AT ONE STAGE earlier in her teenage years, Erika O’Shea quit football. Though only momentarily, it all could have been so different.
The Cork star is still only 19, but is now a 2021 All-Star and a key member of the Rebels defence after two stunning seasons with the senior side. She’s also a talented basketball player, having helped Glanmire to National Cup glory last month.
But a few short years back, O’Shea was dropped from underage Cork teams. She failed to make the cut as recently as one year of U16 trials.
Understandably, it had a big effect on her. O’Shea, and those around her, can laugh about it all now, but she remembers refusing to return to her club, Macroom, for a few weeks.
“I just didn’t want to go back. It really upset me,” she recalls, explaining how one of her club coaches at the time, Margaret Buckley, called to the house and got her back on board.
“She laughs about it now every time I see her because I actually quit and now I am on the senior team. I couldn’t believe it, I was so grateful when I did make it then.”
'I got dropped at U-14 and U-16' – new @CorkLGFA @TG4TV All Star Erika O'Shea has an inspiring story for other young girls in Ladies Gaelic Football. Just turned 19, the @MacroomGAA defender has bounced back to be on the big stage.
Full video on our Facebook Page #TG4Allstars pic.twitter.com/4wa9qcqpTJ
— Ladies Football (@LadiesFootball) November 15, 2021
It was renowned Cork coach John Cleary who ultimately re-ignited O’Shea’s inter-county involvement, drafting her into the county minors.
But again, it took some persuasion. She wasn’t going to attend trials, only for a few words in her ear from her school football coach Joe Carroll, who is incidentally the current minor manager.
“I told him straight to his face, ‘I don’t want to do it,’ and he said, ‘Erika, you should go,’ and I’m so grateful he did because I think I would have taken a completely different path. I’d say the basketball would have been a big factor.
“I feel that basketball would have been a path I would have stayed with and the football would have eased off a bit. I would have played with my club — we’re coming up, we’re Junior D this year I think but it’s hard playing at that grade too, so I would have juggled basketball more than football if I didn’t get the experience I had with John Cleary.”
O’Shea has received plenty of messages from youngsters and parents on social media since first sharing her rollercoaster journey, and she’s more than happy to listen and offer a helping hand.
“I love being asked for advice because I would have loved to have had that back then,” she smiles. “I just like to help people along and help them on their journey and keep them in sport.
“For me, anyway, I found it upsetting when I didn’t make the panel but I said to all the girls who messaged me that it benefited me, in a way more that I didn’t make it because I feel I am way more grateful for what I have now.
“I worked really hard to get there, and it didn’t come easy. I tell those girls all the time to keep going and they will get there. Don’t let [being dropped] affect you, use it as motivation to keep pushing on.”
O’Shea facing Vikki Wall of Meath.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
O’Shea is certainly a shining example, still a minor when she was called up to Ephie Fitzgerald’s Cork senior panel.
It was a “big step-up” and a challenging transition at such a young age, but she was made feel at home immediately and her star soon rose on the field. While her debut season of 2020 ended in an All-Ireland final defeat to Dublin, she impressed throughout, holding some of the biggest names in the game scoreless from play and included in the Team of the Year.
And then in 2021, she pushed on again with a prestigious All-Star award.
“It definitely was a dream come true, first of all, because I’d never, ever expected for any of that to happen,” O’Shea beams, reflecting on her senior seasons thus far. “I’m still in shock over the All-Star itself, I still can’t believe it happened. I’m so grateful for everything I have, thank God.”
That gratitude and appreciation again shines through as she speaks of her recent involvement — and success — with Glanmire, after Mark Scannell brought her back to the panel following some time away.
While it was “a great experience,” it’s one which will likely be parked again as football takes over.
It’s full steam ahead for Cork, under the new management of Shane Ronayne, as they prepare for the Lidl Ladies National Football League, while she’ll be in colleges’ action with University of Limerick [UL] in the O’Connor Cup over the coming weeks, too.
It’s all a balancing act as she juggles her various sporting commitments and her studies in Health and Exercise Fitness, but O’Shea hails her accommodating coaches, Ronayne and DJ Collins of UL.
And others closer to home, too.
“And with basketball,” as she adds. “I feel like I might have to take a step off that now. I won’t be able to do all three, because I can’t drive either, which is a bit of a hassle. My mam, she’s taxi at the moment, the poor craytor. She’s driving up and down like yo-yo, but she loves it. As long as I’m playing away, she loves to support me, it’s great.”
Celebrating National Cup success with Glanmire last month.
Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO
O’Shea has certainly found basketball beneficial — “It’s my secret weapon now,” she grins — with both sports complementing one another, pointing to a certain Kerry legend as the perfect example.
“If you threw a ball up to Kieran Donaghy, no one else would be catching it only Kieran. When you see these basketball-football players, you see how much it complements with their ball handling and being able to catch the ball at height, and for tackling as well. For me, I find it really beneficial because I feel like I’m always on my toes, which is good. Quickness as well. I think it’s definitely something that footballers should look into.”
Speaking of looking into other sports, what about Aussie Rules, with 14 Irishwomen ripping it up in the Australian Football League Women’s [AFLW] over the past few weeks?
O’Shea has attracted contact, but she’s pretty happy with her lot at the minute.
“Definitely in the long run I would like to play AFL if I got the chance but I’d love to play for the county first and try my best and win All-Irelands,” she concludes.
“There are such talented players going over, I would like to give it a go. I think it would be cool in a couple of years.”
Who knows what’s next for Erika O’Shea, after the meteoric rise she’s enjoyed over the past few.
UL and Cork’s Erika O’Shea was speaking as Yoplait were announced as the new sponsors of the LGFA’s Third-Level Championships.