Thursday 19 April 2018

Rebelette star Farmer eager to leave a lasting legacy on and off the field

Cork's Orlagh Farmer has her sights set on League glory (SPORTSFILE)
Cork's Orlagh Farmer has her sights set on League glory (SPORTSFILE)
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

Orlagh Farmer is part of the new generation keeping the Cork ladies football juggernaut speeding along, but what she is doing off-field may yet leave an even bigger legacy.

The 23-year-old forward graduated with a PE and Irish degree last year and is now juggling part-time teaching in order to fund her full-time PhD studies in a subject close to her heart.

Farmer is studying the unusually high drop-out rates of teenage girls from sport and her research will feed directly into the Ladies Gaelic Football Association's 'Gaelic4Girls' programme.

"I am investigating the reasons behind girls' massive drop-out rates when they come into the 12-13 age-group and will use that to design an intervention to increase participation rates," she explains.

A research team of UCC students are helping her collect data at present from primary school students.

"The girls wear devices called accelerometers around their hips for a week - they're like pedometers but give you much more accurate measures of their movement," Farmer explains.

"We're also using electronic questionnaires and focus groups. It is really important to give the girls themselves a voice, to see what they really think."

There was no fear that Farmer would be a sports drop-out but she could easily have been lost to Gaelic football.

Seven years ago she was running for Midleton AC, winning an Irish U-18 cross-country title and getting offered an athletics scholarship at a US college.

Midleton is primarily a hurling area and she plays Junior A football, so she was not exactly in the shop-window of the Cork ladies' game in her youth.

Had Charlie McLaughlin (one of the founding fathers of Cork's success) not spotted her playing on the astro-turf in Nemo Rangers one day, athletics might well have taken her.

"Charlie asked my dad if I would come to the Cork U-14 trials that evening and that was the start of it," she recalls. "I sometimes wonder what football opportunities I'd have had if I hadn't gone up to Nemo that day."

Her underage haul of All-Ireland U-14, U-16 (two) and U-21 titles was followed by five senior All-Irelands and the last three league titles.

Best friend Orla Finn, Jess O'Shea and her first cousin Emma Farmer were also part of that rich seam of underage talent that Cork then mined.

By 2010 she'd hit the fringes of the senior side, a schoolgirl training alongside childhood heroes like Valerie Mulcahy and Angela Walsh in the summer they lost that All-Ireland quarter-final to Tyrone - still, famously, their only championship defeat since 2005.

Despite losing manager Eamonn Ryan and super-striker Mulcahy this year they've still made today's Lidl Division 1 final, facing Mayo who beat them, on Rebel soil, in the first round.

The Rebelettes' early season form was patchy but they still came from behind to beat Dublin again in the semis.

"Change can be good sometimes," Farmer says. "Eamonn was fantastic but he was never going to stay forever.

"The good thing is we have all started on a clean slate with Ephie (Fitzgerald, his replacement).

"Getting to play with Valerie was an absolute dream, she is a huge loss, but Orla Finn has stepped in to take the frees and done a great job so far. We have great talent there still."

So what motivates Farmer during the muddiest nights at training?

"I love it really, it's genuine love for the game. We have such a good bond as players and there's such a good buzz in playing," she says.

"Eamonn used to say there's always that little bit more in you that you could get out. Your brain is telling you 'I'm not going to run for that ball, I'm too tired!' but, actually, there's always that little bit more you can find."

l See more on the WGPA's latest #BehindThePlayer campaign, supported by Elverys Intersport, at or on their Facebook page.

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