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Corporal swaps hurley for helmet as troops head for mission in Lebanon

WHEN Corporal Gemma O'Connor arrives in Lebanon next month, her first task will be to find a wall to make use of her hurley and sliotar.

The Cork woman is one of the country's best camogie players but she is giving up the game she loves for the remainder of the year to serve abroad on a peacekeeping mission.

A total of 332 Irish troops from the 108th infantry battalion will join forces with 176 Finnish personnel in Lebanon for a six-month tour of duty as part of a United Nations operation.

Cpl O'Connor (27) was among the troops, from 27 counties, inspected at Sarsfield Barracks in Limerick yesterday by junior government minister, Paul Kehoe.

She has already won five senior All-Ireland camogie medals and seven All-Star awards.

"I'm playing senior camogie since 2002 but this year I am taking a break off as I'm travelling to Lebanon on May 9.

"I got the opportunity to travel overseas and I took that opportunity. Unfortunately, it is running through the season, but what can you do?"

From Ballyphehane in Cork city, Cpl O'Connor plays camogie with St Finbarrs GAA club.

She has served with the Defence Forces for nine years and the trip to Lebanon is her third stint abroad following tours in Liberia and Chad.

Also departing are siblings, Sergeant Darren Nolan (34) and Private Amy Nolan (23), from Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny.

Sgt Nolan has been to the Lebanon on three previous trips and is offering advice to his younger sister, who is on her first mission abroad.

"I suppose listen to your NCOs that are there with you.

"They have been there before – they are the ones with the experience.

"This time we will be a lot more involved with the locals and there are a lot more patrols.

"It has changed a lot but you still have to look after yourself," he said.

The 108 infantry battalion will operate out of three locations in Lebanon.

Mr Kehoe told the troops yesterday that their "commitment, service and loyalty to the traditions of the Defence Forces on overseas service contributes extensively to the high regard in which Ireland is held throughout the world".

Irish Independent