Laura Tracy stares off into the distance, her face deadly serious and brooding, the epitome of a woman in her athletic prime who is not to be messed with.
he is to the left of Amy O’Connor and Amy Lee, both equally engrossed in something in the distance and seeming to ponder quantum mechanics or the meaning of life.
The scene takes place at a promotional photo shoot to mark the announcement of Kearys Motor Group as Cork Camogie sponsors and the resulting shot is superimposed on manager Matthew Toomey’s van now parked pitchside at the county ground in Blackrock.
“I would say Matthew is looked at every day driving down The Link [South Link Road]. You’re not afraid to overlook it anyway!”
The increased visibility is positive and just one of many things that have changed since she joined the Cork team a decade ago. One of the most striking changes is a different manager for the first time, although Toomey is a familiar figure in the set-up.
Coach Davey Fitzgerald is brand new and his appointment has grabbed all the headlines. He has settled in well, helping the Rebels back to the All-Ireland final 12 months after their three-point defeat by Galway.
But there is neither Paudie Murray, the man who introduced her to the team in his first season as manager in 2012, nor his brother Kevin, the respected coach.
“If I think back, I was 16 at Paudie Murray and that year I turned 17. I had two years in the minors so I played in the minors that year and had another year to play in the minors again. It seems like a lifetime ago. This is my 11th season so it’s amazing.
“This year there were some small changes. Davey entered, Matthew went to the manager, but there are still many similar faces around. Teddy [Donovan]still here, Nilsera [Niall Collins] still, matthew is obviously here. There is a sense of continuity, but at the same time of freshness.”
While the two-time All-Star and four-time All-Ireland winner owes much to Murray, the Killie defender is adamant the game of camogie owes a similar debt to the St Finborough man in terms of raising standards and raising the level of the elite. environment. one performance. It also expanded the tactical palette, which was very orthodox, while the rest of the Gaelic codes had moved on.
“We learned a lot from Paudie Murray. Personally, I think Paudie Murray can be said to have started the game. Camogie in general, over the last ten years. He set the standard himself, led us with it, and then other teams had to follow.
“Galway and Kilkenny have always stuck with us. I would give Paudi that credit. He was a phenomenal manager. His team was always A1. He got the best of the best. His brother is Kevin Murray [as coach]what we learned from him was incredible.
“But people move on, they find new jobs, new people always step in, and new voices are always nice.”
Now she’s out there.
“How did this happen?” – she breathes out, wincing in mock horror. “I’ll tell Ashling [Thompson] she’s still five years older than me, so she can hold that record.”
To be fair, Tracy will only be 27 this year, but there’s nothing she hasn’t seen. The fearlessness of youth is gone. But she can bring that gentle helping hand or word that the legends of the past gave her.
“I really feel like I have a lot of experience at the moment, especially seeing the younger ones coming up, like Meab Murphy, who’s 18, 19 years old. Orlaith Cahalan, a minor this year. I remember when I was that age going into it. At this point it was many months ago.
“It’s completely different. I walked the whole of Ireland in 2014, I was 18 then 19 and I was a bum. I was so small, of slight stature, but they gave me a job. I remember Matthew Toomey was there that year, and in the semi-final and the final, I remember Matthew and Paudi talking to me.
“I especially remember Ursula Jakob’s score in the semi-final in Thurles. They told me, “Ursula Jacob usually gets x number of possessions a game”—I think it was seven or eight—“but she tends to score in them. If you can count from seven or eight; you flipped it once, you only have seven. You gave it back, then blocked it, now there are only five of them.”
“Now I’m looking after myself and focusing on that a lot before the big games and making sure the girls around me are OK. Because Gemma O’Connor, Aoife Murray, Orla Cotter, girls like those girls always looked after me when I was that age. Checking me, always being around on the field as an option for me when I was on the ball. So I’m trying to do that for the younger girls as well.”
Starting as a cornerback when the current cut structure was not formed, Tracy moved to fullback when Anna Geary retired. Center field has always been her natural habitat, and she is now a current All-Star at the linebacker position.
“I’ve been at full-back longer than I expected. I never expected to play full-back in the Cork senior team and obviously I’d love to play anywhere in a Cork shirt, but centre-back is completely different.
“You seem to be more involved in the game and connect with the players a bit more and the ability to go forward maybe a bit more as well. So I like the central defender.”
She does not promise points á la Gemma O’Connor is more than happy to maintain her role as a defensive anchor and provide the likes of Katrina Mackie, Sorcha McCartan, Amy O’Connor and others.
Kilkenny were the opposition in their first All-Ireland match in 2014. Only Mackie and Ashling Thompson remain in the Cork squad, although Joan Casey features in the interim squad and her stoppage time replacement is the legendary Jenny Currie [née O’Leary] returns for Armagh in major junior final.
Claire Phelan, Denise Gaul, Katie Power and Miriam Walsh survive for The Cats, while Emma Kavanagh and Leanne Fennelly are still on the judging panel. They know each other well.
“Looking back at the All-Irelands many moons ago, even 2016 when they beat us, they still have a lot of those players and so do we. So we are well used to each other.
“We know what Kilkenny brings. They provide absolute air combat. They are serious hunters. They won’t let you pass easy and they work really hard on the simple things. I think it’s a big ask of us, but we have to if we have any chance of winning this game.
“Throughout the year we’ve been plagued with injuries, losing players like Orla Cronin to injury and so on, so we’ve had to fight back from a lot and also dig deep to win games. There is such a character.
“We showed that again against Waterford, but if we can’t show that character for the full 60 minutes or a huge work rate, we won’t come away with a win.”