By Daragh Small
It was another hectic week for Diane O’Hora. The new Kildare manager was finalising her backroom team ahead of the 2023 season, while continuing with her busy day job as a medical device sales agent in Dublin.
She still had to make time for her two pet dogs, Major is 18 months now, with six-year-old Chief getting his annual vaccinations on Tuesday evening.
Nevertheless, O’Hora also had the opportunity to celebrate her past principal on his retirement from St Oliver Plunkett National School, the Quay in Ballina.
It’s the school that has former students dotted across the sports landscape today; O’Hora and Sarah Rowe both represented Mayo, while David Brady did too.
Willie Ruane is the current Connacht Rugby CEO, and Gavin Duffy is senior commercial manager at the Sportsground.
Another past pupil is Dara Calleary, the Minister of State for Trade Promotion, Digital and Company Regulation at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
And O’Hora attributes getting her start in the game to ex-principal Hugh Lynn, the man that helped so many get on track to achieve their dreams. He retired last week after over four decades of service.
“I was just at the retirement function for Hugh. He was the one who, before his time, allowed girls to play football and basketball. He was really big into sport in school. There are a lot of past players of the Quay National School and a lot were at the function,” said O’Hora.
“It wasn’t a private school but it was a very good school in terms of you had a great balance between sport and academics. You were busy in the classroom but then you were playing mini-leagues outside of it.
“He was the person who started me playing football. That time, girls didn’t play and there were no teams for girls in schools or in the Ballina Town League or in anything else. He allowed me to play all of the games for the Community Games until we won Mayo. For the final, you had to provide birth certificates so he had to make a call that I couldn’t play because girls weren’t allowed.
“It’s going back many years but it’s ironic I’m having this conversation after being at his retirement function after 41 years as principal of that school. He was the guy who spearheaded so much.
“You think Sarah Rowe is so much younger than me as well. My goddaughter is with the Mayo minors and she was going to that school too. It’s not anything that has stopped, it’s a continuous opportunity that people have for playing Gaelic football, basketball, or whatever, hockey, you name it. Everyone had a great opportunity to play sports in school.”
For O’Hora, it laid the foundations for an outstanding career that peaked with three TG4 All-Ireland Senior Championship medals – she quips, although some report it to be four.
Her inter-county career began at senior level before she even represented the county minors. But it would inevitably land major honours at adult level.
“It was mostly South Mayo that was a kind of a football stronghold. That started off with some great work from the clubs up there,” said O’Hora.
“After I made the senior team, I got called in then the following year when I was 16 for the Mayo minors. I ended up captaining the Mayo minor team and we won a provincial title, you didn’t know what you were doing, everything was just great playing for Mayo.
“I absolutely loved playing that much and I was fortunate enough to make the senior Mayo team. I had no interest in going to college at that time because all I wanted to do was play football for Mayo and be around at home.
“I worked at home, I worked in a factory called Hollister and then I worked with my cousin, David McGowan, a funeral undertaker. Being around Ballina helped me finance football.”
O’Hora eventually went on to serve for five years in the Irish Army while she was part of the Mayo crop that dominated the Brendan Martin Cup between 1999 and 2003. The Green and Red reached every final, winning four.
“We won the All-Ireland in 1999 when I was in the army. The army used me for a lot of recruitment of players, just to show you can play football for your county and get in the army,” said O’Hora.
“After 1999 we had to try and back it up the following year. The key thing to all of that, there was a guy called John Mullin and his son Jonathan Mullin. They were the managers in 1998.
“We went down to Waterford and we lost by more than 20 points, we got hammered off the field. On the way back up in the bus, as I had been registered with Clann na nGael in Roscommon, John said to me about improving his management team and I suggested Finbar Egan. He became probably that missing link to everything that we needed moving forward. And I went on to win in three out of five final appearances.”
Afterwards, O’Hora became an accomplished manager and coach and was involved with colleges, clubs and counties across Ireland.
She was with Meath before their storied five-year rise to All-Ireland success. And O’Hora remembers it as the most difficult time when she had to put her own reputation on the line, in order to bring about change in the Royal County.
There were also stints with Down, Longford, and Roscommon before she joined up with Sean Finnegan in the Lilywhites set-up.
O’Hora has now gone from coach to manager in Kildare, while she expects Finnegan to do great things when he hooks up with Kevin McStay and the Mayo senior footballers later this year.
“A lot of the headaches that managers will have is the logistics side of it and organising. Sean will 100 percent take the lead on that,” said O’Hora.
“You can imagine there is much to do in terms of organising food for senior players, gear, cars, expenses, stuff that needs to go back into GPA. There is so much administration.
“At the same time, Sean is a huge asset in picking players with talent. He is good at finding up-and-coming players, players that will probably flourish in Mayo. Mayo will need a big panel, you see with the fixtures, there is a game every week.”
But there is one main focus for O’Hora next year and she has enlisted the help of Brian Noonan, while Orlaith Curran will hope to add her expertise to bring Kildare to next level and become legitimate challengers later in the season in the TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Championship.
"Orlaith is the Irish women’s Sevens Strength & Conditioning Coach, that is an IRFU full-time job and in her free time she is coming in to actually work with the Kildare Ladies as an S&C,” said O’Hora.
“It’s the crossover of what we want for a very athletic team, she is a perfect fit. Then our medical staff, we have Leah Purcell, we have Meabhdh O’Sullivan and we have Nicole Donoghue. And the three of those as medical staff are excellent.
“Again, it’s a credit to the county board and I’m not just saying that. It actually is that they invest in the players' health that much to ensure that they have the best of care at training sessions and matches.”