IN the dressing-room before the 2005 All-Ireland ladies’ senior football final, the Cork team said a prayer.
It was a spur-of-the-moment prayer, Rena Buckley recalls. It just felt like the right thing to do at the time.
A hush fell over the dressing-room deep under the Hogan Stand in Croke Park. Everyone stopped what they were doing and came together.
‘Our Father, who art in heaven …’
Minutes later, this young team of Rebels burst out of the room, walked down the corridor leading to the tunnel before sprinting out onto the pitch.
Here they were, in Cork’s first-ever senior All-Ireland ladies’ football final. They were understandably nervous, but still confident, they had won their first league and Munster titles already that season. Now they were up against the reigning champions, Galway, but Cork didn’t fear the Tribeswomen. Plus, Cork had beaten Mayo in the semi-final – that was the crucial match that season.
In 2004, Mayo beat Cork in the league final and in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Between 1999 and 2003 Mayo had contested every All-Ireland final and won four of them.
‘They were the kingpins of ladies’ football at the time – they had Cora Staunton, Claire Egan, Marcella Heffernan and a lot more as well,’ explains Rena Buckley.
‘Mayo weren’t All-Ireland champions in 2005 but they were one of the top teams, so to beat them gave us a huge, huge lift.’
Cork just got over the line in that semi-final. They finished strong to score the last three points at O’Moore Park in Portlaoise, captain Juliette Murphy kicking the winner with 20 seconds left. Cork won 0-13 to 1-9.
Galway, while All-Ireland champions, didn’t hold any fear for Eamonn Ryan’s Cork team in their first All-Ireland senior final.
‘We rated Galway but because we had beaten them before we knew that if we performed we would be in with a great shout. The big focus was about getting a performance out of ourselves,’ Buckley explains.
The Donoughmore woman has gone to become one of the giants of GAA, winning 18 All-Irelands in both ladies’ football (11) and camogie (7) – and it was 2005 that kick-started her incredible medal haul.
Two weeks before the All-Ireland football final on October 2nd, she won her first All-Ireland when the Cork camogie team beat Tipperary in the decider at Croke Park. There were four more dual players on duty – Angela Walsh, Briege Corkery, Mary O’Connor and Catriona Foley. The Cork ladies’ football team was also at GAA HQ that day.
Manager Eamonn Ryan organised for the team to watch the camogie final in Croke Park, to soak up the atmosphere, and afterwards they had a tour of the dressing-rooms and a 30-minute kickaround on the pitch. It was all about familiarising the players with the stadium, taking the fear factor out.
‘All the girls reflected on that after the football final, that it was a huge help to have been on the pitch, to see the dressing-rooms, to get a chance to see the stadium,’ Buckley recalls.
The Cork hurlers had won the All-Ireland that September, the Cork camogie team added a second All-Ireland, and now the ladies’ footballers had the chance to make it a Rebel treble.
In Relentless by Mary White, Bríd Stack recalls the nerves on the day of the All-Ireland final. This was a young Cork team in its first All-Ireland, in front of 23,358 at Croke Park. It was all new. But they had to learn fast.
‘I remember turning around when I got out and being so nervous. I couldn’t even look into the crowd. As we were sitting there the Galway team came out and their captain, Aoibeann Daly, turned and gave a small wave to someone in the crowd, and I thought “how’s she doing that – waving?” I couldn’t even make eye contact, not to mind lift my eyes off the floor,’ Stack said.
Two early points from player of the match Valerie Mulcahy settled Cork, but they had to wait 20 minutes until their next score. After Galway drew level, Cork’s youngest player, Amanda Murphy, nudged them back in front. Galway struck late in the half with two Niamh Fahy points to lead 0-4 to 0-3 at the break.
Still, there was much for Cork to be happy with, especially the full-back line of Bríd Stack, Angela Walsh and Rena Buckley – Galway had scored 16 goals in five games but the Cork defence blunted the Connacht side’s attack.
Wing forward Nollaig Cleary, from that famous Cleary clan in Castlehaven, levelled the game early in the second half, and she sprung to life in this period, while goalkeeper Elaine Harte pulled off an inspirational save to deny Niamh Fahy, Galway’s main threat, in the 38th minute.
Cork were beginning to dominate with Mulcahy and Cleary leading the charge. Galway remained on their coat-tails, though, until Mulcahy was clinical from the penalty spot after Amanda Murphy was fouled. Briege Corkery added a point, Cork were now six points clear and that’s how it finished, 1-11 to 0-8.
The Rebels were All-Ireland champions for the first time, the brilliant Juliette Murphy was the first Cork woman to lift the Brendan Martin Cup.
Rena Buckley admits that at the time it didn’t feel like it was the start of the dynasty it was to become.
‘I can’t say it felt like it was the start of something. I wouldn’t have had that level of expectation,’ she says.
‘We were thrilled to establish ourselves as a top team. We had success in the league that year, we were rubbing shoulders with the top teams and giving them a run for their money – like that win over Mayo in the semi-final.
‘If we hadn’t beaten Mayo in the semi-final I don’t think we would have had the same confidence going into the final, but beating Mayo really set us up for a good final.’
That was the first of five-in-a-row. Dublin won the 2010 title, but Cork’s response was fierce as they rattled off the next six to make it an incredible 11 All-Ireland senior wins in 12 seasons.
The first, 2005, remains one of the sweetest.
‘I would rank that very highly. It was very special,’ Buckley says.
‘It was Cork’s first senior All-Ireland in ladies’ football. It was the first year that I won an All-Ireland, I won with the camogie team as well that year. After winning the camogie, it was all about the football then.
‘It was a phenomenal year personally, but to be on the Cork team that won the first senior All-Ireland ladies’ title is very, very special.’
The following year, Cork were determined to show that they weren’t one-hit wonders. And they won again. And the following year. And so on. That triumph in 2005 sparked it all.
Cork: E Harte; B Stack, A Walsh, R Buckley; B Corkery (0-1), C Walsh, S O’Reilly; J Murphy, N Kelly; A Murphy, R Curtain, N Cleary (0-3); V Mulcahy (1-5, 3f, 1-0 pen), C Creedon, G O’Flynn. Subs: M O’Connor for G O’Flynn, D O’Reilly (0-2) for C Creedon, A O’Connor for R Curtain, N Keohane for A Murphy.
Galway: U Carroll; M Glynn, R Stephens, A McDonagh; M O’Connell, A Daly, E Flaherty; A Clarke, E Concannon; G Connelly, N Duggan (0-2f), P Ní Fhlatharta (0-2); R McPhilbin, N Fahy (0-3), L Joyce. Subs: C Molloy for A McDonough, L Coohill for R McPhilbin, P Gleeson for L Joyce.