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 National 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” she said. “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 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. Now, 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 who 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 in a league decider just a few months prior to that definitely brings a smile: “It’s so long ago at this stage I can barely remember it myself. It was good timing all right but I wouldn’t mind another one now.”
Meanwhile, Derry and Meath meet in the Division 2 final at 2.45pm in Páirc Tailteann. Meath have made remarkable strides over the last number of years and with Jane Dolan and Kristina Troy in action they should have enough to triumph.
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.