After 19 years representing her county at senior level, the reality that she is no longer a Cork camogie player has yet to sink in for Gemma O’Connor.
The nine-time All-Ireland winner pressed stop on a glittering inter-county career on Tuesday. It was a decision not easily made, but the correct one nonetheless, she feels.
Having first pulled on a red shirt at the age of 13 in the late 90s, O’Connor’s Cork career — underage and senior — spanned four decades and saw her collect a record 11 All Stars. She was 17 when she won her first senior All-Ireland in 2002 and just 20 when named Player of the Year in 2005.
“It has been a long road of wearing the Cork jersey, but a great one,” the 35-year-old said on Wednesday.
The fact that it is at an end will take time to get her head around, however.
“It hasn’t sunk in, not at all,” she said. “I am quite an emotional person as it is, but definitely it has been an emotional 24 to 48 hours. I was sitting in work today and having a small bit of an outer-body experience.
“Sport has been a massive journey in my life. That journey affects everybody. iI isn’t just me, it is my family and friends. It affects all those people, going up the road together to games, meeting beforehand for a coffee, and meeting in the pub afterwards to discuss the game and celebrate or commiserate. They are the things I have been thinking about throughout the day.
“And I know when I properly reflect, what’ll come flooding back are certain moments in different games, coming down to Cork after you won or lost an All-Ireland, and going training early on a Saturday or Sunday morning. And you are thinking also of all the girls you are leaving behind.
“In one sense, you almost feel like you are kind of stepping away from it and leaving people down. It is almost like you are throwing the towel in.
“I’d hate to admit that, but every sports person or athlete, irrespective of what level you played at, there comes a time where you have to walk away. I have been very fortunate to have a fantastic career, so I am very grateful for that. For me, the time is right.”
Injury meant the army sergeant played only one game in last year’s shortened All-Ireland Championship and while she toyed with the idea of a 20th season in red, given the 2021 campaign will be similarly truncated, her mind and body said otherwise.
“I don’t feel fresh, if I’m being honest — I feel a bit fatigued,” the St Finbarr’s clubwoman said.
“A small weight has lifted off my shoulders now that I have made the decision. I am very fortunate to be from Cork and to be born into that legacy of Cork camogie. I am so privileged to have been a part of it.”
Her wish for the inter-county game as she departs is that the Camogie Association put the correct rules in place to “best showcase the ability and athleticism of the players they have”.
“I say that in good faith,” she said.
“I just want the game of camogie to be in the best position possible.”