Liffey Celtics are playing in their first ever Irish Cup final on Sunday and go in as huge underdogs but they aren’t worried about any tags as Emmet Ryan found out
The lengths a parent will go to in order to be there for their kid often leads to some unusual balancing acts. Emma O’Connor’s folks couldn’t be in Cork when she played the Irish cup semi-final against DCU Mercy but there was no way they were going to miss their daughter’s game.
“My parents were at a wedding at the University of Notre Dame basilica and was watching the game on her phone during the ceremony. It’s not that she wasn’t interested in the wedding but it was a cup semi-final, she knew it was a big game,” says O’Connor.
Having played for Marist College in Poughkeepsie, O’Connor spent a year teaching before coming to Ireland at the start of last season to play with Ulster Rockets in the National League, the second division in Ireland. She’s now studying for a masters in business and management at Maynooth University while playing as one of the two imports on Liffey Celtics, alongside Jazmen Boone.
O’Connor is settling into life in Ireland while also getting used to returning to the college life. “New York is really upbeat and on the go, I’m from Long Island, it’s a little more relaxed here but I’m adjusting. I’m doing okay being back in college, I put a lot of pressure on myself every day. It is different going back to college. I’m focussed more on my academics here, I feel I can focus more on school here and that has made me a better player. I’m focused on more than just basketball and that’s made me more relaxed,” she says.
“We’re doing well as a team, I feel anyone on the team can score at any time so I don’t feel the pressure I had last year with Ulster Rockets where I had to score 20 to 25 points per game. Here, I know we can still win if I only score 5 or 6,”
“I knew nothing about the club before I got here. I didn’t even know there was a league above the National League when I got here, I went to a couple of games and realised I wanted to play at that level.”
By the time that semi-final with Mercy came around, O’Connor knew all about what it meant to the club. The Long Island native managed to fit in a stint coaching the club’s U18 women’s team the morning of the game before suiting up to help the senior side make history.
“It was a big win for us. We had lost to them right before Christmas. Everyone came out, the team was just in synch, it clicked,” she says.
On Sunday, Liffey Celtics stare down a Glanmire side looking for its fourth straight cup title. There’s no question who the favourites are and O’Connor’s just fine with that.
“I like being the underdog. I was always the underdog in college. It still doesn’t mean much to us, that’s kind of the outside looking in. We’ve played them before, we know what they’re like, they know what we’re like, it’s just another game,” she says.
Team captain Ailbhe O’Connor, no relation, isn’t letting any labels or the occasion get to her despite the importance to the club.
“It’s really special. Liffey Celtics is like a big family. Everyone on the team would have a sibling or a parent involved. You know you are representing everyone in the club. We have a huge underage structure,” she says.
“Whether we are underdogs or favourites, it doesn’t change the job you have to do, we don’t feel any pressure. We’re going there to win and not thinking about anything else.”
O’Connor’s day job is with Fidelity Investments and her making it to the big one has got a few more people around her office caring about basketball.
“A few of them are coming out for the game. Normally after a weekend I’ll come in and people will ask if I had a game but it’s just passing chat. They are more interested in the cup, they are hearing about it on the radio and seeing it elsewhere,” she says.
The Irish women’s cup final between Liffey Celtics and Glanmire is live and free on TG4 and online around the world at TG4.ie on Sunday. Coverage starts at 4.15pm Irish time/5.15pm CET/11.15am EST.