Saturday 7 December 2019

'You can't go through life as just as hurler' - All Star O'Connor looking to get the balance right

Juggling college, career and camogie is tricky - but it's a way of life for All Star Amy O'Connor

Amy O'Connor
Amy O'Connor

Daragh ó Conchúir

Amy O'Connor read some of the headline results of the GPA's student report with interest.

It didn't come as a huge surprise that more than half of those surveyed found combining studying with being an inter-county player overwhelming and that 62 per cent were struggling to juggle all the balls.

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Manager Paudie Murray. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Manager Paudie Murray. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

O'Connor has just graduated and the newly-qualified pharmacist is on a job hunt - another, different pressure.

She won her first Liberty Insurance Camogie All Star this year and played last night in an exhibition match in Gaelic Park in New York between this year's award winners, managed by Galway's All-Ireland-winning boss Cathal Murray, and last year's, which pitted her against her own manager Paudie Murray and a number of teammates.

She has won four All-Ireland medals since joining the squad. The irony of her All Star was that it came in her first season not being involved in a final, after five on the spin. So she has been involved in the sharp end, all the while striving to get her masters degree.

Secondary school taught her how to deal with a day only having 24 hours, along with the importance of being organised and having good support, and benefiting from the understanding of various managements and teachers.

As well as the commitments with St Vincent's, and being brought into the Rebels' senior panel, O'Connor was an underage soccer international who played in a European Championships under 17 semi-final in 2014.

So this is someone who has achieved at a high level on and off the pitch, although soccer was jettisoned because it could never compete with camogie and something had to give. It was tough at times but sport and the books were never incompatible.

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"One helped the other," says O'Connor. "I didn't know any different. I was always the same in school. I hate when I hear people doing the Leaving Cert saying they are going to give up sport for the year. I guarantee you are going to do 10 times better if you play sport and do your study. They definitely complement one another.

"I really don't think I would have done half as well if I didn't have sport and my study. You need different aspects in your life. You can't go through life as just as hurler, or just a pharmacist. You need to have other elements in your life. You need to be a more rounded person."

It is a real attraction of Gaelic games for her as against professional sport, as the game isn't the sole focus. "You need to have other things going on. That is so important. And that is what makes the GAA so special as well, it is not professional, it is an amateur sport. I would hate to see it more than that."

That is despite the commitment being greater than ever as the bar on preparation and training is raised each year. In camogie, those demands have multiplied in steep increments.

This is the time of year when inter-county squads are getting back to the gym to work on their strength and conditioning programmes but when you are a high performance athlete, you never stop. And it goes back to the choices you make as part of your lifestyle, making sure you have a healthy balance.

"As an inter-county player especially, you can't afford to leave yourself go. Especially in Cork, the young people that are coming through, they will knock you off your perch. You have to keep yourself at a standard and if you don't you might as well forget about it. You won't reach the level you want to. You won't reach the level that is required.

"Even from where I started playing senior six years ago, you might have gotten away with it. But in the last three or four years the amount the game has come on is phenomenal. We are athletes and it is very important to recognise that. You need to look after yourself the whole year round."

So committed is O'Connor to that way of life that she will not be applying for any jobs outside of Cork. A commute is not an ingredient she is willing to add to the mix. And taking a year out to travel after such an intense period of studying wasn't on the agenda either.

"I couldn't," she admits. "I would miss the camogie too much. I am bored off my head with no camogie. I am bored since the day we were out with Cork, genuinely. Just camogie is so big in your life. You are, 'What do I do on a Tuesday night now?'"

The disappointment of losing the All-Ireland semi-final to Galway still lingers. She is disgusted by it. To her mind, Paudie Murray's decision to stay on is a huge boost although she acknowledges that Cork may be entering a rebuilding phase.

"It's great news. Paudie is brilliant and he deserves great credit for what he has done for camogie. Other counties would not have come as far as they have only for him and his professionalism. They have followed the standards he set. He didn't need to stay on this year. He had nothing to prove but I am delighted he is staying on.

"Maybe Cork camogie could potentially go through a bit of transformation over the next few years. If you were to ask me who is the person for the job? Paudie Murray. He knows us all. He probably knows everything about every inter-county camogie player in the country, and club player. If we are going to go through this transformation he is the right man to do it.

"The semi-final hurt. We worked hard and on the day we were awful. You would get away with three or four people having a bad day but we all had a bad day. It is a tough one. Credit to Galway, they clicked on the day. They were the better team and beat us.

"We just have to figure out why they beat us, how they beat us, and back to the drawing board with it."

Like all the players, O'Connor realises the importance of the All Stars Tour in terms of recognition and profile, and parity of esteem.

"It is huge for people to be able to play with the best players in the country. And I (had) never been to America. It's getting bigger and better all the time and fair play to Liberty and the Camogie Association. It's going in the right direction."

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