Throw-in at St Peter’s Church, Rockchapel, is 12.30pm next Thursday.

Among the decent crowd expected will be a fair scattering of those Cork ladies footballers you’ve probably heard something about at one point or another going back the last 12 years. Newcestown, too, should be out in force.

Bríd Stack, having made a name for herself as one of the finest full-backs the game has known, will line out alongside Carthach Keane, he having toiled at full-forward for Newcestown in both codes this year.

The perfect match and all of that.

On the Tuesday evening before Christmas, when we chat, Stack says a 7pm engagement means we’ll have to keep the conversation to 20 minutes or so, before adding: “Well, actually, the traffic here in Mahon is cat melodeon, so I’m definitely going to be late.”

Tradition dictates that she can take her time next Thursday morning, but she’s promised not to keep guests waiting.

“For once in my life, I am not going to be too late,” she quips.

Finalising table plans is the latest box she’s attempting to tick, wedding preparations having been somewhat sidetracked by a couple of weekends spent in the capital. For good reason, mind. Just the weekend before last, she was in Dublin having been nominated for The Irish Times Sportswoman of the Year award and the RTÉ Sportsperson of the Year award.

Annalise Murphy and Conor McGregor took home the respective baubles. This Cork ladies footballer, for once, had no interest in winning. She was more than content to shoot the breeze with “childhood hero” Sonia O’Sullivan. Eamonn Coghlan was two seats away at the gathering in Donnybrook, while John Treacy came over to introduce himself before the cameras started rolling.

She had no choice but to make time for Darragh Maloney, the Cork defender having been selected as one of the nominees who would be interviewed on the night. The montage which preceded their chat showed Stack placing her 11 All-Ireland medals on the kitchen table back home in Cork before hanging each one of her 11 All-Ireland winning jerseys on the clothes line out in the back garden.

“Mam and dad came over beforehand to make sure the house was somewhat respectable for the RTÉ men.

“It was just a completely different experience altogether. The two RTÉ lads who travelled down, Alan and Cormac, couldn’t have been nicer. I mentioned that I had kept my jersey from each of the finals and, sure, I obviously kept all my medals. They rolled with that. It didn’t take too long to get done and sure we all sat down afterwards, drank tea and had a great chat.”

Between then and the night itself she’d spot herself on television now and again when the voting details were being publicised. There she was in the company of Carl Frampton and McGregor.

“And I wouldn’t be known as a fighter like them at all!”

That Carthach, her father and mother Mick and Liz, and her sister Muireann were able to attend capped off what was “a really special and fabulous end to the year”.

“It was brilliant to be involved, but that is not what drives us, either. Going back trying to defend our title is what drives us on. Every year, it is getting harder and harder. This will all end very soon and there might not be any more fancy nights, so we just want to appreciate them as much as possible when we can.”

Stack and Carthach Keane, who will marry on Thursday. Picture: Brendan Moran
Stack and Carthach Keane, who will marry on Thursday. Picture: Brendan Moran

The two nominations stemmed from another weekend in the capital back in early November. On that occasion at the Citywest Hotel, the secondary school teacher picked up her seventh All Star award. She also took home the Player’s Player of the Year award.

Briege Corkery and Sinéad Aherne were also in the running for the top prize, with Stack and Ahern having provided the intriguing subplot to what proved a somewhat controversial All-Ireland decider. The Dublin full-forward was kept to two points at GAA HQ. Monaghan number 14 Caoimhe Mohan had 0-1 to her name when hauled ashore in the All-Ireland semi-final. That was one score less than the Cork full-back managed during their All-Ireland quarter-final win over Cavan. Stack’s marauding runs forward on that afternoon in Birr earned her player of the match. Kerry’s Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh was another to get equally short shrift in the Munster final.

Even the legendary Cora Staunton had her work cut out when the pair squared off in the league final back in May. Staunton ended up voting for Stack for player of the year. Stack gave her vote to the Mayo forward.

“In fairness, we’ve had a fair amount of ding-dong battles over the years. We’d tear the heads off each other on the pitch, but we’d be good old friends off it. I love marking Cora, because she brings out the best in me. That’s what it’s about. You want to go out and mark the best forwards.”

One of their earlier meetings came in the 2007 All-Ireland final. It mightn’t have come to pass, but for an old friend having her back. On the eve of the game, the Cork management debated switching Stack from centre-back to allow Rena Buckley take up the task of shadowing the Mayo dangerwoman. Frankie Honohan wanted Buckley to be given the job. Mary Collins, a member of the management team who hails from the same neck of the woods as Stack above in North Cork, argued that it would send the wrong message. She was backed up by Ger Twomey.

Instead, the 20-year old was left where she spent that entire campaign, with Eamonn Ryan knocking on her door at 10pm that night to inform her of their decision. Cork completed the three-in-a-row the following afternoon and Stack was named player of the match.

It was Collins, and her husband Jessie, who developed Stack as a youngster. At the age of 12, she trained with the Rockchapel team that won the All-Ireland junior club title. That was in 1999. The following year, she was introduced as a sub at Semple Stadium as the club annexed the All-Ireland intermediate title at the first attempt.

“Mary always had my back, and I knew that.”

Now, Collins also knew when Stack needed a good clip around the ear. Living a half mile apart, Collins would collect Stack every Sunday morning at 7.30am for 9am training in Cork. On one such journey back in 2005, Collins let her know exactly what she was thinking.

“Mary basically told me that I had put on a horse of weight above in college. She was like: ‘Will you cop yourself on and lose the weight’. That was the start of it, really. She was constantly checking on me. She was a great motivator and wanted me to be the best I could be.

“We talked about everything during those trips to and from training. She was great counsel to me and gave me great guidance. Sometimes, when I was getting frustrated with things, she always knew exactly what to say. She was almost like a second mother.”

Stack played every minute of Cork’s maiden All-Ireland final victory that October and in every minute of the other 10 finals that have since come and gone.

And what of 2017, will we see her chase a 12th All-Ireland medal?

“I haven’t been able to think past the table plan for the wedding reception. I’ve been absolutely flat to the mat for the last while. I thought I had everything sorted, but evidently not. Once the table plan is done, I might think about it.

“I’m just going to enjoy the Christmas with family, the wedding and the mini-moon after that.”


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