Amy O’Connor is a woman on a mission to prove doubters wrong at every opportunity.
She hails from an area in Cork with a poor reputation, plays camogie with a junior club and was the first member of her family to go to college.
This is a memorable time for the Cork camogie star. Following on from her maiden All-Star award last week, O’Connor is set to graduate with her Masters in Pharmacy from the Royal College of Surgeons next month.
It’s no wonder that O’Connor is the pride of her local club St Vincent’s, as displayed with a ‘homecoming’ following her All-Star win, but the feeling is entirely mutual.
“I knew that my own team, my junior team, they wanted to see the trophy so I was bringing it up to the club to show the chairman. But, like, when I arrived there was a guard of honour, a piper, and hundreds and hundreds of people there. So it was a huge deal for my club and I’m very glad that I’m from a club that’s willing to do that for me.
“No other club in the country would do it for their players. To be fair, it is a big thing. For our club, it was the first-ever All-Star, male, female, football, camogie”, she said as Littlewoods Ireland renewed their GAA and Camogie sponsorships until 2022.
“That’s what I love the most about my club. I said it at the homecoming, that I love my club because it doesn’t matter that I’m a woman. I’m treated exactly as I would be if I was a man. And then say even ‘I’m Amy O’Connor and I won an All-Star last week.’ It doesn’t matter, because I’m treated the same as a six-year-old that’s just joined.
“I love that about the club, it’s a really inclusive club – everyone is treated equally. All the men’s teams treat me with the same respect as they would their own.
O’Connor hails from Knocknaheeny, on the outskirts of Cork city. It’s an area known for crime and anti-social behaviour but that is a stigma she is keen to break down.
Many may assume that her years dedicated to soccer and camogie were what kept her on the straight and narrow but O’Connor instead credits it to her drive to succeed, as well as the support of her parents.
“I’m a very driven person and my Mam and Dad were never involved in anything like that so the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
“It is a problem in my area, there’s no denying that but I’m very lucky that my Mam and Dad always had me involved in something and kept me on the straight and narrow.
“As I say, I was always driven myself, I would be a very driven person school-wise, soccer-wise, camogie-wise, I’d never be satisfied, I’d always want to be better.”
“There’s a terrible reputation attached to Knocknaheeny but by good things like my playing camogie with Cork, Denise O’Sullivan is also from my area, she’s playing soccer at the highest level in America, positive things do come out of our area.
“We’re just going to have to try and work that bit harder to try and get more kids involved and show kids that you can go away and do something. You don’t have to be pigeon-holed into this life in Knocknaheeny of this cycle over and over again.
Her attitude and work rate already seem to be rubbing off on those around her. As well as the many children who now aspire to be a sports star like O’Connor, her own brother is following in her footsteps by going to college.
It’s no surprise that she describes her parents as “the proudest people ever”.
“They are unbelievable, both of them, never putting pressure on but always pushing me to do my best.
“They’re very proud and they’ll be very proud when I graduate now with my masters. Now my brother is going to college, it’s good.
“My Mam and Dad are brilliant. They don’t have a GAA background, they don’t have a soccer background, they didn’t go to college themselves but the two of them are very hardworking people and always have been. They’ve always worked.
“There was never any pressure put on me to do anything because in my area it’s not really seen as a big deal if you don’t go to college. So there was never any pressure on me and wherever I needed to be, they dropped me. My Dad would often drop me to three different matches in a day and they could be opposite ends of the country.
“I’m lucky, I still live at home so all my washing is done, my dinner is made so I’m blessed with the two of them.
Matters with Cork didn’t turn out quite as planned in 2019 having been knocked out at the semi-final stage by Galway. It was the first year since O’Connor joined the senior panel that she wasn’t involved on All-Ireland final day.
Her competitive nature ensured she was back training the next day and already preparing for another assault in 2020.
“I’d be the type to analyse it and analyse it and analyse it. I went back to my club straight away and went training the following day. I’d be that type, to try to just forget about it, but, at the same time, never really letting it go.
“But, yeah, I did. I analysed it and analysed it and analysed it. I can’t pinpoint where we went wrong. Galway were just better on the day and we didn’t turn up.
“It is very disappointing. Unless you win in Cork it’s not good enough, so that’s something we have to work on.
“Every year you look at things you can improve on and you work on them throughout the winter. As an individual, there are definitely things that I need to work on.
“I won an All-Star last week which I was delighted about. But, like, that’s put away now. We need to go to next year and I need to work on things and I know what I need to work on. I’m going to start early to try to get things sorted for next year.”