Grateful Orla Cotter owes little to Lady Luck

The Cork camogie player is reflecting on her 12 years in the red jersey, six of which ended with an All-Ireland senior medal. 
Grateful Orla Cotter owes little to Lady Luck

The conversation was steered to her medal haul by the recent All-Star camogie tour to

Madrid, the first of its kind, with Cotter among the travelling party.

There, she mixed with contemporaries from Clare, Dublin, and Offaly, players of superb ability who had never been involved in an All-Ireland senior final, let alone held the O’Duffy Cup.

It brought home, in her own words, how “fortunate” and “lucky” she has been to amass such a collection of Celtic crosses.

The 29-year-old half-forward has been part of exceptional Cork teams, but no-one could ever accuse her of being a passenger.

Her first All-Ireland senior medal arrived at the age of 18, Cotter introduced as a second-half sub during the win over Tipperary in 2006.

It was her first year on the senior panel, a time when Emer Dillon, Una O’Donoghue and Cathriona Foley were at the height of their powers. She established herself as a mainstay on the starting XV the following year and there she has remained.

She was given a score of 10 by one newspaper for her display in the ’08 final win over Galway, and was midfield for the ’09 triumph over Kilkenny. She was top-scorer with six points (four frees) when the Cats were again downed in 2014 and was also chief contributor 12 months later for another back-to-back success.

It was she who found Gemma O’Connor for the equalising score towards the end of this year’s decider and, even on the rare September afternoon when it didn’t go Cork’s way, Cotter was not to be found wanting: In 2016, when the Rebels were bullied around GAA HQ by Ann Downey’s Kilkenny, the rangy midfielder still managed to nab 1-2.

“When you are playing, you don’t think much about what you’ve won, but every so often you realise how fortunate you are to not only have one, but six,” says the PE and Irish teacher at Midleton College.

A native of Ballynoe, Cotter saw a fair bit of back garden action before the late Rena O’Leary handed her her first St Catherine’s shirt.

Along with her twin brother Shane and older brother Pádraig, both of whom won Munster minor medals, much of her childhood was spent with a hurley in the hand.

“Every summer, there would be a good few gangs from the parish up at the pitch,” she recalls, before adding, somewhat wryly: “There wasn’t a whole pile to do in Ballynoe when we were young, we made the most of it, though.

“The brothers and I would be fairly competitive. We certainly brought the best out in each other.”

She’d line out alongside them at U12 and U14, joining the St Catherine’s junior camogie team at the age of 12.

“Camogie was really important to me growing up. I just loved it. I still do. I always thought to myself, ‘yeah, I’d love to pull on the red jersey’. I remember going to Croke Park for a senior camogie final and coming away wanting to be there as a player, not a spectator.”

Winning an All-Ireland U16 title in 2003 under the watch of John Cronin provided the first taste. There followed the six All-Irelands and five All-Stars, the most recent

arriving in the last four

years.

When Jenny O’Leary, Anna Geary, Joanne O’Callaghan, Sara Hayes, Joanne Casey, and Angela Walsh stepped away after the 2014 victory, Cotter seamlessly took on a more profound leadership role.

“Heading into 2015, maybe, we thought: ‘Would we really have a chance this year?’ When there is not much expected of you, that’s when you progress further. Maybe people thought Cork haven’t a chance this year. You have that underdog tag and it helps you more than you think. We all stepped up.”

She turns 30 next year, but there won’t be any talk of retirement for a while yet.

“A couple of us in the panel would often joke about where does the time go. You

remember when you started out and how you were one of the younger ones.

"The tables don’t be long turning. You just have to step up to the mark, use the experience you’ve gathered and taken from other players to help young girls along.

“Looking back, I’ve won six out of 12. That isn’t so bad. I’ll never forget at the end of my first year in with the seniors, Aoife Murray said to me: ‘You won’t always win.’ That’s remained with me. It makes you realise how lucky you are to get to Croke Park and even luckier to be leaving it a winner.”

Luck has had very little to do with it.

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