This afternoon, six-time All-Ireland-winning Cork footballer Orla Finn lines out with Kinsale against St Maur’s of Dublin in the All-Ireland Club Junior decider. Finn was the stand-out player for Cork in 2016 and is already setting her goals for 2017.
Q: This year saw you break onto the starting team for the Cork senior ladies football team, picking up a number of accolades along the way. On reflection, what made 2016 so special?
I suppose it was the first year where I was consistently starting for Cork, and I’d strived for that over the past number of years. I was also chosen to be the free-taker this year, which was a huge responsibility. Looking back on it, achieving the six in-a-row was a dream come true and personally it was great to win my first All-Star award also last month. Normally my year ends after the All- Ireland with Cork, but this year we’ve had a great run in the junior championship with Kinsale and we ended up winning the county and Munster titles. On Saturday now we’re looking forward to the All- Ireland Junior Club Final against St Maur’s of Dublin (Dr Cullen Park, 1pm) and to win that would be amazing, but already 2016 has been a fantastic year for me.
Q: What do you remember about getting called up to the Cork senior team in 2011?
I had just completed my Leaving Cert and I remember thinking what a huge honour it was be to come into such a successful panel. I was slightly daunted by the prospect alright, but I think I was also excited to play alongside players that I really looked up to. My first training would have been in June 2011 out in The Farm in Bishopstown and I was amazed by how friendly everyone was. Eamonn (Ryan), the management team and all the girls were just so welcoming. The standard was a big step up alright compared to what I was used to playing with Cork at minor level, so I had to adapt fairly quickly!
Q: Having big impact subs is a huge part of Cork’s game and for five years that was your role. Was that difficult to adapt to and how did you manage your confidence levels?
The team spirit I think made it so much easier because once you felt you could contribute in any way, no matter how small, it was very easy to buy into. I felt lucky actually to be given an opportunity to come on as an impact sub. I was driven to do my absolute best whenever I got my chance, and a few of the girls would have dropped me supportive messages from time to time too and that meant a lot. It can be difficult mentally. It’s harder to know where you stand and you can begin to question your ability. You’re trying to guess if you’re starting, if you’re going to be coming on, or if you’re not going to be coming on, but what I would say to players who are in that boat now is to just keep working hard and hopefully your chance will come.
Q: With 10-time All-Ireland-winning forward Valerie Mulcahy retiring in 2016, did you feel like you were been compared to her throughout the season, or do you feel you made your own stamp?
To be compared to Valerie is very flattering! She’s one of the all-time greats and I can see why people tried to compare us during the season because I took on the free-taking role after she retired. But, we’re very different players and I’ve a long way to go to get to the heights Val got to in her glittering career.
Q: How are you dealing with the added pressure of being more well-known off the pitch, and as an opponent on it?
I’ve noticed nothing different off the pitch to be honest. I suppose every ladies footballer at intercounty level is playing at a very high standard and I don’t feel like I receive any extra attention from opponents compared to the rest of my teammates. I’m not that vocal either to be honest, so I don’t really consider myself a leader on the pitch. I just do my best for the team, try to work hard and take my scoring chances as much as possible. Hopefully, in 2017 that’ll continue and once I’m doing that I don’t think they’ll be any extra pressure.
Q: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned under Cork coach Ephie Fitzgerald in his first season in charge?
I suppose Ephie was constantly encouraging me to express myself as a footballer and not to be afraid to make mistakes. I found that gave me a bit of freedom and my confidence grew. I think that’s the main thing that changed in me this year - my confidence levels were higher.
Q: You played on the first ever Kinsale ladies football team, aged 11, so what does it feel like to bring your club to an All-Ireland Club Junior final?
It’s just really special to be on the journey with the girls that I grew up with and have played with since I was a child. I think a lot of the foundations for this year’s success were laid last year. We got to the county final and unfortunately we took a heavy beating that day against a great Bantry team. But, we really learned a lot from that defeat and our younger girls especially gained a lot of experience. The likes of Sadhbh O’Leary has already made her mark on the intercounty scene, having won a minor All-Ireland this year, and I think she and a few of the other younger girls have a big future ahead of them if they continue to work hard.
Q: What makes Orla Finn tick?
Plenty of naps!
Q: What would you like to achieve in 2017?
Retaining the Division 1 National League, Munster and All-Ireland crowns with Cork would be something I’d love. As for Kinsale, it’s going to be harder next year given that we’ll be up playing intermediate, but I’d like to think we’ll make a great effort to go far in that championship in 2017.
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