What a year it was for Cork ladies football star Valerie Mulcahy

There won’t be another year like 2015 for Valerie Mulcahy. A 10th All-Ireland with Cork, an active role in historic legislation on marriage equality, her own nuptials and a tearful end of an outrageously successful union with Eamon Ryan. Beat that, 2016.

VALERIE Mulcahy leans forward from the purple armchair, a film reel of the past 12 months whirring through her mind.

Momentary silence.

She shifts back into the chair, focus returning to her gaze.

“It is going to be very hard to top 2015,” her face lighting up.

Inside the four white lines, 2015 wasn’t to dissimilar to previous campaigns in the red shirt.

Mulcahy finished the season with a ninth league medal, a 10th All-Ireland – top-scoring yet again in the decider – and her sixth All Star.

Same old, same old for one of Cork’s most decorated footballers.

Away from the pitch, life has never been more hectic.

Nestled just inside the entrance to the Rochestown Park Hotel, Mulcahy brings up a text message received from the LGFA earlier in the afternoon. 

The dates for March’s All-Star trip to San Diego have been announced and top-brass require confirmation as to who can travel.

“There weren’t too many opportunities to get away this year so that is something to really look forward to.”

So busy in fact was 2015 that Mulcahy and her wife Meg have yet to honeymoon following their June nuptials, and neither have they applied for a marriage licence.

“The license is on the to-do list and we are going travelling around Italy next June for the honeymoon so, I mean, how bad..?.”

Married life, she smiles, is treating her well; their June wedding ceremony at Fort Camden made all the more special, all the more real by events of the previous month.

Her ‘well done’ beef salad tucked away, Mulcahy sets about retracing the days and weeks leading into the same-sex marriage referendum on Friday, May 22.

It wasn’t her intention to become one of the many faces of the Yes campaign. Rather, “it just sort of happened”.

Most Cork people, she imagines, were already aware of her sexual orientation prior to the documentary ‘Coming out of the Curve’ being aired in mid-January.

The phone call came through from the producer the previous July and the Gaelcholáiste Mhuire PE and Maths teacher felt the timing was right. Publicly, this was a step she was keen to take.

“Was I comfortable doing it? As comfortable as you can be talking about your personal life on national television.

“I always felt I should do something like that because I didn’t want to seem to people that I was hiding away.”

The reaction to the programme floored her. Still does. Just last week she was approached by a group of young people who informed her of the positive impact the documentary had on their parents.

Those of an older vintage were keen to shake her hand, commend her bravery.

Their sole regret was they did not enjoy the same experience when growing up.

That struck a chord.

She wouldn’t allow the documentary represent her last involvement in attempting to change the collective mind-set.

A Labour meeting at the River Lee Hotel attended by party leader Joan Burton and a function at City Hall during LGBT awareness week were two of the events where the 32-year old was happy to stand in front of a group of strangers and again share her story.

And when not behind a microphone or practising frees on the evenings outside of Cork training, Mulcahy, her aunt, her mother Marie and Meg canvassed the length and breadth of Whitechurch.

“We went door-to-door and it was certainly interesting. People were happy to talk. They felt they knew me already. It was tough in that you are asking something of them. It is very private, but we had to ask.

“What was upsetting is that people hadn’t thought about it. One or two people made out that they were going to make their mind up on the day. That is tough to hear when it is such a significant thing in so many people’s lives.

“We really put in a lot of work. I treated the referendum as a big game, there was an awful lot of preparation done and at least you knew you did your best. If that wasn’t good enough, so be it.”

Meg and Val cast their votes at Scoil Phádraig Naofa in Rochestown and when news broke early the following morning the referendum would be carried, the pair jumped on the train to Dublin to bask in the celebrations.

“We were out on the streets and it was as if Ireland had won the World Cup. It was amazing.

“Meg and I spent the weekend in Dublin as the panel had a week off after winning the league. It was just perfect.” Perfect too was the Friday in late June when Mulcahy and long-term girlfriend Meg Blyth tied the knot in the company of family, footballers and friends.

“It was amazing, a gorgeous day. Great memories,” she says, the film reel crackling once more.

“Meg’s mom passed away in the meantime so we were very glad we went ahead with the civil partnership and didn’t wait for the civil marriage. It was a massive highlight in all our lives and I’m sure it was for her as well.”

Football, as has been the case since she was first drafted onto the Cork panel in 2001, took centre stage for the remainder of the summer.

She describes the Munster final loss to Kerry as one of their worst performances under Eamon Ryan and reveals to being not one bit pleased when hauled ashore 41 minutes into the All-Ireland quarter-final clash with Galway. The Rockbán corner-forward had kicked four points at the Gaelic Grounds when substituted.

“I felt I had played well, had set-up scores and had scored myself. I was disappointed at being taken off.

“I got a good opportunity in the following game which was at the same venue to make amends and I did.”

She’s referring to the 2-2 that earned her player of the match in the All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry.

Fiddling with the wrapping of a biscuit, Mulcahy has no qualms in admitting she’s a stubborn individual. Has been since third class of primary school.

Having spent most of her early childhood kicking a football with older brother Sean, it wasn’t long before Mulcahy wanted in on the boys football team at Whitechurch primary school.

Come third class, she deemed herself worthy of at least a trial and so approached Mr Gerard O’Connell.

‘No’, came his reply.

She tried again in fourth class.

No, again.

“I was getting really frustrated because I was like ‘I can do this’.” Mr O’Connell relented in fifth class; Mulcahy nailing down a starting berth for the entirety of the Sciath na Scol campaign.

“All the boys were happy to mark me, then the next thing you give them a roasting, they get mocked by the other young lads and they are not so pleasant after that.

“That happened a few times. It was good craic.”

A year later and Mr O’Connell decided to enter a girls team. Mulcahy assumed the role of captain and Whitechurch defeated Ovens in the decider at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

 

10 All-Irelands later and that Sciath na Scol final remains the sole occasion Valerie Mulcahy lined out at Cork’s flagship GAA venue.

Off the back of that Sciath na Scol win the Rockbán club was formed in 1996, 20 years ago. By the close of 2002, the fledgling club had achieved back-to-back All-Ireland glory at junior and intermediate level.

Several of her team-mates graduated to the Cork set-up and the following summer Charlie McLaughlin’s outfit came within a point of Kerry in the Munster semi-final at Carrigaline; Mulcahy an absent figure having travelled to Daegu with the Irish soccer team competing at the World University Games.

“We played South Korea in the group stages and there was 25,000 at that game which was amazing because I hadn’t played in Croke Park at that stage. The drama was unreal. Somebody might miss by 10 yards, but there would be a collective gasp from the crowd and it would make it seem like it had skinned the post.

“We lost one game by a small margin which meant we didn’t get through but stayed on to watch the knock-out games. The standard was incredible. The North Korean team were all in the army. They were like machines.” Eamon Ryan arrived on the scene in January of ‘04 and it wasn’t long before playing to 25,000 became an annual occurrence. It wasn’t long before Mulcahy and co were being viewed as the “machines”.

Their maiden final win against Galway in ‘05 stands out. She nailed the game-changing penalty, top-scored with 1-5 and picked up the player of the match award.

2008 was special too, though for a different reason. Having hit 1-5 in the semi-final against Tyrone at O’Connor Park, Mulcahy concedes a free 30 seconds from the end.

“Ah, for fuck sake,” she grumbles, annoyed with herself as much as with the call.

Referee Liam McDonagh misinterprets what she says and issues a straight red card. The sending-off is appealed and a two-week ban is handed down, freeing Mulcahy to play in the decider against Monaghan.

“I scored a hat-trick in the final. I seem to do better when I have something annoying me. I like to finish on top,” she laughs.

“I missed out on an All-Star [because of the red card] which I am annoyed about because I missed out on a trip. I had been playing my best football that year.” She kicked 3-2 against Monaghan that September afternoon, hit 2-1 in the previous year’s final against Mayo and slotted five points in the 1-9 to 0-11 win over Dublin in ’09.

She was near-untouchable. And yet, she was rarely satisfied.

“I’m quite hard on myself, to the extent where it became an obstacle. I sought perfection too much and as a result, didn’t appreciate what I had done. I wasn’t enjoying the good things because I was expecting greatness all the time.

“I would have liked to have enjoyed [those wins] a bit more. I was never happy with what I was achieving. I was over-focusing on the negatives and wasn’t having enough perspective.”

This year Cork go in search of an 11th All-Ireland crown in 12 years. They do so without their commander-in-chief. Mulcahy was one of three Cork footballers to attend the RTÉ Sports awards on the Saturday night before Christmas and had tears in her eyes listening to Eamon Ryan speak.

“There was one match which we drew and I was apologising because I dropped the ball short at the death. He told me to stop apologising and said, ‘look Val, you won us enough matches’. He was always very good at reassuring us.

“He’s is fierce down to earth, very knowledgeable, but wouldn’t throw it in your face. He has a great way about him. I am just so happy he came into our lives and gave us a chance.

“It is the end of era. That family-group dynamic is going to change. When you are used to something for so long, it is going to be hard to readjust. But life goes on. It is important to move on with it.”



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