Playing with her club in Enniskeane and involved with the county minor team, Paudie Murray invited this promising young star to join his squad. Being part of a senior set-up can be intimidating at the best of times, never mind at such a brittle age. Cork were defeated by Wexford in the All-Ireland final that year. Orla was listed among the substitutes. Her player profile in the match programme was brief — ‘secondary school student, member of the Cork minor panel’.
Fast forward five years.
The UCC physiology student is now the holder of two All-Irelands senior medals from 2014 and 2015. She lines out in the forward line, and is a regular starter. Orla remembers those earlier days.
“I was coming from a small club in west Cork. It was quite daunting, but when I look back on it now it was a great experience. Paudie called me in towards the end of the year. Myself and Laura Treacy (Killeagh), we were two young ones going training with the likes of Jenny O’Leary, Gemma O’Connor, and Angela Walsh.
“The Enniskeane club was formed in 1995, and it has gone from strength to strength. From U8s all the way up to minor, and we play intermediate. A few great people are keeping it going. Dermot Curtin, in particular, has been looking after teams for nearly 10 years at this stage.”
St Mary’s is the local GAA club. Last January 12 months, the whole community and wider afield, was rocked with the news of the sudden death of club stalwart John Corcoran.
“John was always a very nice man to meet,” Orla recalls. “Whenever I went home, he was very encouraging and proud of my achievements. My first time starting with Cork was in 2015. It couldn’t have gone better, winning the All-Ireland. Within two hours Gerard Corcoran (John’s brother) was on to me to bring the cup down west. He was chairman of the camogie club at the time.
“So, a few girls and some of the management came down and we had a great night. John was there, and I will never forget he said a few words in Irish in the hall at home. It was a really nice welcome. He was such a character, everyone loved listening to him. That was a very special moment for me. He loved those kind of days, he loved Cork winning, and he loved anyone from west Cork winning.”
She is the youngest of six. Her brother Stephen plays senior hurling with Erin’s Own. As for a positive role model, it is one of her own team-mates.
“I pushed towards hurling especially with my brother Stephen playing. I looked up to him when I was growing up. But, if there was ever talk of camogie it was always Gemma O’Connor who stood out for me. She hurls so freely, I admire that. She always stands out at centre-back. Great wristy hurling. She was the type of player I aimed to be like. When I came on the team and met her, she was a very welcoming person. Down to earth and she trained so hard. She was a great example for me. She symbolises everything good about camogie. A leader and dead honest.
“I was devastated for her the last day against Galway (she picked up a serious knee injury that could keep her out of the final), she was so unlucky. That can happen to anyone but Gemma might be coming towards the end of her career. If she doesn’t make it, we will go to Dublin and we will try to do it for her. She has given a lot to Cork camogie and I think we owe it to her.”
Living in Cork at the moment makes life a little easier, as camogie takes up a lot of her time and college is about to resume. She manages to hold down a job as well, which also allows her to pursue another of her interests.
“I work part-time in the Opera House in the box office. I have been there since I started college. My sister Yvonne was involved there. We are very into music as a family. It is great to see the pantos, and musicals like Annie. Then you have the Jazz weekend. They are all very interesting. When I get a chance, I try to slip in and maybe watch a musical or whatever play is on. I love music and that side of it.”
The only show in town next weekend is Kilkenny at Croke Park on Sunday. Orla is eagerly looking forward to the big day and is fortunate in that she doesn’t get too anxious ahead of games.
“You need to enjoy your sport. I would normally room with Meabh Cahalane and probably will for the All Ireland final We are very similar. We wouldn’t focus too much on the match beforehand. We would be able to keep it pretty relaxed and have a bit of fun.
“There are a few of us around the same age — Meabh, Laura, Hannah Looney and Amy O’Connor. Ashling Thompson is another girl who is young at heart. She fits in with all of us. We don’t take each other too seriously either and it is good to keep it that way. It can be stressful when you are coming up to big games. I would be able to switch off but you do have a lot of people talking to you and you can get distracted by it all. So, it is good to enjoy it at the same time.”
The Cats are defending the title after Cork surrendered the O’Duffy Cup last September.
“All we wanted this year was to get back to the final and to get another chance. We are coming up against an exceptional Kilkenny side. You could see how good they were after coming through the Dublin test (semi-final). Dublin are a strong physical side so that was no easy task. Kilkenny showed their character and desire.
“Last year was an awful feeling. We felt we didn’t play to our potential, and that makes it a lot worse. That could happen again this year, but you can’t go in with that frame of mind. All we can do is our best. We will have to play our hearts out. We will see where that takes us.”