Síofra O’Shea was restricted to a watching brief for Kerry’s two most recent league final appearances, but this Saturday she will captain the Kingdom when they face Galway in the Division One decider at Croke Park.
In early June of 2021, during the opening minutes of a league game against Wexford at Fitzgerald Stadium, the Caherdaniel forward was bearing down on goal but in trying to evade defenders and get a shot off her knee gave way.
It would be May 2022 before she returned to action – during which time Kerry lost a Division Two final to Meath (June 2021) and beat Armagh in the corresponding fixture the following April.
“I just made it back for championship last year,” she says. “It was maybe 10 months after my surgery when I got back playing a competitive game.”
O’Shea is only 21 but already she has joined the list of female athletes who have suffered cruciate knee ligament tears, with some studies indicating it is a more prevalent injury in women than men.
“I hadn’t read too much about it but when I did it myself then I kept hearing this person tore their cruciate, that person tore their cruciate,” she says.
“You probably become more aware of the amount of people that are doing it, so it probably does need to be more research on why it’s happening and how it can be prevented.
“There was nothing different [at the time of her injury]. I was training away as hard as ever and it just went on me. There is a bit of luck involved in it as well, you never know when it’s going to happen but I was unlucky it happened two weeks before a league final that year.”
She did make it back to feature in last year’s championship campaign and O’Shea was on the pitch when Kerry lost to Meath in the All-Ireland final.
However, on Saturday she will get the opportunity to captain her county in a league decider at Croke Park.
Kerry have been building steadily for a number of years now and a Division One title just a year after gaining promotion to the top flight would be another significant milestone in their development.
A multitalented athlete, O’Shea has represented Ireland at basketball from under-15 to under-20 level where she also filled the role of captain along the way.
“When you have experience of captaining your country it’s huge and, from a young age as well, when you’re put in that environment you have to learn a lot and you have to learn on your feet,” she explains.
“But you’re given a lot of support around the Irish international scene so I probably have a bit of experience that I can draw on there.”
The proliferation of GAA coaches utilising basketball techniques and tactics has found its way across all codes in Gaelic games and O’Shea can appreciate how knowledge of the small-court game can be beneficial.
“I think the main thing is spatial awareness,” she adds.
“On the basketball court, it’s quite a tight space and you’re trying to pick a pass and pick the defence open. It works then when you’re playing football in the forwards and trying to penetrate in on goal.
“You have a bit more space on the football pitch, so when you’re used to such little space on the basketball court it works in your favour.
“Kieran Donaghy has talked about it, he’s talked about the crossover between them, backdoor cuts and getting free from your marker and creating space in a tight situation is probably something that links over.”
Saturday will see Kerry return to Croke Park for the first time since last July’s All-Ireland final loss to Meath. However, it will be no bittersweet trip to the capital for the Kingdom.
“You want to be playing at Croke Park,” she says. “We had three trips to Croke Park last year – the league final, All-Ireland semi and All-Ireland final, so we got two out of the three results.
“Galway have been building nicely, they’ve got their players back from Kilkerrin-Clonberne as well. They’re a great team, they have players who are fast and fit and they like to run the ball. It will be a challenge for us, but we’ll be well prepared.”
Kerry face Galway in the 2023 Lidl National Football League final in Croke Park on Saturday at 5pm. The game is live on TG4.