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Cork star says camogie has become 'boring to play' and 'boring to watch'

Four-time All-Ireland winner Amy O’Connor has bemoaned the lack of physicality allowed in the game.

WHILE THE SCORING rates in hurling have skyrocketed in recent years, its younger sister, camogie, has been stuck in something of a time warp. 

Orla Cotter scores a late point Cork's Orla Cotter slots over the winning score the 2018 All-Ireland camogie final. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

In the 2017 All-Ireland senior hurling championship, more points per game were registered than in any other in history. The numbers from the 2018 season were even further off the charts, with 18 of the 30 games played featuring 40 points (white flags) or more.

Back in 2007, just five hurling games contained more than 40 points, indicating how the primary scoring zone has increased dramatically over the last decade. The scoring rates were on the rise even before the extra round-robin games in 2018 came into play.

And while last year’s All-Ireland hurling decider between Galway and Limerick produced 5-34 between the sides, the camogie final between Cork and Kilkenny finished at just 0-14 to 0-13 in favour of the Rebels.

The final between the same counties year in 2017 registered even fewer scores – with Cork prevailing a low-scoring affair by 0-10 to 0-9.

The ability of male players to take points from further out the field is undoubtedly a factor in the contrast in scoring rates between the two codes, but there’s a little more to it than that. 

Camogie is technically a non-contact sport, but it’s only in the higher-profile games that referees tend to clamp down on physical exchanges – slowing the game down drastically as a result.

Shelly Farrell and Ashling Thompson Kilkenny's Shelly Farrell tackles Ashling Thompson of Cork. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The lack of physicality has greatly frustrated players, and several inter-county stars have spoken about the need for an update in the rulebook to cater for a more physical game. Strength and conditioning programmes are being implemented in all elite county squads, but the rules have yet to catch up.

On paper at least, Cork vs Kilkenny is one of the greatest rivalries in modern sport. They’ve met in four of the last five All-Ireland camogie finals. Cork have won three of those meetings, including the last two where last-minute points won both games for the Rebels.

Kilkenny denied Cork the three-in-a-row in 2016 and are seeking to do the same later this year. The Cats have beaten their Munster rivals in the last two league deciders, indicating just how close they are to one another. 

But when wing-forward Amy O’Connor is asked about Cork’s rivalry with Kilkenny, there’s more than a hint of frustration that the product isn’t all it could be.

“To be honest it can be a bit boring to play in because of the way the game has gone,” she tells The42.

“It’s a bit frustrating. The games are not classics at all. They’re not doing the game any favours really, to be honest, they’re so boring to watch. 

Amy O’Connor Amy O’Connor pictured at the launch of Littlewoods Ireland’s #StyleOfPlay campaign for the National Camogie Leagues. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It’s just stop-start. It’s tight obviously and there’s a huge rivalry there but I don’t know if it’s doing the game a whole lot of good.

“I don’t know if people are getting bored of the 0-10 to 0-9 games, the 0-11 0-10 games. They’re not absolute classics and there’s just free after free after free.”

A contentious free in injury-time of last September’s final helped Paudie Murray’s side to a narrow victory. The aftermath of the decider saw spectators and pundits criticise the standard of officiating and the stop-start nature of the contest. 

O’Connor continues: “I just think there needs to be more flow to the game. The constant stop-starting, it’s not good. As I said, it’s boring. People don’t want to see that. People want to be able to see a stylish, skilful game.

I think those players in the present day are capable of doing that, just that they’re not allowed to go out and demonstrate that because of the stop-start nature of the match.” 

At just 22, O’Connor is already a four-time All-Ireland senior medallist. She broke onto the Cork panel as a minor in 2014, lining out alongside her heroes, which she admits was a “surreal” experience.

“Especially the likes of Gemma O’Connor and Orla Cotter,” she says. “They’d be the two I would have really looked up to. I’ve a hurley signed from Gemma still at home. So that was a bit surreal.

And the likes of Jenny O’Leary and Joanna O’Callaghan I would have really looked up to them as well. I just wish they’d have stayed on a bit longer so I would have gotten to play with them for another few years. 

“Unfortunately, they didn’t but it was great to play with them. You could say I was in awe.”

Earlier that summer, O’Connor was part of the Republic of Ireland U19s soccer team that made it to the semi-finals of the UEFA European Championships in Norway. Wins over Spain, England and Sweden saw Ireland top their group, before they exited at the hands of an experienced Dutch side in the last four.

Katie McCabe Ireland and Arsenal star Katie McCabe. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

O’Connor formed a formidable front three with Katie McCabe and Sarah Rowe – who’ve both gone on to forge careers for themselves in professional sport.

McCabe is on the books of English soccer giants Arsenal, while Rowe is preparing for her debut season in Aussie Rules with AFLW side Collingwood. The Mayo native will also resume her Gaelic football career with her county once the season in Australia concludes.

“It’s actually funny when you look back,” says O’Connor. “It was great. Myself and Sarah would always have been messing at training about the GAA. We’d have a GAA match the following day and we wouldn’t be able to tell anyone because we’d be Irish training.

“We’d be kind of doing it on the sly. Myself and Sarah ended up back playing camogie and Gaelic. I know she’s out in Australia at the moment and then it’s great to see Katie going so well.

Sarah Rowe Sarah Rowe played alongside O'Connor in the Ireland underage soccer set-up. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“I would have played with them since I was about 13, the whole way up until U19. That was great and it’s good to see them doing so well.”

At present, she’s balancing her inter-county career with her study in the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, where she’s studying a Masters in pharmacy. O’Connor reveals she had the option of continuing her soccer career with interest from the US, France and England but has no regrets over sticking with camogie.

I had a few offers alright to go to America, there was one from France and an English one. But it was never something I really wanted to do. I just didn’t think it was a good move for me.

“I was always well into school and I always wanted to get a good degree and career. It was never something that crossed my mind too much, I always knew I wanted to stay at home. I think I always went back to camogie and it was always something I loved doing.

“I don’t think I’d give it up for anything. If I was to move away, that something that would have had to happen. Obviously, looking at Sarah in Australia – it looks great on Instagram and everything! But, no I didn’t even consider.

Amy O’Connor O'Connor scored a point in last September's All-Ireland final win over Kilkenny. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“I think it’s very important to have a good career behind you, especially as a woman. You can’t really make a full career out of being a woman athlete, because you’re just not in it unless you’re Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova or someone like that.

“There’s no money to be made really in ladies sport unfortunately at the moment. So I was happy to go to college, hopefully I’ll be qualified this time next year and get a good degree because I want a good job.

“When camogie is done I’ll still have something to fall back on so that was very important for me to get that.”

Originally published at 17.28

*******

Cork’s Amy O’Connor and Waterford’s Niamh Rockett are here for the launch of the Littlewoods Ireland Camogie Leagues. Littlewoods Ireland announced today that they’ll be shining a light on the players this season by live streaming a minimum of 6 League games with the goal of bringing the sport to over 100,000 fans.

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Kevin O'Brien

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