Anyone travelling this week around the Cork villages of Ballinspittle and Ballinadee will be welcomed by a sea of red and white, as locals gear up to support a Courcey Rovers side eyeing their first title in Sunday’s Cork Senior Camogie final.
“We know that we’re representing our community and all of the people who believe in us,” says (veteran) corner-back, Emily O’Regan. “That will be in the forefront on Sunday.”
O’Regan, playing with Courceys for nearly 24 years having picked up her first hurley before she was six, says the incredible support the players get starts from the ground up.
“We have a really strong underage side with huge support from the club as well as the community all the way up,” she says.
The primary school teacher explains that GAA has always been a huge part of life, playing in school as well as with Abu Dhabi Na Fianna while living in the Middle East from 2017 to 2019. O’Regan says that sport was a “great form of release”, during her school years and a way to make and stay in touch with friends.
The camaraderie is especially strong after Covid-19 made for a turbulent, fractured campaign.
“We’ve all been so excited to get back into it,” O’Regan says.
“The shutdowns came as a shock to everyone of course, but the idea that we weren’t going to be training was especially hard. We have to give huge credit to the camogie board in Courceys though, as well as Shirley Maloney who did a huge amount of work with us during lockdown.
“The regulations they put in place so we could return were very clear and straightforward. It made coming back a lot easier.
“We were fortunate to have some challenge games when we got back, and I think that really stood to us. Karyn returning was also a boost for everyone, she was a massive loss last year.”
Full-back and captain Karyn Keohane has been a key player for Courceys en route to Sunday’s decider against Inniscarra, after returning from maternity leave even fitter than before.
“While we’re full-steam ahead at the moment, we are taking the current regulations really seriously, especially when players have babies at home or work in healthcare.” O’Regan explains.
The current regulations of course, mean that a number of fans will have to miss this weekend’s game in-person, with spectators limited to 200.
“It’s disappointing, especially for the die-hard fans,” O’ Regan says. “It might be less people than we’d hoped for but we’re still glad to have it and we’re just happy that the game can be played.” Sunday’s game is being live-streamed by theon its website, a service O’Regan wishes she could have availed of two years ago when Courceys faced Sunday’s opponents in the decider.
“I was in Abu Dhabi that year, and I had to follow it on Twitter. It wasn’t the easiest of hours. It didn’t go our way but I’m delighted to be here for all of the build-up and excitement this time.”
Another Courceys stalwart, Aisling O’Reilly, is missing for this year’s battle, as she is in Australia.
Making their families and the community proud is one thing but there’s a first-ever title within their grasp on Sunday. The prize is huge.
“We’ve been Senior for 19 years, playing the highest grade in our county. It’s not just ourselves we’re trying to do justice for, but the people who have put their lives into this team.”
The one-time forward knows a thing or two about coming back stronger, having returned from tearing both cruciate ligaments over the years. Feeling good for this weekend, her advice to any young player is to not let anything stand in their way.
“This is the year for female sports. It’s so important for young people to be encouraged to stay involved, it's been a massive part of my life and I love to see my students and niece get involved.
“The support we have behind us means so much, and I know every girl on the team will have that in mind Sunday,” O’ Regan says.
“We’re up against serious opposition and we have to respect what they’re bringing to the table too. But we’ve worked incredibly hard and hard work pays off. Even if it takes a long road to get there.”