A decade of waiting for Cork’s Jess O’Shea…

Cork’s Jessica O’Shea speaks to Mary White about the virtue of patience ahead of her first league final

IT’S a decade since Jess O’Shea first flitted in around the Cork senior camp, all 5ft 2″ of her.

From 2007 to 2011, as a teenager, she ushered on water bottles to the likes of Juliet Murphy, Angela Walsh, Brid Stack and Deirdre O’Reilly, her idols. She made her first start in the 2011 league campaign when she scuttled onto the pitch in Monasterevin against Kildare, and since, there were cameos galore. That is until this season, and on Sunday she’ll make her first official start in a league final when Cork aim to win their 11th Division 1 title in 14 seasons.

It’s hard to comprehend that the Inch Rovers woman is just 23 years old, but O’Shea epitomises the virtue of patience.

Aged 14, she made her first senior championship start for the Killeagh club in the 2007 county semi-final against Donoughmore, and she remembers it well.

“My first touch was a the ball off Maud Kennedy, and I turned around only to see Gemma (O’Connor) behind me, so I just gave the ball back to Maud as fast as I could! That was my introduction to senior football,” O’Shea laughs.

Two months later, however, the zippy forward lined out in the 2007 Senior All-Ireland Club final against Carnacon and Cora Staunton in Banagher.

“I remember reading the match programme and seeing that they had me down as being 18 years’ of age. It wasn’t until a few years later that Noel ‘Dip’ O’Connor told me that it was for my own safety because I was just so young really to be playing, but I loved it.”

Sport was always in the house, with her father, Pa – a former Cloyne hurler and footballer – and her mum, Pauline – a runner and basketball player – encouraging her and her older sister, Danielle, to play whatever they could.

O’Shea would go on to win an U14, U16 and U21 All-Ireland titles with Cork, while also captaining the county to a Minor All-Ireland title; not to mention winning four senior county championships, four Munster titles and one senior All-Ireland club title with Inch Rovers.

But, for a long time, O’Shea only surfaced in and out of Cork senior matches, training every night, but watching from the fringes, and folks tend to forget just how much she’s won. How much experience she has.

This season, consistent game time has seen her blossom, and after six years of trying, she’ll finally start in Sunday’s Lidl Division 1 National League final against Donegal in Parnell Park (4pm).

Playing the waiting game however wasn’t as hard as you’d think, simply because O’Shea’s outlook was quite matter of fact.

“I would be lying if I said it wasn’t tough at times, but I had great role models in the likes of Juliet (Murphy), Angela (Walsh), Annie (Walsh) and Anne-Marie (Walsh), and they all had to wait their turn. Maybe not for as long, but it’s an apprenticeship. You have to go into it realising it’s not going to come easy. What those girls achieved took years. It didn’t just happen overnight, so I applied that to my own approach.”

But, what’s made this year so different?

“Doing extra gym sessions myself I think has helped a lot, especially when it comes to the stamina in my legs. I’ve got a lot more miles in them, and I think not playing camogie this year has allowed me to recover properly.

“But, it’s upstairs as well. That’s a big thing. I’ve made myself give 100% at every training, and not pick and choose. Not that I did that before, but it’s definitely a more conscientious effort this year in trying to get on the ball, and win every ball, at every session.

“And, so far so good,” smiles O’Shea, who is presently nearing the completion of a Practising Marketing Masters in CIT.

On Sunday she’ll line out in midfield with Beara’s Niamh Cotter, or ‘Notter’ as she’s known by the squad, and relish the chance of starting in her first league final.

“Notter knows I won’t catch a high ball,” O’Shea laughs, “but we’ve it worked out between us.

“I wouldn’t be your typical midfielder in terms of height, but it’s working well. I think my versatility having played as a back and a forward is standing to me when it comes to reading the game so we’ve a good balance going.”

A win over Dublin in the semi-final a fortnight ago, secured a second shot at the title for Ephie Fitzgerald in just his second season in charge, and a 10th successive final appearance for the Rebels in total, but for O’Shea it’ll be her first time putting on a starting jersey.

“We played well against Dublin and our inside forward line did very well. People are starting to gel now.

“Defensively we held them up well, considering their pace and calibre, but we kept the ball when we needed to, and did the simple things right.

“Donegal will be another tough test and Geraldine McLaughlin and Yvonne McMonagle are just a class act – they don’t even have to look to see where the other is, they’ve such a good understanding.

“I don’t think they’ll fear us either, and that’s fine because we’re concentrating on our own game. Our intensity will have to be sky high for the 60 minutes, and we can’t let off. How well we work for each other too will be key because it’s what we’ll each do off the ball on Sunday that’s really going to matter.”

Tomorrow night, O’Shea will pack the same shorts and the same socks into her gearbag. On Sunday morning she’ll venture up the M20, but to see her make her way back down the motorway that night with a medal around her neck, would not only put a smile on her face, but on all those too who have watched and supported her over the years.

Evening Echo,

May 5, 2017

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