By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Jenny O’Leary hasn’t played in a major final since Cork lost to Wexford in the 2007 All-Ireland. The Rebels bounced back to garner the next two All-Irelands but by that stage, O’Leary was back-packing through New Zealand and Australia.
She already had three All-Ireland medals in her pocket, and been named an All-Star in four successive seasons. The batteries needed recharging.
There was never any doubt about coming back though. O’Leary returned to the Cork fold in 2010 and was in top form when claiming her fifth All Star last year.
Now, Cork are back operating at a level they are accustomed to, in the Irish Daily Star Camogie League Division 1 final.
Paudie Murray – brother of goalkeeper Aoife – has come in as manager and brought a backroom team with him that understands the sport. O’Leary describes the set-up as a “community” rather than a group of players and management.
“There’s a great buzz around the camp” says O’Leary. “We’re really together this year. We just feel really good about the team and the way things are going. We haven’t been in the National League final since 2007 so we’re taking it very seriously, while also using it to see where we’re at going into the championship.”
“Our trainers at the very beginning were saying they would work hard for us and we’d have to do the same but that meant working hard off the field as well. We’ve definitely taken that on board this year.
“There are a lot of new players on the team and we’re trying to integrate them as best as possible. There seems to be more cohesion in the group. Everyone wants the same thing and we’re determined to achieve it for each other.”
Amongst the youngsters straining at the leash are Leaving Cert student Katie Buckley, and Claire Shine, who has just turned 17.
Now 28, O’Leary knows what it’s like to be in their shoes, having won her first All-Ireland in 2002. These days, she finds herself amongst a group including Aoife Murray, Gemma O’Connor, Orla Cotter, Briege Corkery, Rena Buckley, Joanne O’Callaghan, Jenny Duffy and Anna Geary that have been around a long time. They remain as hungry as ever.
“We’ve been disappointed the last few years as we feel we haven’t reached the potential we could have. Ten years ago, we weren’t thinking that time was running out. We see it now and we want to grab any opportunity we can.
“I’ve practically grown up with all those girls. We know what it’s like to win, we know what it’s like to lose. Definitely this year, we feel we need to reach that potential we know is in us.”
The English and PE teacher at Ballincollig’s Coláiste Choilm might not have outstanding memories of that last final appearance against tomorrow’s opponents Wexford, but mention of their most recent meeting at in a league decider just a few months prior to that definitely brings a smile.
O’Leary stepped up to an injury-time free to launch the winning point and she would settle for a repeat to bag her fourth league memento.
“It’s so long ago at this stage I can barely remember it myself. It was good timing alright but I wouldn’t mind another one now.”
Cork: A Murray; J Duffy, R Buckley, J O’Callaghan; B Corkery, E O’Sullivan, P Mackey; L Dorgan, G O’Connor; O Cotter, A Geary, K Mackey; J White, R Curtin, J O’Leary
Wexford: M D’Arcy; N Lambert, C O’Loughlin, K Atkinson; S Redmond, M Leacy, D Codd; J Dwyer, L Bolger; K Kelly, B Gordon, F Rochford; K Parrock, U Jacob, E Quigley