Her personality if filled with positivity, and it’s that assurance that will soothe the Cork defence in front of her in tonight’s Tesco Homegrown Division 1 National League final replay against Galway in O’Moore Park, Portlaoise (7.30pm, live on TG4).
O’Brien was involved in a decisive penalty decision in Saturday’s drawn decider when she collided with Ger Conneally on the edge of the square with 20 minutes to go.
O’Brien’s eyes were firmly on the ball and there was no intent when Conneally was upended, but the honesty of the Clonakilty woman comes to the fore when asked about the incident.
“I came off the pitch and I was adamant it wasn’t a penalty. I genuinely didn’t think it was. I went for the ball, and so did she, but when I saw it on TV after, it was a penalty.
“In the law there was no intent there, but it was a tackle. In the moment though things just happen so fast and you’re so focused, you don’t realise.”
Luckily for 26-year-old O’Brien, Annette Clarke’s penalty went right of the post and wide, and Cork applied a psychological blow by raising a green flag in the next attack.
It instigated another Cork comeback, in what was a hugely entertaining advert for the ladies’ game.
“It was such an intense match and it wasn’t until we sat down and spoke about it on the way down on the bus that we realised how fast it actually was. It was hell for leather stuff, and it’s great when you hear people talking about how good it was to watch. If the replay is going to be another cracker, though I’m hoping we’ll be the ones coming out with the win.”
A massage therapist based in Tralee, O’Brien completes a three-hour round trip to training three times a week, but her efforts have paid dividends.
Since taking over from former All-Star-winning goalkeeper Elaine Harte, tomorrow will mark O’Brien’s fourth senior final start on a national stage wearing the No.1 jersey, and the improvement in her game has been immense since joining Eamonn Ryan’s squad in 2013. With the help of goalkeeping coach Kieran Dwyer and Ryan’s son, Don, O’Brien and her protege Meabh O’Sullivan are key components to Cork’s possession game when it comes to kickouts. O’Brien’s accuracy is up there with the best, and she’s hoping it’ll stay that way this evening as Cork bid for their ninth title since 2005.
“Keeping possession will be so important for us in general, and at times both teams were guilty of losing the ball easily the first day. This time, things will have to be a lot tighter, and you’d expect Galway to be the same. Defensively we did very well in keeping them to just a goal given how well they’ve been scoring in the league, but I think for us we’ve to be much more careful with ball in hand going forward.”
Meanwhile Cork coach Eamonn Ryan has made no changes to his starting side for the replay. The availability of his midfield pairing, dual stars Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley, has come as a relief to the nine-time All-Ireland-winning coach, as they opted not to feature with the Cork camogie team in today’s Munster Senior Championship final against Tipperary.
However, 19-year-old Maebh Cahalane — daughter of former Cork footballer Niall Cahalane— will line out for camogie coach Paudie Murray. The problem of dual stardom initially arose for Ryan in 2006 when seven of his squad played both codes.
In 2010, Rena Buckley and Mary O’Connor lined out in the camogie All-Ireland championship round-robin game against Galway in Athenry at 2pm, before departing immediately at the final whistle for the Munster SFC final against Clare in Castletownroche at 5.30pm. On that occasion a garda escort from Limerick to Charleville helped facilitate the players.
Meanwhile, Galway coach Kevin Reidy has also named the same starting 15 that featured in last weekend’s 3-8 to 1-14 drawn game in Parnell Park for this evening’s clash.
M O’Brien, M Ambrose, R Phelan, B Stack; V Foley, R O’Sullivan, G O’Flynn; R Buckley, B Corkery; C O’Sullivan, A Hutchings, A Walsh; D O’Sullivan, V Mulcahy, O Finn.
J Connolly; S Gormally, E Flaherty, A Seoighe; N Connolly, N Ward , S Burke; A Clarke, G Conneally, B Hannon; P Gleeson, L Ward, O Divilly, T Leonard, E Concannon.