The Littlewoods Ireland Camogie Leagues are in full flow as our four semi-finalists have been decided. Cork has been impressive throughout their entire campaign, as they sit at the top of the Group 1 table, alongside Galway and remain unbeaten.
Among the Rebels, lining out this season is Amy O’Connor. At only 22, she is already one of Cork’s most established players. Having joined the Cork senior camogie panel in 2014, she now has 4 All-Ireland Senior medals under her belt. Quite the achievement really for someone so young, but it comes as no surprise, as sport is in O’Connor’s blood. However, her first experience with camogie as a child was perhaps a fluke with a little touch of fate.
“My cousin had joined his underage hurling team and my aunt bought him all the gear from head to toe. The tracksuit, the boots, a helmet, a hurley, a jersey, shorts – everything! You name it, he got it – the works! But he left after about two weeks so my aunt was left with all the gear that was potentially going to waste. She asked my Mam would I like to try it instead of the gear going into the bin.
“After that, my Dad spent hours every evening after work with me pucking around. He never played himself but there was hardly a day in my childhood I’d say where we didn’t go to the park for a puck around.”
From then on, Amy’s sporting talent grew and grew. As a teenager, she played several sports and had the fine art of multi-tasking mastered. Aside from camogie, she also played Gaelic football and soccer. She went on to play on the Ireland U19 soccer team that made it to the Semi-Finals of the 2014 European Championships. She once played a county Gaelic football final, a championship camogie game and an All-Ireland soccer semi-final all on the same day. There came a day though, that Amy had to make a decision and choose a sport.
“The biggest obstacle I had to overcome was choosing between soccer and camogie and looking back it probably wasn’t even an ‘obstacle’. At the time, I thought it was an awful position to be in, but looking back I was lucky to have had to make that type of decision.
“I think sport, in general, will help you with decision-making. It helps you also with confidence in all walks of life. You learn skills on the pitch that can transfer to other things off the pitch. Things like communication, teamwork, leadership, dealing with conflict and discipline. It gives you great confidence when you have the ability to do that. You meet so many different types of people too playing sport, you learn how to deal with all kinds of personalities and situations which prepare you for real-life.”
Amy was born and bred in Knocknaheeny, an area of Cork City that suffers from social deprivation, and she couldn’t be prouder to be from there.
“I’m from Knocknaheeny and it’s an area that wouldn’t be known for many good things, unfortunately. There is a problem of anti-social behaviour in the area and there has been for many years. Though, I am very proud to be from there.
“Sadly for a lot of people from Knocknaheeny, everyone is painted with the same brush and that is something that really annoys me. I suppose I just want people to see it’s not all bad and those causing all the problems are in a minority. My club – St. Vincents – do some excellent work in the area to try and keep people involved in sport.
“I find that a lot of the time in an area like Knocknaheeny – young people don’t get to see the opportunities out there and often find themselves falling into the trap of not going to school and getting involved in things they shouldn’t.
“Obviously, it’s hard for people to break the cycles that have gone before them. I read a statistic recently that the secondary school in Knocknaheeny was the only school in Cork to have zero students’ progress to university and also had the lowest number of people to sit the leaving cert, with 11. That’s really disappointing.”
Education is not something that Amy takes for granted. She is the first in her family to attend third level education and credits her parents for making her have an appreciation for education.
“I’m lucky, my mam and dad never went to college but always encouraged me to break that cycle and go to University. They never put any pressure on me either. I also wanted to do it for myself– I could see the roads some people my age were going down and I didn’t want that to be me.
“They always highlighted the importance of getting a good education. I’m not saying that going to university is the be-all and end-all and it isn’t for everyone but I want to give myself the best life I possibly can, and for me, I think going to college could be the best way for me to do that.”
Off the pitch and in the classroom, Amy developed a passion for science, and when she found out that her secondary school only offered biology for the Leaving Certificate, she successfully campaigned to have chemistry introduced into their curriculum.
Her interest and love for science paid off, as she gained a spot on one of UCC’s toughest courses – Pharmacy. She graduated last summer and is currently working for biotechnology company, BioMarin Pharmaceutical, and is now completing a one year masters in Pharmacy in the College of Surgeons. Upon graduating, UCC awarded O’Connor with a special award for balancing commitments with her studies and her sport. Though for Amy, her commitments are something that are simply part of life.
“It’s just something you do. Every inter-county player in the country has to do it, so it’s not something I think about. It suits me in a way. I’m not doing the same thing over and over again. The job I have has nothing to do with sport and it’s a great break from it.
“Living at home definitely helps as well. My mam has my dinner on the table when I come home from work every day and my gear is always ready for training, so I’m very lucky. I’m never more than half an hour from training either as I live in the city so it’s ideal.
“My placement at the moment in BioMarin couldn’t suit me any better. The hours allow me to have a great work/life balance as I am able to go in and start early and then finish early because of that. The early mornings suit me, I don’t mind being up at half 5 or six. It helps as well that I actually enjoy the job. When you understand that there are a lot more important things in life than exams, work or a match, it becomes a lot easier to cope with everything.”
Amy and her Cork teammates will take on Kilkenny in the Littlewoods Ireland Camogie League Semi-Final on March 10th. It is set to be a cracking encounter and we will be live streaming all the action on our Facebook page and our YouTube channel, so be sure to tune in!