9 March 2024

~6 minutes read

‘College days’ – The Big Interview with Aoife O’Rourke of UL and Galway

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‘College days’ – The Big Interview with Aoife O’Rourke of UL and Galway

By DAIRE WALSH 

She may not have been involved this weekend, but having already featured in a brace of finals at the grade, Galway attacker Aoife O’Rourke already has her eye on making it back to the business end of the O’Connor Cup in 2025. 

Back in 2022  while still a first year student in the college  O’Rourke appeared off the bench for University of Limerick as they edged out Munster rivals UCC in an O’Connor Cup showpiece held in Dublin. Twelve months later, she was selected at left corner-forward and scored a point as UL lost out to an impressive DCU outfit on a scoreline of 3-14 to 1-13 in the University of Galway Connacht GAA Air Dome.

Meanwhile, the finals weekend of the 2024 Ladies HEC Championships got underway on Thursday and is set to reach its conclusion later today with the Moynihan Cup, Lynch Cup and O’Connor Cup deciders at MTU Cork. While O’Rourke and her UL colleagues were disappointed not to reach the semi-final stage of the latter, next year will see the Galwegian entering into her final year as a biomedical engineering student and she is hopeful of adding another top-level college title to her list of honours.

“It was a good day that day. Having that experience in first year has just fed the hunger a bit more and obviously I wanted to have it again. Aoife Molloy and Lynsey Noone (also from Galway) were playing that day,” O’Rourke recalled of her success in the 2022 O’Connor Cup final.

“Then playing with the likes of say Fiadhna Tangney and Hannah O’Donoghue from Kerry, girls that are just absolutely unreal. It’s a cool thing with college to be able to play with girls from other counties. This year not to get to the weekend is a massive disappointment, but they are the highs and lows of sport.

“We’ll just have to try and go away next year, try and get to the weekend, try and get the win. There’s a bit of a ticking clock with college football obviously. A shorter clock and shorter time frame than county and club. It makes it a bit more intense as well.”

While she will be idle this weekend, 2024 has already been a busy year for O’Rourke on the football field. In what is her third season as a senior panellist, O’Rourke has started all five Lidl National Football League Division 1 games that Galway have played to date  scoring eight points in total from the full-forward line.

Having lost out narrowly in each of the opening four rounds  two of them by the bare minimum to Mayo and TG4 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship holders Dublin  Daniel Moynihan’s side finally got up and running with a 1-12 to 0-7 triumph over Meath at Duggan Park in Ballinasloe last Sunday.

This puts them on three points in the Division 1 table along with Waterford and Cork. They are currently ahead of both these teams on score difference and with a significant weight off their shoulders, O’Rourke and Galway are feeling a lot more confident ahead of their pivotal home clash against Waterford tomorrow week (March 17).

“It’s a good place to be now, playing Waterford on St Patrick’s Day at home. It’s a must win for both teams. I think realistically it might be the most intense game for the league so far, just because both teams will be hoping to stay in Division One.

“If you look back through the first four games, we were a point to Dublin, a point to Mayo, two points to Armagh. It was all very close and we played Cork in a storm or hurricane down there! We all played well in all the games. There was a bit of confidence going into the Meath game that we knew we were well able to get the win.”

Before becoming a senior inter-county footballer in 2022, O’Rourke had already been in the spotlight along with some of those nearest and dearest to her. A fan of the show for a number of years, she was a participant in the eighth season of Ireland’s Fittest Family on RTE.

Joining her on this adventure were her sister Fiona, brother Dara and father Tomas, who have all been heavily involved in sport for a number of years. Whereas she has played with Fiona on the Tuam/Cortoon ladies football team, Dara is now serving as their joint-manager alongside Aonghus Tierney and has lined out for the local Tuam Stars GAA club.

Delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the O’Rourkes’ stint on Ireland’s Fittest Family was broadcast early on in 2021, but had actually been filmed several months earlier.

Coached by their namesake Derval O’Rourke, the renowned former sprint hurdles athlete, Aoife and her family made it all the way to the semi-final of that season’s programme. Given that it aired when there was very little happening in the area from a sporting perspective because of the pandemic, she remembers it offering a timely boost to the town of Tuam.

“Your whole childhood, I was talking about it, saying we’re going to do this. Then one day I just said ‘look, let’s just apply and we’ll see what happens’. Then it worked out for us. A great experience, I’m so glad we did it,” O’Rourke remembered of her time on Ireland’s Fittest Family.

“We did it in September 2020 and then it aired on TV in January 2021, because it took the slot of Dancing With The Stars. They couldn’t do it because of Covid, so we got to take the Dancing With The Stars slot! At that point I think we had lockdown again, so nothing was going on at that point. We weren’t even in school.

“The way we took it was, the whole town was behind us. All the messages would be flooding in, more than usual, because they weren’t doing things they’d usually be doing. There was such great support from the town of Tuam.

“It was funny as well because we obviously had lost, but we couldn’t tell people we had lost! People wished us luck and we were like ‘thanks a million!’ We weren’t allowed to tell anyone anything. We kept everything hush, hush.”

27 February 2022; Danielle Caldwell of Mayo, left, supported by teammate Sarah Mulvihill, in action against Aoife O’Rourke of Galway during the Lidl Ladies Football National League Division 1 match between Galway and Mayo at Tuam Stadium in Galway. Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile

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