By Jennifer O'Leary
I’M TEACHING Shakespeare to my second year English class.
We are discussing Romeo, one half of drama’s most tragic couple, and trying to decipher an adjective that encompasses his character. I place a list on the board and, in groups, the students brainstorm on what they feel the most powerful word is.
They take notes and then they present their findings through use of key moments in the play.
Later, at home, I practiced what I teach and put Rena Buckley’s name on the centre of my page in preparation for writing this article. My list of suitable adjectives takes over my A4 sheet and I am left with an accumulation of words that make up the player and the person Rena is.
However, it’s difficult to pick just one word. The key moments she has been a part of are overwhelming and too many. I persist and narrow it down to the following: living legend, superstar, phenomenon, consistent, role model, humble, genuine, friend.
Rena, a native of Inniscarra, featured heavily in newspaper headlines around Ireland in 2017 following her success as captain when Cork lifted the O’Duffy Cup last September.
She is now the only player in the history of the GAA to have won 18 senior All-Ireland medals, having claimed 11 in ladies’ football and seven in camogie, from 2005 to the present day.
What’s also interesting is that she is one of the few players who have won a hat-trick of All-Star awards in both codes in the same year – doing so in 2006, 2007 and 2015. The only other player who has surpassed this is her good friend Briege Corkery, who achieved the double in five different years. Rena’s club Inniscarra are also currently the senior camogie champions in Cork; her influence once again is the driving force within the team.
With such a consistent record, a house full of awards and dedication to both sports both in club and county, it’s only justified that Rena should be lauded and celebrated but she doesn’t want any of that. She is probably the most humble and modest person you are lucky enough to meet. There are no airs and graces surrounding this girl, she’s as down to earth as the grass growing in your garden.
Thankfully I had the pleasure of playing alongside Rena – aka ‘Bucks’ – between the years of 2005 and 2014. When she first appeared onto the panel at the age of 17, she was shy and one of the babies within the team. She has come a long way since then, she has grown in confidence and has become a key player for Cork.
We often had to mark one another and I can’t say I ever enjoyed it as she is sticky and very clever. She doesn’t give you an inch and when you think you have the ball in your hand, she quickly flicks it away. There was always total focus with her, even during practice games towards the end of a session. If you decided you wanted to take it easy, she would show you up.
During Rena’s first year of college in UCD studying physiotherapy, we found ourselves in the Ashbourne final, only this time as opponents. I was in my final year in University of Limerick and we were vying to make history within our college by capturing a three in a row.
Rena was flying the Cork flag alone for UCD while we had players like Anna Geary, Angela Walsh and Amanda O’Regan in our arsenal. I remember Rena having a tremendous game that day. Commanding midfield, she scored six frees and one from play. It was almost like a free-taking competition between us with those crucial scores being the difference at the end of the game. We were victorious that day by 0-13 to 1-9 but there really was nothing between us.
How Rena manages to juggle her sport with her own physiotherapy practice in Macroom as well as studying for her Master’s degree in sports physiotherapy in UCD baffles me. She appears to achieve what some may view as the impossible in the most impossible ways. She makes it work and somehow finds a balance in her hectic life.
A nominee for the RTÉ Sportsperson of The Year award, Rena deservedly found herself in the company of athletes such as Michael McKillop, Joe Canning, Paul O’Donovan and Katie Taylor, to name a few. It was empowering to see her in the company of Irish greatness, but it’s where she belongs.
Personally, I feel she was the most worthy of winning and it’s not because of my affiliation with Cork, with camogie and with Rena my friend, it’s because her achievements speak for themselves. How many more All-Irelands will it take for her talent, commitment and dedication to be fairly recognised?
She is a role model of the highest calibre to young and old. She trains like a professional athlete while also acting like a pro and holding down a physiotherapy practice. She has proven time and time again that she is a winner and has worked hard every single year she has worn the Cork jersey, in both football and camogie.
It’s hard for me to understand the Irish public mindset with their failure to vote for this amazing woman who is still so young and has so much yet to give. The winner, Republic of Ireland and West Brom midfielder James McClean, has received much criticism for claiming this honour, which isn’t right either as it wasn’t chosen by him, it was the Irish public.
Rena is young and still has much more to give in her sport. Her achievements haven’t come to a halt yet. The past year has taught me that she is a force to be reckoned with and a person and a player like her should be appreciated now.
Appreciate her in the present time as there are very few people in life who can and will achieve what she has achieved already.