IF Banner Ladies are to become the first Clare club since Cooraclare in 1996 to win the Munster A senior ladies title, team captain Niamh O’Dea will have a key role to play.
The Kilfenora girl and third-year UL maths and PE student has scored 3-17 in her last three games.
Her 1-11 county-final tally helped Banner Ladies to an easy win over Liscannor, while O’Dea put away 2-2 in last weekend’s Munster B final win over Ballymacarbry from Waterford. Ironically, Cooraclare defeated the same club in a thrilling Munster final 17 years ago, winning 4-10 to 2-15 after extra time.
It is Cork opposition who stand in the Banner’s way on Saturday in Kilmallock.
It won’t be to the forefront of Niamh’s thinking until at least 4pm on provincial final day but if the Clare champions win, she will particularly enjoy her 20th birthday celebrations.
“It’d be a good birthday present, wouldn’t it?” she laughed.
She is confident the Banner won’t fear the Cork champions.
“We have both youth and experience. I’d be classed as young but I’m relatively old on our team. Our young players won’t fear anyone. They won’t know the difference as regards what players St Val’s have. They have Briege Corkery but our younger players probably won’t know who she is,” Niamh believes.
Her sister, Eva, is having a superb year at corner-back and is one of those younger players playing with real confidence and without trepidation.
“She only turned 16 last month. She came on as a sub last year and this year she has her place corner-back. To be honest, I’d say she was definitely player of the match against Cappawhite. Her physical strength alone, she shocked me. She shocked a lot of us. She was very good that day,” Niamh said of her younger sister.
The elder O’Dea sister said she is a bit protective of her sibling but has found that she doesn’t have to be.
“You would be but she’s well able to look after herself. Growing up in our house anyway with brothers and that. There’s fear of her,” she laughed again.
Their brothers, Cian and Jack, have represented Clare at underage level, while their father, JJ O’Dea, is part of the Banner Ladies management team.
“We’ve got to All-Ireland finals in the 7s and at underage at Féile, so hopefully we won’t get overawed with the occasion. That experience should stand to us. We weren’t really looking ahead but once we won the Munster B last weekend, we had to knuckle straight back down. We know we’ve a good chance this year because St Val’s wouldn’t be the most prominent Cork team. We feel that we’ve a really good chance,” the Banner attacker said.
With many of the panel at college, collective midweek training is difficult to organise.
“With college, most of us are away during the week so having a game at the weekend gets all the girls together. We’re getting used to having games week in week out. Once you start winning, it becomes a habit and hopefully we can keep it going,” Niamh added.
She is confident that those with a lot of experience behind them, including Louise Henchy, Niamh Keane and Emma O’Driscoll, will be able to manage the Banner’s hectic schedule. This will be the Banner’s third game in successive weeks.
“They’ve had camogie and football regularly on Saturdays and Sundays, so I’d say they’re well used to it now,” Niamh said of her colleagues.
In recent games, the inter-county dual player, who hurls for Kilmaley, has flitted between the full and half-forward lines.
“All this year I was playing full-forward and then against Cappawhite they brought back an extra defender, so it was much tougher. The last day I started on the wing and I found that I got on a lot more ball in the open space. It worked well. We’re constantly switching. You could go out any day and be put wing, corner or full-forward,” she explained.
“It can be frustrating inside but JJ [O’Dea] and Joe [Reidy] tell me to calm down and wait for that one ball. If you get one ball inside, you can do something. You have to have patience and confidence in the people outside to do their job and get it in,” the Banner top scorer acknowledged.
Ahead of what could be a history-making afternoon, Niamh thinks the Banner’s approach is fairly laid back.
“I don’t think we even know what we’re in for or the occasion it is. We’re just treating it as any other day but if we win a Munster senior championship, we’ll be in an All-Ireland semi-final. I don’t think we realise it at the moment. I haven’t thought about it much. Even when you’d meet the girls you wouldn’t be talking about it, which might be a good thing. Hopefully we can just go out and play and forget about the occasion,” the almost 20-year-old Banner team leader concluded.