Mary O Connor is CEO of the Federation of Irish Sport. She is a native of Cork and has worked in sport all her professional life and is an avid sports fan. Mary has represented her native Cork in both Camogie and Ladies football amassing a total of 12 Senior All Ireland medals over a 16-year dual inter county career. She has won All Stars in both codes, national leagues and provincial titles and more recently was honoured with an Honorary Doctorate from University College Cork (2012) in recognition of her amazing contribution to sport in Ireland.
20 Questions with Mary O’Connor
1. What’s your first memory of sport as a child?
My first memory is of replicating sport I saw on TV with my brothers and sisters in our front garden. One day you were a rugby player, then a golfer (with man made holes dug out of the garden – my mam was not impressed) or a hurler or a tennis player. We even replicated the Dublin horse show with pretend horses and a dish of water as a water jump! Fun and innocent times.
2. How did you first become involved in sport?
I have 6 brothers and 2 sisters and where we grew up everyone played Gaelic Games. I played on both the boys hurling and football teams until I was 12. I started playing Camogie at 6 after my sisters Helen and Ann had been playing for a while with Killeagh.
3. What sports did you try as a child?
I tried all sports in my front garden, but the ones I played in a formal way was Gaelic Games, I played some underage soccer with the boys as well, but it was always Gaelic Games for me.
4. What decided you to settle on your chosen sport?
It was simple I really had no other interest. I loved Gaelic games and I got such a thrill and enjoyment from playing it. I think I was very lucky to come from Killeagh, Camogie and GAA was so well run in the clubs when I was starting off. We had loads of games.
5. Who has had the most impact on your sporting career?
I think without doubt my mother, my greatest supporter no matter what, I cried on her shoulder more than most!! However, if I had not had Tommy Seward in my life from u12 as my first real coach of the Killeagh u12 hurlers I do not think I could have achieved what I did. He has been a great friend to me, a confidante and somebody who was great to give me feedback and never stopped believing in me. If everyone had a ‘Tommy’ in their life’s, society would be a much better place.
6. What female do you most admire in the world of sport?
I have always admired Sonia O Sullivan and she has been such a genuine role model for people in sport, she was talented, committed and showed real resolve at different times in her career.
7. Outside of sport what do you do in your leisure time?
Oh, as I have grown older, I have taken an interest in Hill-walking, and a little bit of cycling. I like to be entertained by sport now so I go and watch as many games/events as I can. I have a fantastic family; we are a very tight bunch and with 24 nieces and nephews there is always time to be spent with them.
8. What is the last movie you went to see? What is your favourite movie of all time
Oh God, the last one I saw was a star is born and there was so much tears at the end that I could not leave the cinema for about 15 minutes until the red eyes calmed down! My favourite film is The Ghost and Mrs Muir
9. What music do you listen to?
I am a big Van Morrison fan and I really enjoy Foy Vance too, I listen to most music and with the influence of older brothers and sisters I like listening to the Stunning, something happens and Elvis Costello
10. Are you a reading fan? If so, what are you currently reading?
Currently reading the Salted Path by Raynor Winn and the beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri – both very different, but excellent reads!
11. Do you follow any sports stars on social media? If so who?
Yes, I do Billy Jean King always has something good to say. I am a big Man United fan, but I think some of the current players spend too much time on social media not mentioning any names!
12. Forget about your sporting diet for a moment? Your favourite meal when you breakout?
Fortunately, I have retired competitively now so I can eat what I want, but when I was training a cheat meal was just pizza and chips – simple things!
13. Who do you most admire in your own sport?
In Gaelic Games there are many fantastic players some of whom I got to play alongside such as Juliet Murphy, Rena Buckley, Angela Walsh and Briege Corkery. In Camogie Lyn and Steph Dunlea were exceptional camogie players. I think Gemma O Connor current Cork Camogie player has been superb athlete as well as Caroline O Hanlon Armagh, Cora Staunton Mayo and Mary Leacy Wexford and Therese Maher Galway
14. Do you have a special ritual before competing?
Yes, I had a few but like everything when you retire you reflect and think what was I thinking – my pre-match big meal was Weetabix with hot milk – enough said
15. Do you still play other sports for fun?
No, I just puck around in the front garden with my nieces and nephews, I still love the thrill of striking the ball and controlling it, but I am too fragile at my age to play a team sport now 😊😊
16. What advice would you give to young girls & boys to encourage them to participate in sport?
Play sport as an opportunity to be active, make friends, travel to new places and learn about yourself. Never play sport for anything but enjoyment. Enjoyment is the main reason to play sport.
17. What has been your biggest sporting achievement?
To have no regrets, yes, I was part of successful teams, but I retired knowing that I maximised the talent I was given by preparing as best I could and being totally committed to my sports. Yes, there was games I lost but I know that I could not have trained or prepared harder, the other teams were just better on those days.
18. How do you cope with (a) injuries; (b) other setbacks?
In sport are common, the key is to focus on what you are in control off, as the saying goes ‘the clock will always turn’ and when it does be ready. I would also say listen to your body everyone’s recovery from injury is different.
19. What do your family make of your success?
As long as my family are proud of me as their sister as a person firstly nothing else matters. I loved sport and pursued excellence relentlessly throughout my career, they never questioned it even if it meant missing christenings or weddings etc. Our family are like any other, no special treatment just get on with your life and if you need support reach out.
20. What does sport mean to you?
There was a time when sport was absolutely everything to me, success or failure coloured my viewpoint on things even my estimation of myself. but now I see sport as having given me so many enjoyable experiences, fantastic friends and as a vehicle where I learnt about life along the way. sport thought me about commitment, resilience, leadership, cooperation, teamwork, decision making and empathy. It has been my best teacher!
Check out the 20×20 Women in Sport Calendar for upcoming fixtures