IT was a chance encounter that brought Laura MacMahon to the attention of Eamonn Ryan in late 2006.
The Rosscarbery woman had never represented Cork at underage level, but she would go on to become an influential character in the Rebels’ success story after Ryan spotted her in action.
‘If I remember correctly, there are two pitches at the Donoughmore GAA grounds and we (Cork) were delayed and awaiting access to the main one,’ commented Ryan, the mastermind behind Cork’s rise to the top and who led the county to 10 All-Ireland titles in 11 seasons.
‘So, in the meantime, I walked away down to the second pitch as there was a game taking place. There, I saw this left-legged player and thought she was just absolutely brilliant.
‘Straightaway, her talent jumped out and I knew she was something special. I didn’t know who she was. I went back to the other selectors and told them about this player I was just after seeing, who turned out to be Laura McMahon.’
The Rebels had already won back to back All-Irelands when MacMahon took a call from Cork boss Ryan. She walked into the most talented ladies football dressing room in the country at the start of the 2007 season.
‘I would have been involved in Cork underage trials, but they just didn’t work out,’ explained MacMahon, who works as a primary school teacher in Kilbonane National School in Aherla.
‘I was in UCC in 2007 and got lifts to matches with a woman called Eileen Collins who refereed some of our games as well. I was just playing away when I got a call out of the blue to come to a few Cork senior training sessions.
‘Walking into that dressing room for the first time was daunting considering all the success that they had. It was a brilliant opportunity though and I didn’t overthink it.
‘As regards the players and how I was received, I made friends for life from that group. I remember how nice they were to me from day one even though I didn’t have any Cork inter-county gear when I first started out!’
MacMahon went on to win five All-Irelands between 2007 and 2012, and her six-season medal-haul also includes six Munster and four National League triumphs. The Ross woman made her mark.
MacMahon quickly showed she belonged at the top level and helped Cork claim the 2007 All-Ireland following a 2-11 to 2-6 victory over Mayo at Croke Park. That first All-Ireland medal was special as was the opportunity to bring the Brendan Martin Cup to Rosscarbery.
‘That was a brilliant moment and to get such a warm reception back in Ross was special,’ she recalled.
‘It was a boost for our club because that’s where it all began for me. It was nice to see my club-mates, family and friends, including Pat Lane, who is so heavily involved with the club and looked after me when I was young, so happy.
‘I guess it was important too in that our younger players got to see a Rosscarbery player – me or whoever else – playing and winning with Cork. The club is fortunate to have had so many other dedicated players involved with Cork such as Sara Hayes, Áine Hayes and the six O’Brien sisters who lined out for the club as well.’
If 2007 was a high, then the following year brought MacMahon crashing back down to earth. A cruciate injury picked up on her home pitch in a match against Gabriel Rangers denied her the chance to appear in the All-Ireland final victory over Monaghan.
Initially misdiagnosed, she spent the summer rehabbing only to suffer another injury setback. She remained involved with Cork however, training and playing before an operation permitted the Rosscarbery footballer an opportunity to return fully healthy in 2009.
That year’s closely-fought All-Ireland decider looked to be going Dublin’s way until a late scoring spree saw Cork accumulate four points in the final eight minutes and clinch victory. MacMahon came on for Amy O’Shea that afternoon and played her part in Cork’s fifth All-Ireland in a row.
There is a picture in Mary White’s marvellous book, Relentless, on the Cork ladies footballers worth a thousand words. In it, a dejected Laura MacMahon is trudging off the Fr McNally Park pitch in Banagher, Co Offaly, following Cork’s shock 2010 All-Ireland quarter-final loss to Tyrone. Ten years on, that defeat still rankles.
‘I was feeling really good again and enjoying my football at the start of 2010,’ MacMahon said.
‘Maybe it took that long for my injury to recover but, unfortunately, that year is remembered for something else. It was devastating to lose to Tyrone. That photo in Mary White’s book still haunts me a bit.
‘Everyone was gutted but Cork went on to win the next seven All-Irelands. I was lucky too, in that I had my club to return to shortly after that loss and Rosscarbery went on to have a terrific year, winning the county intermediate championship. Maybe losing to Tyrone was a motivating factor for me back then.’
Picking up two more All-Ireland medals in 2011 and 2012, injuries, work commitments and a wish to travel saw MacMahon quietly step away from the inter-county set-up.
The youngest of five children, Laura grew up in a busy Rosscarbery household with mom Lucy, dad John, brother Kevin, and three sisters Jane, Julie and Kerry. There was no avoiding football, or sport of any kind, as the MacMahons live next door to Carbery Rangers’ Newtown pitch.
Laura’s brother Kevin is well known for his successful Carbery Rangers and Cork senior football exploits, but it wasn’t until the formation of Rosscarbery ladies football club that the youngest member of the MacMahon clan began to make her mark.
‘I first played for Rosscarbery as an U12 back in 1999 and I’m still playing to this day,’ she said.
‘It is such a great club and we have enjoyed great success down through the years. We won a junior county in 2005 after losing the two years before. 2010 was the biggest year when we won the intermediate county. There have been plenty of minor and underage trophies too.
‘Going senior was tough, taking on the likes of Mourneabbey and clubs of that stature. We had a good few years there (senior) and Rosscarbery has always been able to field competitive teams. Since coming back down intermediate, we have lost four county finals, but we continue to knock on the door.
‘The club gets stronger every year with new players coming on board and huge numbers at underage level too. I love and have always loved representing Rosscarbery and am looking forward to helping the club progress in the years ahead.’
Many talented footballers have emerged from Rosscarbery parish, but few have had the impact at inter-county level or possessed the raw talent of Laura MacMahon. She deserves her place amongst Cork’s best.