Lure of captaincy helped dual star Rena choose camogie

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Rena Buckley becomes the first player to captain Cork in separate codes on All-Ireland final day.

Forgive us for not being overly inventive with our intro, but we couldn’t think of a more appropriate line when summing up the year that has been for Rena Buckley.

On the fourth Sunday of this month, Dublin and Mayo will contest the All-Ireland ladies football final. It is the first time since 2010, and just the second occasion since 2004, that Cork are not involved in the decider.

She won’t thank us for saying this, but it is hard not to find correlation between Cork’s failed seven-in-a-row bid and Buckley’s absence from the set-up in 2017 – her decision to concentrate solely on camogie brought the curtain down on 13 years of unbroken service to the county’s senior football team. Equally significant, we should add, was the choice of Buckley’s partner in crime, Briege Corkery, not to link up with the Cork ladies either.

The time she had free of study and running her physiotherapy clinic in Macroom, Buckley devoted to the small ball. And September simply wouldn’t be September if we didn’t catch a glimpse of the 30-year-old tearing around Croke Park, history hot on her heels.

Indeed, before a single sliotar is struck at GAA HQ tomorrow, the Inniscarra defender will have already broken new ground. Having led the footballers to All-Ireland glory in 2012, she is to become the first player to captain Cork in separate codes on All-Ireland final day.

There’s also the small matter of chasing an 18th All-Ireland medal in what is her 22nd final.

No question but the captaincy played a significant role in Buckley opting for camogie. Had it not been on the table, then the choice of which master she’d serve would have been a hell of a lot more difficult. Why she had to make a decision in the first instance goes back to September of 2015 when she returned to UCD to begin a two-year part-time Masters in sports physiotherapy.

Year one ended in May of 2016 and with no course work to attend to that summer, Buckley was free to line out for both county teams. She knew, though, something would have to give in 2017. Exams in May and a thesis due in August.

There simply weren’t enough hours in the day to uphold her dual status. And as you’d expect of a woman with 10 All Star awards, she doesn’t do half-measures.

On October 28 of last year, Inniscarra and Milford met in the Cork senior camogie decider. The latter were chasing a fifth consecutive county title and were expected to comfortably overcome their opponents.

The underdogs stunned the reigning All-Ireland club champions to claim a famous 4-10 to 2-13 win and with tradition dictating the Cork captaincy be awarded to a player from the county championship winning team, Inniscarra nominated Buckley for the role.

“That was a huge part of my choosing,” says the 17-time All-Ireland medal winner.

“It was difficult to park the football, but I had to be realistic as well. I physically couldn’t have done both. Football has been such a huge part of my life. Just watching the games on television this summer, I’ve been on edge.

“I’ve never really gone travelling or on massive holidays. I’ve always played football and camogie for Cork. I’ve really enjoyed those choices. I don’t feel I’ve missed out in any way. I have had a brilliant time throughout my twenties playing with Cork and I’ll cherish that for the rest of my days.

“I’m happy with the choice I made this year. That’s for this year. We’ll see again at the end of the year.”

The respective Cork managers were informed of her plans back in January. Her final college exam was on May 12 and she told football boss Ephie Fitzgerald she’d review her position once that was done.

“It is harder to recover as you get a little bit older. We are training Tuesday and Thursday and to then try and put a hard session in on the Wednesday just makes it so tricky.

“You’re conscious also that when it comes to the business end of the season, you’d have matches on the Saturday and Sunday. That becomes harder as you get older. I thanked Ephie in May and wished them the best of luck.”

One of the first people she contacted was Briege. The pair are as different as night and day, yet will be forever entwined for their exploits in the red shirt. Should Paudie Murray’s charges achieve redemption against Kilkenny, Buckley will move one medal clear of her former team-mate.

“I would have phoned her before saying anything to anyone about what my plans were for 2017 with Cork.

“We’ve been paired together for so long. Even at the open day for supporters there last week, some mother said, ‘this is Briege Corkery’. I couldn’t stop laughing.

“I definitely miss her around. We’re fierce friends, but we obviously can’t be doing the same things together all the time. Life moves on.”

Indeed it does. But for the moment, Buckley’s focus remains on September silverware. Nothing new there.

It is 13 years since she lined out in her first All-Ireland camogie final at the tender age of 17. From the starting team named for tomorrow, just she and goalkeeper Aoife Murray remain. Six finals have been won, four have been lost.

The excitement of it all has never dimmed, however. Dad and mam still get nervous as throw-in approaches and even though their daughter has a “few finals” under her belt, she’s not immune to match-day jitters either.

“When you’re young, you’re carefree. As you get older, you think about things a bit more and you do get a bit more nervous because you realise there won’t be too many more.

A time will come when you won’t be there. I suppose you have to try and enjoy it too.

“To captain Cork in a second final is nice. It would be nicer to win and nicer for everyone if we did. We have had great captains in the past. You remember the winning feeling, though. That’s the main thing.”

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