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Some of the greatest players that have ever worn a skort play on the Wexford camogie team that has won the last two All-Irelands and plays Offaly in this afternoon’s semi-final.

But for every Eric Cantona, there must be a Denis Irwin to do the work that remains unheralded but is just as important when it comes to collecting silverware.

Claire O’Connor is one of those on JJ Doyle’s side. Now 31 – my use of the term “experienced” prompts a wicked cackle of laughter – the Rathnure woman has been wearing a county jersey for 21 years, having made her debut alongside Kelly and Michelle O’Leary in a national school selection.

At corner-back, she is the team’s smiling assassin, whose job it is to suffocate the attacking threat of a player that is often the opposition’s ‘go-to’ operator.

And while corner-backs have more than a working knowledge of the game’s darker arts, for O’Connor, the flick, hook and block are the preferred means of nullification, if the most simple approach of getting to the sliotar fails.

How good is she? Well, two years ago she kept every player she marked in the championship scoreless. So, very good is the answer. Unsurprisingly, that feat earned her an All-Star and she made it two-in-a-row last year.

The primary school teacher was born to the hurley and sliotar. Her mother, Ann (née Maher) played for the county before moving to Dublin. Her father, Teddy won an All-Ireland with the Yellowbellies in 1968.

“The club is based in hurling. The numbers are small at the moment but anyone that can play, plays. You have panto in the winter and hurling in the summer.”

O’Connor is a sweet singer herself, a regular on the panto scene. Another passion is clothes and according to Mary Leacy, she is the best dressed player on the panel.

Ironically, one of Ireland’s leading fashion designers has the same name and her mission statement could have been written for the camogie player.

“The Claire O’Connor woman is her own woman, mistress of her own destiny” it reads. “Highly individualistic and non-conformist. Not a fashion victim or slave but has a finely-tuned sense of the aesthetic. Loves beauty and craftsmanship… She is not a shrinking violet… utterly confident.”

It is a source of great pride to have sisters Eimear and Claire as part of the panel. Another sister, Aoife retired after captaining Wexford to victory in 2010. Niamh has also worn the county jersey.

“It’s nice to have them there. I enjoy camogie now as much as I did that first day for Wexford standing at about four feet in a men’s goals. I probably didn’t think I’d still be playing now and the commitment is massive. But you get fitter every year to be honest so there’s no issue there. It’s just the time it takes up in your life.”
Qualifying automatically to the All-Ireland semi-final has been a godsend, she maintains.

“The whole of July was taken up with club apart from one week. That kind of took the focus of the county and that wasn’t any harm. We were playing competitive matches, which was as good as training as the championship in Wexford is extremely competitive at the moment.

“We trained one night a week but when we went back full-time, it was very tough training. It’s all about speed at the moment, which is something we’ve been working on. Then it was a countdown to who were we going to get. It was a waiting game for a good while but you will have to be up to speed against Offaly.

“They have made a lot of progress from the first time we played them in the league this year, to the Leinster final, when there was only five points in it. What they have done coming up from junior and intermediate so quickly has been brilliant. We won’t be complacent in any way at all. Absolutely not. We will be expecting a huge battle.”

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