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Dublin: 4 °C Sunday 15 December, 2019
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Ready for action: O'Connor anxious to take championship chance

A corporal in the Irish Defence Forces, Cork camogie star Gemma O’Connor is ready to lead the Rebels back to the All-Ireland title on Sunday.

Corporal Gemma O'Connor (Cork), left, pictured with Private Shelly Keogh (Wexford). Both soldiers will be representing their counties in the Camogie All-Ireland this year.
Corporal Gemma O'Connor (Cork), left, pictured with Private Shelly Keogh (Wexford). Both soldiers will be representing their counties in the Camogie All-Ireland this year.
Image: Irish Defence Forces via Flickr

IT IS GOOD news when a five-time All-Ireland medallist, former player of the year and record-holding six-time All-Star says that she has gotten her mojo back.

That’s how it is with Gemma O’Connor and it is no surprise then to see Cork back in an All-Ireland final for the first time since 2009.

“I’ve always had the love for the game but the last two years were very disappointing” said the 27-year-old this week.

“And I was very disappointed with the fact that there were a lot of people, including myself, that didn’t have that much motivation. Although we still wanted to go out and win there was something missing there.

“Sometimes you have to lose something to gain back what the whole idea of playing is. Not performing the last two years was a disappointment and a driving factor this year. We got things right from the start and it’s been a good year compared to the last two years.”

As a Corporal in the Defence Forces, there is a possibility that O’Connor will embark on an overseas Tour of Duty next April. The six-month mission would rule her out of championship action, which is probably another motivating factor this season.

I’ve been overseas to Liberia and Chad but they’ve been both winter trips so I’ve been home for the summer. Next April I was hoping to go overseas but our home unit in Cork has been disbanded due to the reorg of the Defence Forces… because of that, I’m not sure where I’ll end up. It could be Limerick, Kilkenny or Cork.

O’Connor will find out in the next couple of weeks but the uncertainty means that right now, she doesn’t know if she’ll be in Ireland next summer.

Those previous Tours left a huge impression, particularly her first to Liberia in 2005, when she was a raw 20-year-old. Liberia was emerging from a bloody civil war that resulted in the deaths of 150,000 people.

“I went over quite young and it was an eye-opener as regards the state of the country, a country that had so much to offer as regards the natural resources, but everything had been exploited by their own; a country that could have so much going for them.

“The poverty over there was frightening. Our job was to make a friendly presence felt. You get to see and meet these people in villages and the city of Monrovia. It was quite a new experience and an opportunity no other job would give me.

“You learn certain things about yourself. You live with a certain group of people for six months. It’s not like you have the opportunity to go away, or go travelling or go home if you want. It’s kind of a life-changing experience.”

O’Connor enjoyed making a difference to these communities, which is why she is anxious to do it again.

But Sunday comes first and she has been making a difference to Cork for many years, showing a leadership that probably comes naturally, but has been fostered by a career in the Defence Forces.

She has certainly been a powerful figure at centre-back for Cork, adding a resolution to their defence, while also proving the starting point for many of the side’s attacks.

Wexford will be the sternest test of their bid to return to top of the tree however. While Cork drifted, JJ Doyle’s crew have dominated and are chasing a three-in-a-row.

The Leesiders did lay down a marker by stopping Wexford’s bid for four league titles in a row in the decider though. The Yellowbellies responded by inflicting a five-point defeat on their rivals in the group series of the championship. It is an intriguing match-up.

The National League final was our objective, to get there in the first place. Winning it would be a bonus but getting there was the main thing because in the last two years things have been disappointing.

It did turn out to be a really important win for us starting the championship, especially as it was over Wexford. We all try to get one up on each other but then again they beat us in the championship this year so it really does come down to the performance on the day and whoever wins on Sunday, I think it might come down to a puck of the ball.

By this stage, there is no doubting that O’Connor is ravenously hungry for this. So too, she promises, are Joanne O’Callaghan and Jenny O’Leary, team-mates when Fiona O’Driscoll’s hat-trick of goals saw off Tipperary in the 2002 final.

“People might say ‘sure how many All-Irelands do you have?’ But the only thing I can think of, and the rest of the girls can think of, is the disappointment of last year and the year before and how heartbreaking it was. Not because we were beaten but because of the lack of effort and attitude, and things that were wrong.

“All the achievements go out the window because if you’re playing Sunday, you’re starting from scratch again. If we win on Sunday, for me that’s been there since 2002, it will mean as much as the person that will win their first All-Ireland.

“It felt so great when the whistle blew after the semi-final to get back to that place. We really genuinely missed being there.

“Like I said, sometimes you just have to lose to get that want back and we certainly have it. Whether we’ll get the result on Sunday will be a question but we’ll certainly give it a fair go anyway.”

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