Deirdre O’Reilly first began to notice the pain in her hip two years ago. Having made her senior championship debut as a 15-year-old, 14 seasons in the Cork shirt had finally caught up with the St Mary’s defender.
Surgery was required, but that also meant a premature end to her summer. Instead she opted to play through the pain.
No individual comes before this Cork team and so O’Reilly kept the head down and the corner-forwards frustrated. By September, an eighth All-Ireland was pocketed.
In early November, a week prior to collecting her fourth All Star, O’Reilly lined out on the Milford camogie team which successfully defended its Munster club crown. The All-Ireland semi-final was pencilled in for the following February and O’Reilly wouldn’t be kept away.
A second All-Ireland club medal came in early March and she’d finish the year with an eighth national league, ninth Munster championship and ninth All-Ireland. And all the while, the pain was a constant companion. Owner of Agility Fitness in Kanturk, O’Reilly kept on top of the injury as best she could through yoga, pilates and ice baths.
Oh, did we mention spells spent sitting in the River Allow above in Newmarket on her way home from county training? “I trained as a yoga instructor last year so there was a lot of stretching done and I was conscious to not overdo it at training. On the way home then from training, I started sitting in the river for 15 minutes,” she explains.
A tributary of the River Blackwater, there was a particular entry spot to the Allow beside the Island Wood to which O’Reilly became a regular visitor. “It only started last year and I was never caught once, It is perfectly normal,” she says, bursting into a fit of laughter.
“I’d park the car and get in. I used to make my boyfriend [Pa O’Brien], who is now my husband, come with me in case someone took me away, stole me or I floated down the river.
“People are going to think I’m absolutely mental when they’re reading this. It was all good for my complaint, even if it wasn’t the most conventional method.”
Midfield as Milford secured a third consecutive Munster title last November, O’Reilly didn’t hang around for the All-Ireland club series the following spring, going under the knife in Santry a week before Christmas.
“The ball part of the socket wasn’t the right shape so I had that shaved. The cartilage was all torn so that got smoothed out and bits cut off it.
“It was bothering me a lot more throughout 2014, so once everything was done I went and booked the appointment. Plus, I had decided that last year would be my last year.
“Post-surgery, I was on crutches for four weeks and wasn’t running for 16-weeks. I was spinning in the gym before I was back running, doing yoga and pilates, everything I could do really to strengthen the muscles.
“Now, while I was cycling on the lower gears when still on the crutches, it was full tilt on the bike three days after getting rid of the crutches.”
By this juncture, she wasn’t rehabbing simply for the sake of her health. Eamonn Ryan had been on the phone. “He just said to see how I got on and do my rehab programme for 20 weeks. When Eamonn had decided he was staying on it was kind of hard to turn your back on it because I love playing. Thankfully, I came out fine at the far end of it and once my hip was okay, there was no reason not to play. I’m kind of treating this year as a bonus because I didn’t genuinely expect to be here.”
Introduced as a sub late on in the league semi-final win over Kerry at Dromcollogher at the end of April, O’Reilly played no part in either the league final or replay owing to her wedding to river watchman Pa and their honeymoon to Fiji and Australia.
Any problems since reclaiming the Cork number six shirt? “None, thank God. There’s a sense of freedom back in my running. My work in the fitness centre helps, taking three classes a day, be it kettlebells or pilates. I’m keeping myself in the right condition.”
No trips to the river so? “Well, if I am telling the truth, I was there two weeks ago.”. The giggling returns. “My legs felt tired and the two of us were supposed to go to the beach, I’d go to Banna beach behind Tralee sometimes on Sunday after trainings. I couldn’t go this Sunday because the hurling All-Ireland was on and I wouldn’t have been back on time to watch it so I went to the river instead.”
In the build-up to last year’s final, championship sponsors TG4 spent a day filming O’Reilly. In the closing edit, the cameraman asks if she has a message for Dublin. She replied: “We’ll never give up until the bitter end, and I hope they’re ready for that.”
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