 All-Ireland medals or anything, I just want to be the best player I can be”
It is that self determination that has brought her success in everything she has done to date. Looking back on her decision to stop playing soccer, O’Connor feels it was the right thing to do for her to achieve her dreams in Camogie.
“I don’t have a single regret about my decision. Every time I play Camogie I love playing it. and I don’t have a single regret. My dream was always to play for Cork Camogie. It was the only thing I ever wanted to do.
“People grow up wanting to be teachers, wanting to be doctors but I always only wanted to play for Cork Camogie. Even when I was playing soccer with Ireland, I could never really say that I wanted to play senior with Ireland. It was just something I never wanted to set out to do, it was never the dream. It was only ever to play senior with Cork for as long as I can.”