Rebelette without a pause
Cork camogie All Star Anna Geary says GAA players may play an amateur game but their taxing training regime is utterly professional
Cork camogie player Anna Geary is steeped in the history of GAA. Her uncle Martin Geary played inter-county hurling with Waterford and his son Niall played football with Cork and Nemo Rangers. Her first cousin Lorcan McLoughlin currently plays with the Cork hurlers and his brother, John McLoughlin, is with the Cork footballers.
It seems like it would have been frowned upon if the Milford girl from north Cork had pledged allegiance to any other sport.
"My parents were always encouraging me to play and have been very supportive right throughout my sporting career. I can assure you I had to work hard to try to master the skills of camogie. It requires practice and patience still to this day but, once you learn the skills, it's like riding a bike, you never forget," says the 26-year-old.
Playing in the position of left half-back for Cork has been a favourite spot for the inter-county star throughout her sporting career. "I think a wing-back needs to be fast, strong and focused. You need discipline as there can be temptation to drift too far up the field. You need to be able to read the play and be composed to give intelligent ball to your forwards."
Anna Geary in action against Wexford's Ursula Jacob and Katrina Parrock.
Her first victory in camogie came at only eight years of age in her first county final as part of the under-12s team for Milford. "I was corner-back and we won that day and went on to enjoy huge success with Milford. It whetted my appetite for success. The team picture of that county final is still proudly hanging up in my house, that victory set the wheels in motion."
A tough and gruelling sport which is almost identical to the game of hurling played by men, Anna works hard with a taxing weekly training regime. She explains how it takes a lot to compete at the top level of the GAA these days: "I think GAA players are borderline professionals playing an amateur game, at least in the way they prepare during the championship season.
"You would be training collectively three times a week with your county team, sometimes in the summer another club training session could be added in if the club championship is approaching. Strength and conditioning is already incorporated in your collective training sessions but you would still be at the gym two to three times a week doing core, weights, and further conditioning exercises. Then there is the additional regime if people are nursing any injuries."
Sharing a special bond with her team-mates comes with the territory and is a reason why she has continued playing for all these years. "Some of the girls I have had the sheer privilege to play alongside are friends for life. We grew up together, laughed together, celebrated together, cried together. They have put their bodies on the line for me on the pitch and they are people I can always count on.
"When you play with a team you learn to understand the dynamic of the team, what makes each individual tick. You learn the strengths of your team-mates and we help each other with our weaknesses. That is what a team is all about. I know I would miss that bond if I stopped. And the craic, I'd definitely miss the craic."
Last November, Skin in the Game aired on RTÉ One as viewers tuned in to see the commitment and sacrifice put in by Tipperary hurler Lar Corbett, Cork footballer Eoin Cadogan, Dublin hurler Mikey Carton, and Anna.
"It was great for the public to get a snapshot of the lives of GAA players and to see how much the game means. It was a great boost for camogie, too, as we got to showcase the game to the nation from a different angle."
The athletic blonde's bikram yoga session earned her plenty of admiration on Twitter when she practised the 90-minute class, which consists of the same series of 26 postures, including two breathing exercises, on screen in a sweaty Cork studio on the Kinsale Road. "I took up bikram yoga last year, as an added dimension to my training.
"It is strenuous and needs to be carefully added into your training regime to ensure it complements your training. Flexibility is an important area in any player's preparations and yoga aids me in that respect.
"I like the idea that you are working out while you relax. Sometimes we need to slow down; we are constantly rushing around trying to balance our training with work and relationships. Bikram yoga offers me a release, a way to unwind and switch off."
Working as a business analyst with Dell, the Cork senior captain is glued to her desk for most of the day, so she looks forward to training in the evening. "My job can be mentally tiring, so the fresh air is good for concentration. In the busy part of the season it can be tough to juggle both. You have to learn to switch off from training when you start work and vice versa."
Treating her body like a car, it is important for the All Star player to fuel it with the correct nutritious foods. "One has to be mindful of the type of training you are doing. If you are doing a lot of weights, then you need to be increasing your protein intake, whereas if you are doing more cardio, then it is important that you are stocking up on good carbohydrates.
"I'm not one of these people that refrain from all types of nice things, just everything in moderation. I still allow myself the occasional treat. However, I don't normally eat takeaway food, and alcohol is restricted to certain times of the year."
Sustaining a few injuries down through the years, the player is thankful she has never been restricted from training for more than a month or so. "If you have an ankle injury you can still do core work and if you have a hand injury you can still squat.
"I count myself lucky that I have never had a serious injury like a cruciate tear. I have so much respect for any player that travels that lonely road to recovery."
Having won four All-Stars to date – awarded annually to the best player in each of the 15 playing positions in Gaelic football and hurling – Anna's most recent win was in 2011.
She previously won the coveted award in 2005, 2006 and 2010. However, winning her third All-Ireland medal with Milford last March has been her career highlight. "Every player starts and finishes their playing career at club level. It is where you learn the fundamental skills of the game. I grew up with most of my clubmates, so to stand on the steps together in Croke Park as champions is a feeling that will never leave me."
All-Ireland success in 2005, 2006 and 2009 all stand out in their own way for the Cork girl but for varying reasons. "2005 was the first year that I started a senior All-Ireland final with Cork; 2006 was my second year playing and I was probably the fittest I have ever been.
"Our trainer at that time told me after the final in 2005 that a player's second year at senior inter-county is the toughest, because no one expects that much of a player in their first year but in the second year you have to step up and be counted. I used that to motivate me for the 2006 season and received the player of the match in the All-Ireland final that year."
Looking ahead to 2014, Anna believes as a team they have what it takes to win an All-Ireland medal for Cork in camogie.
When she does retire surely a career in commentating beckons, having previously worked with RTÉ on three All-Ireland finals? "I would love to be involved in the media side of things in the future. Doing the 2010 co-commentary with the legendary Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh was one of the highlights. You never know, maybe Marty Morrissey might be looking for a co-presenter in the future."
Anna Geary launched 'It's in your blood', a partnership between the GAA and the IBTS which aims to raise awareness of blood donation for local GAA clubs. See www.giveblood.ie