April 26 – May 30, 2024


Orla Finn settles into new chapter of life after Gaelic football Retired Gaelic footballer Orla Finn, born and raised in Kinsale, radiates as a new mum when Niamh Coughlan meets her in April. Orla’s journey into the world of Gaelic football began at the age of 10, around the time when Kinsale established a women’s team. However, her initial exposure to the sport came through Sciath na Scol during her time at SummerCove national school. It was there, in third class, that Orla earned her place on the school panel, paving the way for her involvement with the under 10’s team at her local club.

she laughs. Athletics was a big part of her life, ranging from cross-country and track and field, to high jump. “It came to the stage where I had to pick between one or the other. I was big into athletics and it was a very hard decision to make. But I chose football because I found it more enjoyable meeting the girls and the team aspect of it. Athletics is very individual and if you had a bad day it’s all on you. Whereas, in a team sport it’s a lot nicer; if you lose, you all lose. And when you win, you all win. So it was actually a blessing and I think I was probably enjoying football a little bit more at the time.” She was in her mid teens when she decided to give up athletics and focus fully on football. Orla’s debut year with the Cork seniors was in 2011, marking a pivotal moment in her sporting career. Even though she excelled at athletics during this period, her focus gradually shifted. Orla recounts a whirl- wind experience of juggling both her athletic pursuits and her commitments to the Cork senior footballers. “I remember I had an athletics club compe- tition in Tullamore, Offaly, on the same day as an All-Ireland quarter-final match against Dub - lin with the Cork seniors. My parents drove me straight from the athletic grounds in Offaly to the pitch where the quarter-fi - nal was being played. Luckily it was only an hour down the

road but it was a chaotic day.” It was this moment in which Orla decided she would have to choose between her two pas- sions and sacrifice one over the other. Reflecting on her journey, she says, “It’s only now, in hindsight, as I’ve retired, that I truly appreciate the great days that I’ve had. At the time, you just go with the flow and try to perform your best. I’ve always been deeply driven and self-mo- tivated.” Training with the Cork seniors was never enough for Orla. “I always felt compelled to go out and push myself further. I was the free-taker for Cork for the last few years so I dedicated myself to that extra bit of training and running. My own motivation pushed me to be as successful as I was.” Winning a remarkable total of six consecutive All-Ireland titles with the Cork Senior team is the highlight of Orla’s career. To be a part of that team was unique, and stands as a testament to the collective spirit and talent of that era, a period of domi- nance that remains unmatched in women’s Gaelic football. Since then, the Cork women’s team have yet to reclaim the All-Ireland crown. Central to Orla’s journey was Eamonn Ryan, whose leadership and mentorship played a pivotal role in shaping her career. From the moment she joined the Cork senior team, Eamonn provided immense support and invaluable guidance, creating an environ-

ment of calmness and compo- sure that laid the foundations for success. Orla particularly recalls his relaxed demeanour which was felt throughout the team. In addition to Eamonn’s mentorship, Orla found inspi- ration and guidance from her teammates, the likes of Valerie Mulcahy and Rena Buckley, whom she regarded as role models. Transitioning into the role of free-taking following Valerie Mulcahy’s retirement presented a new challenge, yet it was one that Orla embraced with determination. With the support of Eefie Fitzgerald, her confidence blossomed, paving the way as Cork’s new free-tak- er. Behind the scenes, James Masters played an instrumental role, dedicating countless hours on the pitch to refine every aspect of Orla’s technique. The match day routine was always a crafted ritual, with dedication from the night before the game right up to the moment she stepped foot on the field. From packing her gear bag days in advance to ensure nothing was forgotten, to maintaining structure in her meals to optimise performance. The early years held a special charm, marked by familiar routines and happy traditions. Seated beside a familiar face on the bus ride to an away game became a comfort – a small yet significant part of the pre-game excitement. “Breaking tradition was unthinkable,” she says. As the years progressed and the stakes grew higher, Orla found herself grappling with nerves before each game. The transition to the professional side of the sport brought with it a heightened sense of pressure and expectation. To combat the pre-match jitters, Orla devel- oped her own hoping mecha- nisms, turning to moments of reflection and focus. Instead of watching the intermediate games that preceded her own, she sought silence in kicking the ball off the dressing room wall. “My legs felt like jelly,” she says, “but once I got onto that pitch and got my head in the game, all that disappeared.” Orla is a strong advocate for balancing sports and education. She chose to join the senior panel after completing Leaving Certificate exams, but she

PEOPLE IN SPORT Niamh Coughlan

R eflecting on her early winning a Sciath na Scol final at that age. Playing at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, she describes it as a monumental occasion, a sig- nificant school outing that left a lasting impression for years to come. “It was truly a great introduction for me to football,” she says. Despite her young age, Orla’s talent didn’t go unnoticed. Aged 13, she earned a spot on the Cork under 14 ladies football team, making her mark early on in her career. This trajectory continued through to minor and under 21, until she ultimately secured a place on the senior panel. experiences, Orla fondly recalls the thrill of Football wasn’t the only sport on Orla’s radar. “I played every sport under the sun. My mum had me thrown into them all,” Niamh Coughlan is currently completing a Masters in Journalism and Digital Content Creation at Munster Technological University. Growing up, she played camogie and football with Glen Rovers, and one of her passions is sports.

Orla Finn at a Cork County Council civic reception honouring her contribution to ladies football. Pic: Colm Lougheed

and support from the likes of Lidl. Orla notes the growing conversation around issues such as adapting club shorts’ colours to help players feel more com- fortable, seeing it as a positive step forward. However, she recognises that there is still a significant gender gap between men’s and women’s sports that needs further narrowing. As a primary school teacher at an all-boys school in Cobh, Orla found that her job com- plemented her sporting career well. With school finishing early in the afternoon, she had ample time to train and attend matches, which was a huge advantage. She’s also applying her Gaeilc football expertise by involving herself with Sciath na Scol activities at the school. Though retired from Gaelic football for two years now, Orla reflects on her career with optimism. She looks forward to hopefully returning to playing with Kinsale women’s team in the near future. Recently becoming a new mum to a baby boy in March of this year, Orla finds the experience of mother - hood to be a remarkable change. She jokes that her son will be joining her on the football field in no time!

credits playing football during her school years for signifi - cantly boosting her academic performance. Orla respects the dedication required, especially during busy seasons. Despite missing out on opportunities like J1 trips to America and summer holidays with friends, her passion for football was paramount. Orla is saddened by the trend of young girls dropping out of sports in favour of social activities. She notes that many of her former classmates who played football with her have moved away from the sport. She emphasises the importance of commitment and she believes that merely attending training once a week isn’t enough; play- ers must be willing to sacrifice some social time. Orla also highlights the value of having friends within the sport, as it fosters a sense of camaraderie and motivation with like-mind- ed people. “When friends are playing, the desire to participate increases.” Orla acknowledges the progress in promoting wom- en’s sports in Ireland. She particularly notes a gradual improvement in attendance at women’s games, attributing this to increased coverage by TG4


Clonakilty Hockey club, who are Division 3 league winners after a great season and will now play in Div 2 next season, making history for the club. L to r: Clara Crowley (captain), Suzie Forristal and Julie Nicholson.

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