Then aged just 17, the Donoughmore student’s workrate had already caught the eye of Cork coach Eamonn Ryan, and Saturday it was to the fore like never before in the Rebels’ one-point win over Galway.
Buckley led by example as Cork sought their ninth title, kicking the winning point with two minutes remaining, and denying Galway a first crown in the process.
Nine football All-Irelands, nine national league titles, and 10 Munster medals aside however, not much else has changed since her senior debut 11 years ago.
“I was getting ready to leave the dressing room before the game, and I was trying to think back to my very first league final in 2004, trying to see if anything felt different.
“But, it’s the same thing, the same feeling. You’re still going out to play a match and you’re still testing yourself to see how good you can be.
“It’s incredible to think that it’s our ninth title. We’d never have dreamed that at the beginning, but it’s funny how the feeling is always the same. We always just want to get better.”
Cork started brilliantly, leading Kevin Reidy’s side by four points courtesy of a hat-trick of points by Valerie Mulcahy, Aisling Hutchings and Buckley, before a goal by Galway’s Patricia Gleeson five minutes from half-time, saw the Connacht side take the lead 1- 5 to 0-7. However, Mulcahy, Hutchings and Briege Corkery tagged on points, while the latter made a crucial goalline clearance to see Cork lead 0-10 to 1-5 at the turnaround.
The pace continued in the second half, with the sides level four times, but with Annette Clarke, Louise Ward and Nicola Ward doing well, Galway went in front and kept Cork scoreless until the 47th minute.
However, with three minutes remaining, and with Galway captain Ger Conneally in the sin-bin, Valerie Mulcahy registered her fifth free to bring the sides level again. It was then that Buckley surged from midfield to fire over the winning point, before Cork intercepted Galway’s last attacking play and cleverly kept possession, akin to their five in-a-row All-Ireland win against Dublin in 2008, to secure the win.
“I’m just thrilled,” said Buckley, who now has 18 senior national football medals to her name.
“The best thing about it, is that it was there to be won, and we won it. The last day I don’t think we played particularly well, but even so we were on top, we shouldn’t have left it after us.
“So, we’re delighted to have won it but Galway are a super outfit. Come championship, they’re definitely going to be there, and the thing is they’re only going to get better.”
Buckley was one of three dual players who had to decide mid-week whether they would line out for the Cork camogie team in the Munster final in Cashel at 4.30pm, alongside Corkery and Maebh Cahalane.
The latter went with camogie, while Buckley and Corkery opted to stick with the footballers. “Briege and myself would have loved to have played in the camogie game too, and the fact we couldn’t was fierce disappointing. But what can you do? You just have to drive on. But I think the sooner there is a coming together of both organisations the better because they’re both Gaelic games and, historically and traditionally, there’s a massive link between both codes and the sooner the organisations can find a way of working together, the better for everybody.”
V Mulcahy 0-7 (5f), A Hutchings 0-3, R Buckley 0-2, B Corkery and E Scally 0-1 each.
P Gleeson 1-0, T Leonard and A Clarke 0-3 (1f) each, B Hannon, L Ward, C Concannon and M Hoey 0-1 each.
M O’Brien; M Ambrose, G O’Flynn, R Phelan; V Foley, R O’Sullivan, B Stack; R Buckley, B Corkery; C O’Sullivan, A Hutchings, A Walsh; D O’Sullivan, V Mulcahy, O Finn.
E Scally for O Finn (HT), R Ní Bhuachalla for D O’Sullivan (44), A Barrett for M Ambrose (47) and O Farmer for A Walsh (51).
J Connolly; Á Seoighe, E Flaherty, S Gormally; N Ward, N Connolly, S Burke; L Ward, P Gleeson; B Hannon, A Clarke, O Divilly; G Conneally, T Leonard, C Concannon.
M Hoey for N Connolly (21), L Joyce for Concannon (49), C Cormican for Divilly (58) and R Leonard for Hannon (60).
M Farrelly (Cavan).