Orla Finn has shown she can handle the pressure as Cork free-taker, writes Eoghan Cormican.
In Cork’s 10 All-Ireland final appearances to date, Valerie Mulcahy top-scored in eight. She was the team’s chief contributor on the scoreboard in last year’s championship, also the year before that and pretty much every year from when Eamonn Ryan first took the reins in 2004.
The task of filling the void left by Mulcahy began in Mallow on January 31.
Mayo were the visitors for the opening game of the league and it was Doireann O’Sullivan who was handed the free-taking duties in Mulcahy’s absence. In Cork’s second outing away to Kerry, Annie Walsh and Emma Farmer were called up to the plate. All three managed just a solitary point from the placed ball.
Back to Mallow for the third-round visit of Tyrone and it was Farmer who was again given the nod. Orla Finn was introduced at half-time and management decided the 24-year old Kinsale forward was deserving of her go on the frees.
Cork kicked 1-11 in the second-half that afternoon. Finn kicked 1-9. In the first 11 minutes alone, she kicked seven points on the hop, two of those white flags arriving via the dead ball.
“A free came up early in the second-half of that Tyrone game and Ephie just told me to take it. I did, it went over and it went from there,” recalls Finn.
The diminutive corner- forward was called into the squad by Ryan after completing her Leaving Cert in the summer of 2011. She finished the season inside Croke Park’s four white lines, having replaced Mulcahy early in the second-half of Cork’s 2-7 to 0-11 All-Ireland final win over Monaghan.
It was a similar story the following year and the year after that. Finn nailed down a starting berth for the 2014 campaign, but returned to impact-sub status for the 2015 championship.
“I was kinda disappointed last year, but, to be honest, I feel so lucky to be part of the team, because there is such a drive for places. I am lucky enough to have come on in the games.
“We, the forwards, knew that when Valerie retired earlier this year that we all had to step up. She had been our top-scorer for so long. We had no option but to step up.”
Step up she did. Cork scored 2-8 in the Munster final in early July to wrestle back the provincial title from neighbours Kerry, Finn accounting for 1-6 of that tally. She hit 1-4 in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Cavan and 1-3 last time out against Monaghan. Of the 3-21 she has slotted in the championship, 0-20 has come from placed ball. Mulcahy would be proud.
“I would always take the frees for the club, but I suppose there is an added pressure when you are wearing the red jersey. It is a bigger stage. You have to keep your head, keep your technique and just think it is the same thing as if you are playing at home or kicking at training.”
How does she feel about stepping into the shoes of a player she has long admired?
“Valerie played in my position. So too did Nollaig Cleary. For that reason, they are the two I would have been watching the most. You learn most from the girls playing in the same position as you.
“In truth, I’d look up to all the players who have nine and 10 All-Ireland medals. They’ve all been role models. You learn a lot from them in terms of how they play, the runs they make in matches and even the intensity they bring to training. You are always learning from them both on and off the field.
“The wheel is always turning, I suppose. Players are coming and going all the time. I have full faith and full trust in the younger players coming up that we will be as strong as ever. We have unbelievable underage [players] coming up and you just have to step up when the bigger, more successful players leave.”
Finn, a primary school teacher in Cobh, remembers most fondly their comeback victory in the 2014 All-Ireland decider. Dublin were their conquest on that occasion, as they were 12 months ago. She knows Gregory McGonigle’s charges will be “gunning” for revenge on Sunday.
“Dublin are an unbelievable side and we are really going to have to be at our best to beat them. We are afraid of losing and that is what drives us on in every game.
“I just think I am so lucky that I have been around at this time to be part of this team. There are such leaders on this team and I look up to so many of them even though I am playing alongside them.”
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