When Paudie Murray stepped into the role of Cork camogie manager in the winter of 2011, he had his sister Aoife in one ear telling him there were All-Irelands in this group, while in the other he had people outside of the squad remarking that Cork “would be down for 10 to 15 years”.
Paudie’s assessment after his first few months in the job was that a culture change among players was required.
“The culture within the team was poor at the time,” said Murray. “Not knocking any of the players, but it was more happy-go-lucky, maybe the free T-shirt was more important than the hard training session. Trying to change that around wasn’t easy.”
In his first season at the helm, Cork returned to the All-Ireland final after a three-year absence. They fell to Wexford by seven and from that starting team, only five players — Aoife Murray, Gemma O’Connor, Orla Cotter and the Mackey twins, Katrina and Pamela — began the recent semi-final win over Tipperary.
Murray has overseen a huge turnover in players and is particularly thankful to Aoife, 35, and Gemma O’Connor, 33, for hanging around while said transition took place. Indeed, Murray reckons O’Connor, who is coming to the end of her 17th season in the red shirt, has “another four years left in her”.
Sunday’s decider is Cork’s sixth All-Ireland final under Murray. They’ve won three: Not bad going for a county which was supposed to be on the wane for at least a decade.
“I know when I was going into the job people questioned why I should be taking it because they thought Cork camogie was on a downward spiral and, at that stage, there would be a number of people looking at retirement.
“I remember somebody telling me that Cork would be down for 10-15 years. We’ve managed to gradually turn it around. It has been a help with the likes of Aoife, Gemma and Orla Cotter staying on, players who could have walked away. You certainly couldn’t have turned it around if those players had left. They have a massive level of experience and control the dressing-room, really. We would be finished, only for them.”
The Cork manager added: “One thing that puzzles me in camogie is that it is always retirement, retirement, retirement every year, girls stepping away at 28 and 29 years of age. It doesn’t make sense to me. Gemma is on the other side of 30, but if Gemma continues to look after herself, there are another four years left in Gemma. I am convinced of that. It just annoys me sometimes, with people retiring.”
On that front, he was more than happy to welcome Briege Corkery back into the fold this summer. The 17-time All-Ireland medal-winner missed the 2017 campaign, giving birth to her son Tadhg at the end of March. She returned to competitive fare when coming on as a sub with two minutes left in last month’s All-Ireland semi-final win over Tipperary. Despite her limited game-time this year, Murray is certain of Corkery being able to last the pace if named on Sunday’s starting team.
“We were training Briege behind the scenes. We were happy with how things were progressing and that is why we asked her back.
“The first night she showed at training in mid-July, the welcome she got at Castle Road was excellent. Her effort is superb. Her conditioning coach Martin O’Brien and my brother Kevin have been blown away the way things have improved for her. She is in great shape going into the final and so, who knows.
“She played a club game for Cloughduv against St Catherine’s on August 21 and gave her best performance for the club, that I would have seen, in a number of years. Briege has matured. She is now playing her position. Briege used to go through games trying to do everything. Briege could start, the way she is going at the moment. I wouldn’t be a bit afraid of throwing her in from the start if things continue to go well in training.”
A concern for management heading into a third consecutive final against Kilkenny has to be that they’ve not been tested this summer. Cork’s average winning margin stands at 18 points, with the 0-21 to 0-9 semi-final victory over Tipperary the closest any county has come to them in the championship.
“We know what it takes to win a final and what it takes to lose one, as well. Just hoping that bit of experience will help us through.
“Our panel is in far better shape than it was in 2016. We have impact subs that have come in and made the difference. Look at the semi-final. Two subs come in, three scores between them. We are in a stronger position that way. Now, you don’t like losing two players from last year’s final, two All-Stars, they being Rena Buckley and Eimear O’Sullivan.”