Glengarriff’s Niamh Cotter speaks to Mary White about her opening NFL campaign with Cork, and filling the shoes of legendary Rebel midfielders
FROM the off, you can tell Niamh Cotter is conscientious.
The 20-year-old has just come off a flight from Costa del Sol, where she’s spent a week with the Cork senior team, and already she’s obliged to fulfil the request for an interview ahead of Saturday’s Division 1 National League semi-final against Dublin (Nolan Park, 2pm).
As the conversation continues, it’s obvious Cotter – a second year student of International Law in UCC – is a doer, a grafter, and maybe even a natural.
She plays piano, and the guitar. She’s represented Ireland in athletics, and now she’s lining out for the reigning senior All-Ireland champions, having only given minor trials a shot in her final year underage.
The can-do attitude stems from her parents, Dr Aisling Morris and Dr Jerome Cotter, who run their own GP practice in Glengarriff Medical Centre. Both are serious cyclists, and her father the owner of a handful of county medals he won as a forward with Bantry Blues. Her younger sister, Aoife (19), is studying Pharmacy in UCC, and her brother, Liam (16), is a handy footballer for Glengarriff.
Cotter herself however wears the red and white of Beara. That’s how the borders and landmarks of west Cork have dictated things for the women of west Cork for the past few decades. Although 13 minutes or so from Bantry GAA Club, travelling 30 minutes to Beara has always been the way.
Now she finds herself playing in midfield for a Cork side that had the likes of Juliet Murphy, Norita Kelly, Briege Corkery, Rena Buckley and Deirdre O’Reilly wear the numbers 8 and 9. A phone call from selector Con O’Sullivan halfway through last season saw Cotter spend her first session as a Cork senior panelist in the gym at the Mardyke Arena alongside the likes of Corkery and Buckley.
She’s come a very long way since giving up a lonely, solo athletics career for the camaraderie of the Cork minor team just a year or two before. Now, she’s lined out in all bar one of Cork’s National League campaigns this year, but settling in was easy given that she knew a number of the fringe players from her minor days, and also an acquaintance of the UCC players in the mix – the likes of Libby Coppinger, with whom she went to secondary school with, Shauna Cronin and Kate Leneghan.
That same trio shared a room last week in Costa del Sol, where rest was more the order of the day than an out-and-out training holiday.Just three intense sessions were had, and a few morning runs on the beach, but other than that it was time to recover given she had played 13 games in the previous 12 weeks, between O’Connor Cup, club and county.
Tomorrow Cotter will be refreshed for what will be her first National League semi-final, when Ephie Fitzgerald’s side venture to Nolan Park.
It’s been a long time since Cotter lined out in the league opener in late January, but the improvements in her game since have been visible. She’s feels it herself too.
“I’ve really enjoyed it. I try express myself on the pitch, but the first few games I was very cautious and slow to get on the ball, because my main focus was trying to keep up with the pace of the game, and not do anything stupid. But the last few games my confidence has grown hugely and I’m more prepared to try a different option, or even take the ball on myself.
“I have to thank management for that. They started me week in and week out, and that made it easier for me to settle. I’ve a lot to learn, but I’m very happy with how it’s gone so far.
“My speed is something I’m working on. I have the stamina, and I’d run all day for you, but I was never really conscious of my speed, but the pace of intercounty football is outrageous so I’m trying to get my sprinting rates up.”
For such an accomplished young woman, it’s easy to see that Cotter is a perfectionist.
“I’m bit of a messer, but at the same time I take sport very serious. I’m an honest player, and hard working. I’d always run myself into the ground and wouldn’t be happy unless I did. I’m my own worst critic, but at the same time I don’t think that’s a bad quality because it keeps you grounded.
“Perspective is a big thing though, and I’m not being so tough on myself as I was. It’s a learning curve really. It’s just the way I am, I’m always hard on myself, but I am getting better on not dwelling on things for too long,” she smiles.
But, she doesn’t just see the improvements in herself; she sees them in the team too.
“We’re more used to playing with each other. The particular 15 that’s playing at the moment, we would have never played together collectively. There’s been eight changes or so to the team that started in last year’s All-Ireland final, so from that point of view we’ve done very well.
“We have got better playing with each other, and even myself, I know how others might want the ball now. For me that’s the biggest improvement – learning to play together.”
Tomorrow Cotter will sit on the bus next to her former schoolmate, Libby Coppinger. A fast beat will play through her headphones, and in the dressing room she’ll place the number 8 jersey over her head, just as Corkery and Murphy did before her. And, Cotter knows the magnitude of that.
Like those before her, she will run herself into the ground and leave everything on the pitch.
Friday, April 21