When asked to sum herself up, Amy O’Connor quickly reaches for the word “driven”.
There’s no better way of describing her — and it’s the same whether you’re talking about the Knocknaheeny native on the field or away from it. Never satisfied; always pushing for more.
An underage soccer international for Ireland, the first in her family to go to college, her club’s maiden camogie All Star winner — boundaries are there to be broken.
When asked where her competitive nature comes from, the Cork camogie star lets out the hint of a laugh. It’s hard to explain, but she makes a go of it. “I don’t know, I’ve always just been driven. That’s how I’d describe myself. I want to be as good as I can be, and I put everything into it. I’d say I drive my boyfriend, Danny, crazy but he’s very driven as well.”
In a roundabout way, sport has helped her in her pursuits away from the field. When she was playing underage soccer for Ireland and travelling to far-flung places, it created challenges around her education. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and it’s clear that O’Connor tends to find solutions when they’re required.
“When I was away playing, I was speaking with one of the doctors and she was telling me that I needed to study chemistry if I wanted to do pharmacy. The doctor got onto someone at the school and Ms Ferriter agreed to do chemistry for us. Nine of us ended up doing it. As a science teacher, she was qualified to do it. Our school wouldn’t have had much funding, so they were doing the core subjects really, but they went for it once they saw there was interest from others. So, I’m really thankful to the people that made that happen. I got an honour and I needed it for the course.”
O’Connor recalls missing 11 weeks of sixth year due to the Ireland Under-19s campaign (she played up an age grade) but reckons that having her own study routine worked well. “I ended up missing the first two weeks of school too, but the teachers were very good if I missed anything. Mr Barry was our camogie coach and maths teacher, Ms Lysaght did business with us, and Ms Ferriter had us for chemistry and biology. They would contact me outside of hours and give me work, and it suited me.”
She was the first of her family in Knocknaheeny to go to college, attending UCC as a scholarship recipient, and recently graduated with a Masters in Pharmacy from the Royal College of Surgeons.
The 23-year-old is always pushing the envelope, and it brings to mind one particularly crazy day of sport she had a few years back. As a teenager, she once played a Gaelic football final, a championship camogie clash, and an All-Ireland soccer semi-final in the one day.
“I couldn’t do that now,” she says with a laugh. “That was adult soccer level and I think I was maybe 16 or 17. I was absolutely wrecked by the end of it, but at that age it doesn’t take as much out of you. They were all important games so I couldn’t pick which ones to play and which ones to miss. The one good thing was that they were all going on in Cork, so it made it a little bit more manageable. I know we won the soccer, but I can’t remember how the other two went!”
A self-confessed home bird who lauds the influence of her parents, she loves a good holiday but nothing that prolongs her absence from Cork for too long. When asked if she’s classed as a bit of a sporty spice, given the amount of time she spends on the field, she weighs it up.
“A lot of my time has been taken up with study and sports,” O’Connor explains. “I’m a bit of a bore, I’d say! I’ve never drank, it doesn’t appeal to me, and I wouldn’t be one for going into town on a night out. I’m a bit of a girly girl in my own way, but I’d be a bit of a Tom girl too. But I think you gain a lot of respect from playing sport, and the perceptions have probably changed.”
Her boyfriend Danny was a keen GAA player, lining out for the Cork footballers up until under-16 and until minor in hurling. Illness means he hasn’t played in eight years, but he is enthralled by the games still.
“We’d go for pucks,” says O’Connor. “Like, he’s obsessed with GAA, and with camogie. He wouldn’t have been into it at all before he met me but I actually slag him now. He could tell you about a junior B player in club camogie if you rang him and asked him. The funny thing is that he’s from Na Piarsaigh, our rivals!”
Liverpool FC have a saying that their ‘intensity is their identity’, and no doubt O’Connor’s #StyleOfPlay is her passion, her work ethic, and her desire for more. She enjoyed her time playing soccer but after reaching the semi-finals of a European championship, she decided to close the door on that code. “I won my first All-Ireland in 2014 (beating Kilkenny 2-12 to 1-9) when I was still a minor and when you get the opportunity, you think it might never come again. I felt I had experienced what I was going to experience in soccer but that All-Irelands might not come around again. I was only 18 when I made the decision and the (soccer) coaches tried to convince me, but they eventually accepted it and were grand about it.”
After being part of a Cork side that had qualified for five finals in a row (winning four), 2019 was the first season in which she didn’t make the big dance. Galway accounted for them in the semi-final and O’Connor hasn’t yet put her finger on what went wrong. “I don’t know, we just didn’t turn up. That’s probably an easy cop-out but Galway were better all through the season and deserved it, I can’t put my finger on just a single thing that didn’t go for us.”
Speaking of fingers and the hands they are attached to; it wouldn’t be uncommon for a camogie player to break those bones. O’Connor buttons up when asked how many times she’s been sent home in a splint or a cast, and then laughs: “I’m not going to answer because I don’t want to jinx it! I’ll blame you if I do break something!”
At just 23, O’Connor has plenty of years ahead of her. Cork are a county that always seem to be competitive in camogie having missed just eight finals in the last 30-odd years. The question is: what does she want to get out of the next decade playing the sport?
“I just want to be the best that I can be,” O’Connor says plainly. “I don’t think I have reached where I want to be, and I need to make serious improvements. On everything! Obviously, I’m happy and I’d be a fool not to be with what we’ve achieved. Like, if you said to me when I was a minor that I’d have one All-Ireland, I’d have bitten your hand off. Winning lights a fire in you and you want more. But I’m the sort of person who if they scored ten points, I’d go home thinking about the one I missed. That’s how I am. I won an All Star but was I at my very best? No, I can be better. If I last another ten years, I just want to be the best I can be, and I don’t think I have reached that yet.”