'If you could bottle it, it would be sold out' - My LGFA Life with Cork's Martina O'Brien

My LGFA Life with Cork’s Martina O’Brien


Age: 30

Club: Clonakilty

Occupation: Physical Therapist

County debut: 2013 v Clare

Notable achievements:

4 TG4 All Ireland Senior Medals

1 All Ireland Junior Club Medal

1 All Ireland Senior B Schools Medal

3 All Ireland Aisling McGing Senior B Medals

6 Lidl NFL Division 1 League Medals

4 TG4 Munster Senior Championship Medals


Q: Martina, thanks for chatting to us. How have you found your experience of playing Ladies Football?


A: It’s been a rollercoaster throughout the years. Some of my fondest memories involve playing ladies football. I have gained so much from being involved with my club and county. The biggest thing for me is the people I have met and friends I have made through playing the sport. Being involved in ladies football always meant being part of something, your teammates/friends goals align for that one thing and this bond is formed that never really dies. Even when teams change from year to year you still have this one experience in common, playing football (or any team sport) keeps you connected even years after retiring. That spirit you find within your team can’t  be replicated in other walks of life.


Q: What was it that sparked your interest in the sport from a young age?


A: I started playing camogie very young, around 6 years of age, my older sister was playing and I didn’t want to miss out so I hung onto her coat tails and followed her everywhere. I started playing GAA with the boys as there was no ladies football team around at the time. So my interest started there, I played camogie and hurling and couldn’t not play football. I didn’t get involved in ladies football until I was 16 with my secondary school team. We were very successful early on and I started to pour more of my energy into football.


A: When did you pull on the Cork jersey for the first time, and how big a thrill was that?


A: As a young girl I would have been a big follower of Cork camogie, as a club we’d always head to Croke park for the All-Ireland finals. It was a massive day out. I always hoped to play there someday, who doesn’t as a child? I was lucky enough to get a chance to play with the Cork senior B team in 2007 in the competition’s inaugural year. This was the first time I played with Cork and I played with the senior B team until 2011. It was a dream come through at the time, I’d always wanted to play for Cork and at 17 I was getting that chance with an adult team. I won 3 Aisling McGing medals with the senior B team. A few years on I was fortunate enough to get a call up to the Senior A panel and haven’t looked back since.


Q: What is the best thing for you about playing Ladies Football?


A: As I have mentioned previously the best thing about playing Ladies Football is the friends I’ve made. I’ve met some wonderful people along the way. Not only people that I’ve played with but also people I’ve played against. Ladies football is great in the sense that it feels like a tight knit community. Although it’s one of the fastest growing sports and it’s great to see so many girls getting involved, it still has a family feel about it and friendship still remains a key element, even at the highest level. This for me is probably why I love it so much and would encourage anyone, young or slightly more mature (like me!) to give it a try.


Q: Who was the biggest influence on your career?


A: I would have to say my family. My older sister constantly helped me along when I was younger, dragging me off the couch to go out and to puck around and keep active (she had a hard job god love her, I was a very VERY lazy child). She was always there to cover me if I needed work off for training or a match (again I followed her to the same workplace… still hanging from her coattails). When I made the senior panel she was the one out on the pitch kicking ball at me or encouraging me when I needed to do extra running. My parents of course have been a huge influence on me. The support and encouragement has been a constant since I started out as a child. All they ever wanted to see was me enjoying myself and enjoying the sport.


Q: What are the main challenges that you have faced in your career so far?


A: I have to admit I’ve been extremely lucky in terms of my footballing career to date. I have never been injured or sidelined for long periods of time. Of course there have been ups and downs but I feel I fell into great teams with school, my club and of course county. I’ve had success with all 3 and really feel grateful to have been involved with all 3. I suppose everyone faces a time in their career and life that is challenging and I would have had times especially in my early to mid-20s that I struggled with confidence. I learnt to deal with it and with lots of help from family and friends I would have got past it and now I find it easier to deal with confidence issues in sport and in work. I have such a great support system which I’m so grateful for.

In action during the 2018 TG4 All Star exhibition game. 

Q: You’re renowned as an excellent goalkeeper, with many fine attributes. What do you consider as the biggest strengths of your game?


A: My voice. I think my organisation is a strength of mine. I genuinely think my teammates wish I lost my voice more frequently so I wouldn’t shout/scream at them but I believe my constant talking and instruction to my backs is important and something that has helped me to do less actual goalkeeping. I do believe kicking has become such a big part of goalkeeping, the kickout is now more important than ever and it’s something I have improved on. Every game I play I try to improve the kickout stats but it’s still a work in progress.


Q: What do you do for a living, and how do you manage the work-life-sport balance?


A: I’m a Physical Therapist and I run my own business called Martina O’ Brien Physical Therapy (I know, very original). I have been self-employed for a number of years, this brings with it its own challenges and stresses. I have managed to create a good work life balance over the years but it has taken a lot of trial and error. Being self-employed, it allows me to be flexible with my schedule for training. I am able to free up my evenings for training or take time during the day to get to the gym. Due to the demands of inter county now it can be difficult at times to juggle both but it’s all about being organised and making a weekly plan that helps you make time for everything.


Q: You’re the proud holder of four TG4 All-Ireland Senior Championship medals. What was it like to win the first one in 2013, and how do the rest compare?


A: It was a whirlwind of a year for me, 2013. I joined the senior panel in May about a week before the League final. It was a stroke of luck for me (or bad luck for someone else) as I was called up due to injury to Lisa Crowley and Elaine Harte was travelling for a few weeks in June. I came into the team and was sub keeper for the League final and I ended up starting the Munster final that year. I played up to the All-Ireland semi-final. It was some way to start a senior intercounty career and I think it has made me a better player now for being thrown in at the deep end like that. I had to learn fast and really just keep improving or else be replaced. Winning in 2013 was special but I think 2014 will be one I will never ever forget. The way the year went we had a decent year winning the league and Munster and getting to the All-Ireland final but nobody could have expected a final like that. To be dead and buried shortly into the second half and come back to win it in the way we did it’s a feeling I’ll never ever forget. The nerves, the excitement, the crowd, I can still remember the noise of the crowd and feel the tension as we crept back into the match… you could feel it on the pitch. The feeling after the whistle blew if you could bottle it, it would be sold out…its absolute magic. As for 2015 and 2016 they were so special in their own right. No All-Ireland is superior or inferior to the other. Every year was different, threw up different challenges but ultimately we got the best reward in the end and the celebrations to match it were something special. When you look back it makes all the training, hard work and “sacrifices” 100% worthwhile.

Celebrating Lidl National League success in 2015. 


Q: What are your hopes and aspirations for the rest of your career?


A: I suppose as I come toward the end of my career my goals haven’t changed too drastically from when I started. Obviously the biggest one is still to win another All-Ireland, that’s always the ultimate goal. I think what I have realised is that as time ticks on you start to play every game as if it’s your last. I have started to enjoy games a lot more, whereas before I would have been more of a nervous wreck. A big hope of mine is to play as much club matches as I can, and obviously to win a county title with both Clonakilty and West Cork. I think playing with the divisional side West Cork and playing senior football has always been an aspiration. I think we have a real shot at winning a county title and I would love to claim just one before I hang up the boots.


Q: Have you played other sports?


A: As I mentioned previously I started out playing camogie. I continue to play camogie with my club Ballinascarthy but not as frequent as I would wish due to football and work commitments. I absolutely love going back and playing with my club and I am extremely lucky to have such a wonderful club that accepts me back and allows me to play even when I’m not around all the time. Camogie for me is something I can go back to and enjoy without some of the pressures that football brings. We play in a very competitive grade and I love playing with those girls I grew up with, the community spirit just can’t be beaten.


Q: Do you have a favourite photograph from your career?

A: I really love this photo, it just captured a great moment between me and Aine Terry right after the 2016 all Ireland final, the last time we won… hopefully won’t be the last.


Q: You play your club football with Clonakilty, and you’ve also lined out with the West Cork Ladies. How have you found that experience and what is it about club football that’s so special?


A: Again I have to say I’m extremely lucky to live in West Cork and get the chance to play football for 2 clubs. West Cork, the divisional side, aren’t a club as such but it has been so well organised over the past few years it sure feels like playing for a club. I really think having divisional sides are extremely beneficial. It promotes ladies football and gives girls a chance to experience senior football, something they may never get if they played with their clubs alone. I have had some of my best sporting experiences with Clonakilty. I joined them in 2009, a year that the club will never forget. We won the Junior A county, Munster and all Ireland that year. It was an unbelievable experience, to go out play and win with the girls you went to school with. We spent most of that year training and celebrating. After that year we did quite well and competed at senior level for a number of years but as every club goes through a transition so did we and we are now intermediate but really holding our own. The club does so much for the underage and we have a bright future ahead.


Q: You’re in a one-on-one situation with one of the country’s lethal finishers. How do you rate your chances and what are you looking out for to enhance your chances of making a save?  


A: I’ve been there too many times and the ending is always the same, me pulling the ball out of the net. To be fair nobody expects a goalkeeper to win a one on one (or so I tell myself) so it’s a bonus if it hits off me and doesn’t go in. To be fair I get enough practice with one on ones and some of the best forwards training with the likes of Orla Finn, Áine Terry, Ciara O Sullivan, Katie Quirke, Saoirse Noonan etc and even Melissa Duggan… I’d swear she went to chip me last week during a club game but she was adamant she was only going for a point.

Saoirse Noonan has been making a big impact since linking up with the Cork seniors. 


Q: What’s your career highlight?


A: I have a few that always stick out in my head. The 2014 all Ireland final is always something I would regard as a highlight just being involved in such an epic match and a game that will never be forgotten because of the way it panned out. Winning a club all Ireland in 2009 with my club, Clonakilty. It’s something you won’t get in any other walk of life the camaraderie and friendships from those days will be there forever. I still meet people in the street and that’s the first thing we will talk about 11 years on. The last thing for now would have to be getting the chance to step in as captain for Cork last year during the league. It’s something you only dream about, lifting a cup for your county team and I got the honour last year in the league.

Meeting the President prior to the 2014 TG4 All-Ireland Senior Final 


Q: How confident are you that Cork can make a big impact in the 2020 TG4 All-Ireland Senior Championship?


A: I think like every year you start out with high hopes for your team. We certainly started brightly in January through to March but I don’t think that has any bearing on what will happen in this year’s championship. Everybody has been keeping fit and strong so we’d be hopeful when we get back as a unit that we can pick up where we left off. I do think this year’s championship will be very interesting. Every team is starting on a level playing field, no one team will have had more time together etc. I think it will be an open championship with some surprises in store. As always I would be hopeful we can make an impact early on and maintain momentum to make it to the final. We have been knocking on the door the last few years and it would be nice to finally push on and win this year.


Q: What piece of advice would you offer to up and coming young players?


A: I suppose it’s cliché at this stage but I think working hard has to be the number one thing you do. You have to be prepared to work your socks off to get where you want. If you want to play with the best or against the best you have to put in the hard yards (on and off the pitch) all of the time. It’s so important to listen to coaches also. We all too often get carried away and believe we know better but your coach is there to guide you, help improve aspects of your game that will make you a better player. I have found that I’ve taken something from all the coaches I’ve worked with, some will have a bigger impact than others but if you’re coachable then you’ll go a long way in the sport. Keep your ego in check.

Celebrating at the final whistle after the 2014 TG4 All-Ireland Senior Final. 


Q: And who’s given you the best piece of advice during your career?


A: It would be hard to pinpoint one person as I have gotten a lot of helpful and constructive advice throughout my career to date. In both club and county I have had excellent coaches and managers who have all given me advice and helped to make me into the player I am today. I have always been very open to feedback and advice and I think it is a key element of developing as a player and as an individual. Listening to others around you that you trust and know only have your best interests at heart is so important to grow as a player, teammate and individual.


Q: What hobbies do you enjoy?


A: I suppose sport is the biggest one, I love playing and watching sport. I enjoy going to the gym, hill walking and being outside in general. Apart from sport though I do enjoy cooking. I’d always be looking at new recipes for dinner or just finding new dishes I could try out. I find cooking  therapeutic actually.

Q: You’re hosting a dinner party, and you can invite 5 people. Who’s on the list and what are you rustling up for your guests to eat?


A: Well to start off none would be celebrities, that would be way too much pressure. I would invite my two friends Mairead and Angela, whom I lived with when I worked in Kerry, because if they found out I was having a dinner party without them they’d disown me.

My sister would get the nod as she has been my number one taste tester for many years and would be highly offended not to end up on the list.

My housemate Ashling would be next. As I said previously I love cooking but I’m not the best at the clean as you go or wash up after so she will be there exclusively to do the wash up… and of course because she lives in the house.

The final spot would have to go to my friend in Oz, Leonie. It would make for a great time to catch up and she loves a good party.

It’s hard to choose just one thing, I would probably have a menu but I’d probably cook an Aubergine lasagne with spicy baby potatoes and homemade coleslaw. Dessert would have to be included also and that’s hands down warm chocolate brownies with ice cream.


Q: And finally, who’s your all-time sporting idol?


A: I don’t think I have one all time sporting idol. It would have changed frequently as I grew up I think. I always admired and looked up to goalkeepers in every sport. I followed soccer when I was younger so Peter Schmeichel would have been a favourite of mine. Growing up GAA mad I loved watching the likes of Donal Og, Brendan Cummins and Damien Fitzhenry play. As I started to play more ladies football I would have looked up to Elaine Harte. Whenever I went to matches I always watched the goalkeeper warm up to see what they did and watch to see if I could take anything from it. I think now, we are lucky to have so many Irish sports women who inspire the younger generation. In all types of sport – ladies football, camogie, rugby, hockey, athletics and so much more. Here’s hoping it keeps younger girls in sport for longer or just help them to keep more active because it certainly inspired me to do better when I was younger.

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