O’Connor’s camogie crusade starts brightly

CORK’S dual All-Ireland medallist Mary O’Connor has no divided loyalties as far as her playing career is concerned.

The rivalry with neighbours Kerry provides a similar motivation for the ladies’ football team to the one it does in the men’s game. However, it’s a very different story in relation to her camogie activities.

In her professional life, she is dedicated to promoting the game in the Kingdom.

She is one of three Regional Development Co-ordinators appointed by the Camogie Association, and while her brief is for Munster and South Leinster, the establishment of a club structure in the Kingdom has been given priority.

“You put your energies into every county but one of our goals was to get camogie up and running in Kerry,” she explains.

“We went in there in January and had a fun day and it went on from there. We visited club areas and we targeted North Kerry because obviously hurling is very strong there. We felt if we could clubs working in North Kerry we felt we could progress to the rest of the county.”

There are now three clubs in the area — Causeway, Ardfert/Kilmoyley and Abbeydorney/Lixnaw. And she takes pride in the fact Laune Rangers have another “up and running” in the heart of Kerry football, Killorglin. In the longer term, they will be targeting Tralee, on the basis that a town with such a big population should have the capacity to sustain “at least” one club.

Working in tandem with the county board, foundation coaching courses have been organised and, under the guidance of vice-chairman Jerome Conway, training courses have been held for club officers.

“There would be parents who would be enthusiastic but wouldn’t have a knowledge of the game,” O’Connor added. “Maurice Leahy, who is the GPO (Games Promotion Officer) down in Kerry, has been fantastic and we have got the girls coming to training twice a week.”

Even more encouraging is the fact each of the clubs set up has at least 50 girls registered from under-12 down to under-six.

“That’s a good start — girls playing in the sport who had never played.”

But she accepts this will only be deemed a success if the same numbers are still playing this time next year.

O’Connor was one of five dual players who shared in Cork’s All-Ireland camogie win over Tipperary and the first success in the ladies’ football senior championship. This year seven girls are involved in both panels.

“What was the key to our success last year was that both managements communicated. It meant that players came to each inter-county match fresh. Training sessions were tailored for our needs which was very important. As well as that, girls were equally committed. I don’t think any of them would have picked one game above the other!”

In recent weeks, she picked up National League medals in both codes, admitting that the success against Meath in football had been especially fulfilling.

“We were under a lot of pressure. Meath really put it up to us, but in the second half we showed our character. Our experience of being in the All-Ireland final last year stood to us. Over the final few minutes we didn’t panic. We knew what time was on the clock and kept taking our scores. In the camogie final last week we went in at half-time down against Tipperary, but at start of the second half we got a goal which brought us into it. After that, we worked really hard.

“The National League was a hard slog for us. It had a new format as well. We won’t know until later when the championship gets under way how much it takes out of us.”

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