And then there were four. The club which Bríd Stack became a founding member of on October 2, 2005 has grown more and more exclusive with each All-Ireland title added.
The turn of a new page invariably brings with it a player or two stepping off the “rollercoaster”, further cutting ties with Cork’s history-making team of 11-years ago.
Valerie Mulcahy pressed stop back in April, Geraldine O’Flynn forced to sit out this year’s ride owing to the torn cruciate ligament she sustained during last year’s All-Ireland final. Nollaig Cleary and Angela Walsh bowed out ahead of the 2015 season. The year prior it was Juliet Murphy and Elaine Harte.
From the 2005 side, only Stack (29), Deirdre O’Reilly (32), Briege Corkery (29), and Rena Buckley (28) remain. They, along with Mulcahy and O’Flynn, are the holders of 10 All-Ireland ladies football medals, but the four remaining soldiers, or “old dogs”, as Stack labels them, stand apart in that Sunday will mark their 11th final appearance. Their determination to stay the course also means that an 11th Celtic Cross — 17 in the case of Buckley and Corkery — is now an hour away.
“We never thought starting out that we would reach the All-Ireland final in 2005, let alone still be defending it 11 years on. We are so privileged to be in this position. This group of girls might never play together again so we are just ready to enjoy Sunday,” says the Cork full-back.
“As you get older, you realise the rollercoaster will be coming to an end soon. It makes you appreciate every time you go out onto the field or every time you are able to go out onto the field. As you are getting older, you also have to try and mind yourself that bit more.
“This year I took my time coming back. I wanted to make sure I was going back to enjoy it. Eamonn’s departure [as manager] meant it was always going to be tough but our new management have been brilliant. I was delighted I did go back and thankful to be facing into another All- Ireland final.”
Thankful too that Corkery, Buckley and club-mate Deirdre O’Reilly have also stayed the course.
“The old dogs,” she laughs. “We’ve been such great friends through the years. Since the very start, it is friendships that have kept this thing going.”
An 18-year old Stack lined out at corner-back during Cork’s maiden final win over Galway in 2005, graduating to the number six shirt for the following year’s campaign. The night before the 2007 decider, management debated switching her from centre-back to allow Rena Buckley take up the task of shadowing Cora Staunton. Mary Collins argues that it would send the wrong message to the St Mary’s defender. She’s backed up by Ger Twomey. Eamonn Ryan broke the news on the eve of the game that Stack would be marking Staunton. Cork complete the three-in-a-row the following afternoon and Stack is awarded player of the match.
The faces she’s lined out alongside have changed a fair bit over the ensuing nine seasons. This Sunday she’ll be flanked by Marie Ambrose and Roisin Phelan, players who were learning to bend their backs when Stack first linked up with Cork all them years ago.
“Oh Jesus, stop. Sure, aren’t I nearly 10 years older than them. In fairness, we work very well together. We have always tried to make sure in defence that we are a collective unit. Thankfully, that has always been the case over the last 11 years.
“Having Deirdre [O’Reilly] is front of me is a big help. I love every single time I go out playing with Deirdre. We’ve played on the same team since we were about 10 so I know how she plays and vice versa. We’re great friends off the field and we try to help each other as much as possible on the field.”
Of her 10 All-Ireland medals, the Carrigaline Community School PE and Maths teacher cites the 2005 and 2014 victories as the highlights.
“In 2014, a lot of people had written us off. Ten points down with 14 minutes to go; it didn’t look great. But I suppose we have been together long enough now, we know what we are capable of. Everyone dug deep, we never gave up. That was something Eamonn instilled in us from 2004; just never give up. Hopefully, we won’t be giving up on Sunday.
There is probably a bit more pressure on us to defend our title. This is the third consecutive year we are meeting Dublin in the final. We have only ever been separated by the minimum. We’re well aware of the mammoth task ahead of us.”
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