Kinsale coach Michael O’Connor speaks to Mary White about the determination and loyalty of upcoming Cork ladies football star Sadhbh O’Leary
SADHBH O’Leary was always the one joining the lads for a game of ball down at the playground in Kinsale.
Everywhere she went, she had a ball in hand, and now aged 17, O’Leary is one of the rising talents in ladies football – not just in Cork, but in the country.
This year alone she won a Minor All-Ireland medal under the guidance of John Cleary, kicking five points from play in the process against Dublin in the final. She made her senior club championship debut with divisional side West Cork, and topped it off by winning a junior county and Munster title with Kinsale. Not only that, but she was called upon to attend a handful of training sessions with the Cork seniors and Ephie Fitzgerald given her display in Minor All-Ireland final. She did so, but it was only brief given her other playing commitments, and considering she still has another season ahead of her playing minor.
For Kinsale coach Michael O’Connor, it’s been a massive season, with O’Leary one of the key players in helping his side reach their first Junior All-Ireland final against St Maur’s of Dublin. It wasn’t to be, but none-the-less, the journey has been a remarkable one.
“It’s been incredible. If someone had said to me this time last year that we’d be in an All-Ireland final, I wouldn’t have believed it. It was great, but then when you get there and you’re just two points short, it’s tough. I’ve watched the video now a few times and you’d be grinding your teeth, but to be fair St Maur’s deserved it. The last 10 minutes we put a lot of pressure on them, but that’s the nature of the beast.”
O’Connor knows all about spotting talent having spent time with the Kinsale minor boys right up to U21, in both hurling and football. But, when he was approached this year to take over the junior ladies football team, he reckoned it would be a new challenge. He’s loved every minute of it, and Sadhbh O’Leary and her comrades are a huge reason why he’s enjoyed it so much.
“I think sometimes a certain moment in time comes along and everyone just clicks. There’s just a batch at the right time and it happens every now and again, and it’s just right for Kinsale. The players now have the whole package, so it’s important to keep them all together because they’ve so much potential.
“They’re determined and they just love to play football, and Sadhbh is definitely leading the way in that regard,” he said of one of Kinsale’s top scoring threats all season, alongside Cork senior and All-Star winner Orla Finn.
“Sadhbh’s a very special player. I remember when she was going to primary school, she always had a ball in her hand. She’d be down in the playground with the lads, whether it was kicking a soccer ball or whatever. You’d watch her and you just knew that this girl had it. Just give Sadhbh a ball and she’ll play!
“She’s just so talented but not only that, she’s so determined. She’s determined on the ball and in getting the ball, and it’s that combination, and yet she knows that she has to work hard on and off the ball, and that’s what makes her so good.
“Just looking at her footballing ability and how she even kicks a ball. I said it to my father after Sadhbh kicked five points from play for Cork in the minor All-Ireland final this year, and I said, ‘What did you think of her?’ ‘Well’, he said, ‘she’s very determined, she’s nearly too determined!’, and that’ll tell just how much determination she has.
“But she’s also very skilful. There’s certain things you can teach but I remember when I saw Sadhbh play first and the way she collected a ball and the way she dropped her shoulder to go through, you knew… she’s just got that natural ability.”
But as impressive as O’Leary’s skills are, it’s her maturity and modesty that draws the attention of onlookers and admirers.
“Her family are just the salt of the earth and they’re an absolutely brilliant family involved in all aspects of the community down here and Sadhbh’s very grounded,” O’Connor beams.
“And she loves nothing else but to play with her club and friends, and you can see that by the gang she hangs out with. They’re all football crazy. You’d talk to Sadhbh now and she’s reserved. Shy is the wrong word because she’d giggle away for you too, but when she gets out on the field then she’s a completely different character.”
O’Connor’s admiration for O’Leary also delves into her understanding of the importance of club.
“She was with the Cork minors this year but she would be at every training session with Kinsale, and if there was a rare occasion she couldn’t make it, she’d be sure to tell you first thing. She’s a real club person and it’s great to see a player like that, who’s been so involved with Cork during the year, not forgetting the club.
“She really is a talented player and the future is very bright for her because she’s the right attitude,” O’Connor added.
Name: Sadhbh O’Leary
Honours: Minor All-Ireland title with Cork, Cork JFC medal, Munster JFC medal, West Cork senior team, and 2017 PP Schools Interprovincial team.
Coach’s comment: “There’s certain things you can teach but I remember when I saw Sadhbh play first and the way she collected a ball and the way she dropped her shoulder to go through, you knew… she’s just got that natural ability.” (Kinsale coach, Michael O’Connor)