Orla O’Dwyer is quickly becoming one of Ireland’s great female sport stars. The Tipperary dual star and Brisbane Lions rookie, has had a whirlwind couple of years, and despite all the success she’s experienced by the age of 21, she remains firmly grounded and focussed on success both on and off the field in the future.
Dual coders in both men and women’s sport are at risk of extinction in today’s world. It is testing both mentally and physically and it takes a certain toughness in order to balance both. So we were interested to find out how Orla got to this point and what drives her ambition to succeed.
Who was your biggest influence growing up in introducing you to GAA? Has the GAA always been an integral part of your life growing up?
“I come from a sporting family, we all play GAA and have a great interest in it. My parents, Brian & Mary, have probably being one of the main influences in my life. My dad won a senior club county final with Boherlahan in 1996 also played with Tipperary both minor and u21. They introduced me to GAA at our local GAA club ‘Rosegreen’. I played hurling and football with the boys until u12. I started playing at 8 years old. Once I could not play with the boys anymore, I moved to Cashel Camogie club and Boherlahan ladies football club and played with all girls, which made me feel a lot better and confident playing with just girls. Also, Mairead Morrissey began teaching in my primary school Rosegreen NS and started up camogie and ladies’ football in the school. At the time she was playing for Tipperary ladies football team and she was also a huge influence in my sporting career and made me want to play for Tipperary one day and also become a teacher.”
What are your earliest memories of playing/watching GAA with your club?
“I always remember the parish leagues we played in my club. The coaches would mix us all up and make a couple of teams and hang the teams up in the school and we all played against each other. It was a real competitive atmosphere, and everyone loved being a part of a team and playing against their classmates. Each team had to have 2/3 girls. I remember playing well in my final league u12, but before that, I wasn’t too good and was a lot weaker and less skilled than the boys. Watching GAA matches with my grandparents. We still go to my granny’s ‘Mamam’ every Sunday when I’m around. It’s a bit of a ritual!”
Just how great of a demand is it physically and mentally to be a dual star?
“I’m very privileged to get the opportunity to play both codes for my county and I love being part of the 2 setups. The 2 managers, Bill and Shane, communicate well with each other which make it a lot easier for me. They watch the fixtures and usually agree which trainings I go too, and I get on very well with both teams. When matches or training sessions overlap it can be tough as I don’t want to let down either side. Mentally preparing myself for big games after a win/ defeat on the opposite code can be difficult. Moving away from a defeat I’ve always found difficult and always like to play another game to get rid of that defeated feeling.”
What has been your greatest achievement in your GAA Career?
“My 2 biggest achievements in GAA would be playing in Croke Park in 2017 & 2019 in the Intermediate all Ireland ladies football final. That was my first time playing there and I will never forget the atmosphere, excitement, and occasion, especially because we won also! It makes you hungrier every year to try and get back to Croke park. Also in 2016, we won the Minor A Camogie all Ireland final against Galway, which was special as we were such a tight group and have played u14, u16 together with Bill Mullaney being involved all those years and also getting ‘Player of the Match’ made it more special.”
You decided to defer a year in College in order to live your dream of a professional career in the AFLW with Brisbane, how tough of a decision was it to leave everything behind to chase the dream?
“I did think about AFLW as a dream opportunity when I applied to Crosscoders, the agency that finds talent for AFLW. I couldn’t believe when I got a call from Jason (from Crosscoders) with interest from some clubs before the official Crosscoders camp dates. I spoke with my course director in UL and he advised to take a ‘Leave of Absence’. My parents and I were happy with that and my education wasn’t going to suffer. Its every athlete’s dream to get the chance to play professionally and I knew it was the right choice for me. Once I had signed with Brisbane Lions, there was going to be a long wait before the season started. I was kept busy with camogie and football and that’s where my focus was at right up until our all Ireland final in September.”
What are your hopes and goals for the future?
“Short term, I just can’t wait to get back training with Tipperary camogie ad football team and being back in the squad, training with everyone. I think being away from GAA for the past 6 months makes me excited to get back involved. Both teams were so successful during the league series this year which makes me slightly nervous about getting a place on either team. I’m looking forward to the championship and seeing what this summer brings.
Long term, I think both camogie and ladies’ football in Tipperary have a really promising future and I can definitely see us in Croke Park winning All Ireland Finals. Women’s sport is thriving throughout the country, especially here in Tipperary. Of course, I plan to finish my degree also in UL and become a PE and Irish teacher.
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