By Daragh Ó Conchúir
IT HAS been a momentous few months in the life of Cork scoring machine, Orla Cotter.
On May 26th, she got married to Mark and the couple embarked on a dream honeymoon, taking in Canada and then Alaska, mixing it with bears, elk and moose, revelling in the breath-taking scenery of the Rocky Mountains and the Tongass National Forest.
At the end of July, Cotter turned 30, or “hit a new decade” as she describes it with a chuckle.
This may mark a new phase in her life but as of now, very little is changing. Cotter and her new husband were back on Irish turf on Wednesday. She was training with Cork on Thursday. The winner of six All-Irelands and five All-Stars helped the Rebels reach another Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship Semi-Final and doesn’t envisage drawing the curtain down on her 13-season career just yet.
“You know it’s going to come to an end at some stage” muses Cotter. “I suppose as long as the body is okay, you’re enjoying it, you’ll keep tipping away for a while. I’d hate to leave because of injury is the only thing. I’d prefer to leave on my own terms but we’ll see. Obviously, there’s only a few more years left in it so we’ll take it year by year and we’ll see what happens.”
It is unusual for intercounty Camogie players to have their nuptials during the summer but the St. Catherine’s star, renowned as one of the most selfless operators around, decided to put herself first for once.
“We looked at that but this was the only time we could go away for a decent length of time after. At Christmas, we’d just about get two weeks so we said we’d go. We headed to Canada and did a cruise around Alaska then. It was class.”
“You only, hopefully, get married once so we just said we’d do it. I’ve three months off every summer and I’ve never gone away so I just said we’d do it this summer and luckily it’s worked out. I was away for the first game against Wexford. I came back the Wednesday before the Dublin game and knew obviously I wouldn’t be playing for that but I’ve been back into it since then.”
Cork have been racking up eye-watering tallies through the group stages, completing the five games with 15 goals and 130 points. A total of 15 individuals have contributed to that tally, which works out at an average of 3-20 a game. That depth is why Cotter herself has not been assured of a starting place since her return.
“We worked a lot on attacking play but also on defending. Every session we’re trying to improve something from the last session. They’re great at motivating us in that way, (hurling coach) Kevin Murray and Mazzer (S & C coach Martin O’Brien), to get us to improve our standards.
“Throughout the championship, (manager) Paudie (Murray)’s been trying a few different things. We have a lot of players and there’s going to be a lot of competition for places. We’ve plenty OF forwards that can come in and get on the scoresheet easily. Likewise, there’s competition in the back as well. Hopefully trying things out, we’ll have different options.
“Everyone goes out to play their best but it doesn’t always work out and it’s great to have people to call on that know the job and know what to do. Throughout the championship, loads of people got loads of game time so it shouldn’t be a big surprise if they’re called upon.”
The heroine of last September’s All-Ireland success, Julia White has re-established herself as a regular having endured a horrific number of injuries. White is joint leading goalscorer in the championship with four goals (a tally she shares with Tipperary’s Cáit Devane). Though a rival for a spot in the front eight, Cotter is pleased for the former skipper.
“It’s fantastic. I’m delighted for Julia. She puts a lot of time and work into it and has had a terrible few years with all the injuries, especially that Achilles injury she had a few years ago. I’m delighted for her to get back. She brings an awful lot of work rate, energy and she has great passion for it as well so it’s great to have her around the place.”
The aforementioned Kevin Murray has been namechecked regularly by the players for the quality of his coaching.
In a recent interview in the Irish Examiner, Gemma O’Connor explained how her long-distance equaliser on the hour that preceded White’s injury-time winner in last year’s All-Ireland Final, was the result of the work the former All-Ireland-winning hurler had done with the team. It was Cotter who provided the last, accurate stick pass.
“It’s something Kevin has definitely brought to her play. If it’s not on, you keep possession, you don’t just get rid of it, you recycle it. The shot might open up for someone else and that day we were lucky it was Gemma – it was a monster of a point and only Gemma O’Connor would score it.
“It’s definitely something we’re trying to do, use possession carefully, make use of the ball rather than just get rid of it for the sake of it.”
Tipperary are familiar opposition. When Cotter came into the panel first in 2006, it was Tipp and Cork who were the superpowers of Camogie. Indeed she claimed her first All-Ireland medal in that debut season, at the expense of the Premiers, coming on as a second-half sub for Angela Walsh.
“I remember anytime we ever played Tipp, I remember the likes of Philly Fogarty, Claire Grogan, Eimear McDonnell – they’d unbelievable talent. There was always fierce rivalry between Cork and Tipp and you never knew what way it was gonna go. Everything was left out on the field in those days.”
And Saturday’s opponents?
“Tipp had a good win over Waterford in the Quarter-Final. We met them three or four times already this year between the League, Munster Championship and the round-robin, so we know each other fairly well.
“There’s always traditionally been a good rivalry between Cork and Tipp and the All-Ireland Semi-Final will be no different. Tipp will on their home patch in Thurles and they’ll have plenty of support. And they have some very good quality players in Cáit Devane, Orla O’Dwyer and Mary Ryan. They’re not lacking in experience at all and they’ll be out to win. It’s not every year you get to a Semi so when you do you want to make the most of it.
“For us, it’s the first game this year where if you lose, you’re out. It’s the part of the season you want to be playing in. You wanna be there or thereabouts at this time of year and we’re delighted that we are. We’re not looking beyond Tipp. We can’t.”
Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Finals
Saturday August 18th
Semple Stadium, Thurles
Galway v Kilkenny
Cork v Tipperary
Students/Senior Citizens: €8
Under 18s: €3
Tickets can be purchased online from www.tickets.ie and from selected Centra and SuperValu stores nationwide
Tickets will also be available to purchase at the ground on the day of the match.