Ballinascarthy native Martina O’Brien captured her third successive All-Ireland championship title recently when she helped the Cork ladies secure the Brendan Martin Cup for the fifth consecutive season. Martina speaks to John Bohane about her blossoming career.
Martina O’Brien, who plays her club football with Clonakilty, was rewarded for her heroics with the Rebelettes this season with a deserved All-Star nomination. It is due recognition for the 25-year-old goalkeeping ace who works as a massage therapist in Tralee. The modest Rebel custodian skillfully plays downs her continuing importance to the Cork success story. “It’s always a great honour to be nominated for such individual awards and an All-Star is one of the most recognised awards. I’m delighted to be nominated, but it’s not something I would dwell on too much, as at the start of a season you don’t aim to win an All-Star, as your only focus is working hard for your team and helping them to achieve each of the goals set out i.e win the league, Munster and or an All-Ireland final. Playing with Cork is not for individuals, Cork haven’t won 10 out of the last 11 All-Irelands because people play for themselves, it’s because everyone plays for each other and for the good of the team. So an All-Star nomination is great for me on a personal level, but what is even better is that we are All-Ireland senior champions this year.”
Martina is still basking in the Rebelettes latest triumph on the national stage. Cork defeated their Dublin counterparts in an All-Ireland final decider for the second successive season to claim the Brendan Martin Cup for the tenth time over the course of the last eleven seasons. Martina is still coming to terms with their latest success. “It was a fantastic win. We were all delighted to get the win following a really tough match against the Dubs. It really was close at the end, it was a nervous ending again but we managed to hold on. Dublin were pushing hard in the last ten minutes but we managed to repel their purple patch pretty well through some outstanding defending. A few girls made some crucial blocks while Brid Stack made a heroic last gasp block. The defending throughout was top class and that really was where the tone was set for the whole game, it then allowed us to break forward and the girls took some wonderful scores.”
Martina, who cherishes playing in Croke Park, is indebted to the strong support she consistently receives from her club colleagues at Clonakilty Ladies Club and her proud family who all made the trip to Croke Park to witness her latest winning adventure. “It’s a great honour to play with Cork anywhere, but to get to play in Croke Park in the biggest day of the ladies football calendar was just a dream come true. The atmosphere was brilliant, as the crowd was much bigger again this year and it really made for a great day. A lot of my family travelled up to the match, they always give me great support and follow me to every game. It is such a fantastic feeling to find them in the crowd after and celebrate with them. They all stayed up that night and it was nice to share the occasion with them. I also had unbelievable support from my club, they played in the annual seven’s tournament the day before and stayed up to support us on the Sunday which was great. I really appreciate all their support.”
The Cork ladies footballers, who have successfully captured the Brendan Martin Cup an astonishing ten times in the last eleven years, have been brilliantly guided by the legendary managerial supremo that is Eamonn Ryan. Martina is lavish in her praise of the veteran coach who continues to work the oracle with the Leeside ladies. “Eamonn is one in a million. He is just a fantastic person and coach. He brings something new and fresh every year and to each training session. He really knows how to freshen things up. He has a great eye on where we as players need to improve also, which is vital. It’s great to get to work with him and all the management team that are currently there. They have an excellent dynamic and just work so well together. It would be brilliant if they all stayed another year, as I think they still have so much to offer us.”
Martina finds it hard to pinpoint a specific secret or exact winning formula behind the Rebelettes extraordinary success over the course of the last decade as she outlined. “I think there are a few things that has brought success to the team over the past 11 or so years. There was a great bunch of players that came together at the same time. There was also so much talent, which combined with a great management team, ensured it really took off from there. It also takes copious amounts of hard work through every season. From one to 36 this year, we all worked so hard in training, out of training and during every match. I think when there is a group all willing to work hard for the same goal it’s always a good start. I also think the competition in the squad is so fierce it keeps everyone on their toes, no player is guaranteed a starting place it is hard earned and that has helped with the success throughout the years.”
Cork’s latest football triumph ensured that dual stars Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley have now won an astonishing 32 All-Ireland championship titles between them. Martina is emphatic in her praise of the ace duo. “They are just unbelievable athletes and people. They train so hard for both codes; they just deserve every success that comes their way. They are the heartbeat of both squads and have been outstanding for so many seasons. To have won 16 All-Ireland medals is just unthinkable, but yet they have done it and they have lots left in the tank I feel to even surpass that number. They bring great energy, enthusiasm, belief and hard work to the squad, which helps us to be a better team.”
Martina, who made her championship debut for the Cork senior ladies team against Clare back in 2013, has adapted brilliantly to her goalkeeping duties since taking over from her predecessor Elaine Harte, who was the goalkeeping incumbent prior to Martina’s arrival for the previous 15 seasons. Martina admits to being apprehensive initially following her call up to the Cork senior squad but she is full of praise for her predecessor’s influence and advice for her. “It was very hard to step into Elaine’s boots and take over the position she held for over 15 years. She was the best number one in the country and will always be the best goalkeeper to have played ladies football. She was such a great leader and controlled the team from the back expertly. I didn’t have much time to dwell on the position I had found myself in as I was called up to the panel at the end of the league campaign of 2013. I was there to provide cover initially, as Elaine was away for six weeks and Lisa (the sub keeper at the time), was injured. I was going in with the mindset that I probably won’t get much game time but I was delighted to get a chance to train with the best team in the country, and was going to rain hard while I was there. It transpired I started four championship games that year which was great. I would have trained with Elaine for the rest of that season and I think I learned so much from her that it was easier to slot into the goalkeeping position when she retired. I became the number one for the next season from start to finish; I’ll admit I struggled a little but you have the support of the whole team where ever you play so you never feel too much under pressure.”
Martina, who also plays camogie with Ballinascarthy, is hopeful Clonakilty ladies club will be competing strongly for senior championship honours next year. They succumbed at the semi-final stage this season to eventual champions Mourneabbey. “We had quite a good year this year, as we got to the county semi-final where we were beaten by Mourneabbey, the county champions. Even though we got beaten, we were relatively happy, as we know where we need to change and improve. We would hope that in the near future we will be contesting a senior county final. We have areas to work on but we have some great young players in the club and we hope that in the near future we will bring more success to the club.”
Martina was joined on the Cork senior ladies team this season by impressive Beara forward Aine Terry O’Sullivan. Martina is delighted by the strong progress of the rising young Beara starlet this year. “It was fantastic to see Aine Terry make such an impact this year. She is a fantastic player and has all the attributes to be a real leader and star of Cork football in the near future. She worked really hard to break into the team this season and she gave management no option but to pick her as she was playing so well. She repaid the management team’s trust in her and she did it in style by winning player of the match against Meath. There are only three of us on the panel from West Cork, but I think in the near future there will be more. The underage Cork teams have a big spread of players from throughout the county with West Cork very well represented. I think ladies football in West Cork is growing and will in the future produce some of the best ladies footballers Cork will see.”
Martina, who only took up playing football at the age of nine, is indebted to all her coaches who have helped her progression throughout her school, club and county career as she recalls with great fondness. “I’ve had some fantastic coaches the whole way up from underage level until this present day. With every different coach I have had I took something away from the experience. I learnt so much from so many people that I think it would be unfair to single any one out; everyone I encountered has thought me something about myself and has improved my ability as a ladies footballer.I started playing football when I was around eight or nine-years-old. There was no such thing as a ladies football team in our area at the time so I played with the boys until I was 14-years-old. I then attended Sacred Heart secondary school where I took up ladies football at the age of 16 playing with the school team. We enjoyed quite a bit of success with the school winning two Munster titles and an All-Ireland in the space of three years. That was great for my development.”
Martina is planning to enjoy her deserved break from the rigours of training over the winter season before she looks ahead to a new playing season with both club and county. “We enjoyed a great year and I think it’s important that we all put football out of minds for a little while, spend time with family and friends and just enjoy some free time. Saying that, at the start of each season your hope is to first make the league final, then the Munster final and obviously be in Croke Park to contest an All-Ireland final. Before any of that can happen a lot of planning and hard work must be undertaken, so it really is just an ambition at the start of each season.”
Martina is delighted with the growing exposure within the ladies game at present. She is confident that the game will continue to thrive and prosper in the longterm future. She is anxious however to guard against the threat of complacency within the association and has some very forthright views on the continued progress of the game. “The ladies football association has made great strides in the past few years to increase the profile of ladies football throughout Ireland and even Europe, Australia, America and Asia. There has been a massive increase in participation in ladies football in recent years, which is in no small part due to the televising of games and promotion through social media. I think in Cork it has become one of the leading sports to be played by girls and women of all ages, this mainly due to the high profile of the Cork ladies football team and the success they have brought to the county in the past 11-12 years. For the sport to grow even further, I believe they will have to join forces with the camogie association. At this stage most young girls play both codes and are having to choose one over the other. This should not be the case and if both associations came together and came to mutual agreement it would give each and every girl that plays both the opportunity to do so at club level and county level.
“There also needs to be more investment in ladies sports, more high profile people/companies/governing bodies need to invest in the promotion of ladies sport. With more investment comes a higher profile for such sports, as ladies football and that will help increase participation. The media also have a lot to do with the advancement of the sport as the more they promote woman’s sport the more it will help gain respect in the long run. Lastly and probably the most important requirement for the growth of the game is the support shown by other women. If women don’t follow their own then you’re going nowhere fast. More women need to go out and support at games at club level and county level. Women support the men’s game and crib when there is not enough support for a women’s event. We as women need to support our own and that should be the first port of call for the future of ladies football.”