In the aftermath of Valerie Mulcahy’s retirement from Cork ladies football, Mary White took on the difficult challenge of ranking the county’s top ten ladies footballers of all time. Here's who made the cut...
10. NORITA KELLY
Norita Kelly is up there with the best midfielders in the history of the sport, likening very much to Hanora Kelleher of Donoughmore. Kelly partnered Juliet Murphy in midfield for the bulk of all their All-Ireland wins, and it was a match made in heaven. Kelly’s ability to hang back and not attack, paved the way for Murphy to do so, yet Kelly’s clever play always meant she was there to cover. Her workrate and effort was exceptional and many a time wasn’t seen. What was however was her aerial prowess, and without doubt, she wins hands down in that domain.
9. NOLLAIG CLEARY
Cleary is one of only two forwards to feature in the top 10, but does so deservingly. Interestingly, just like Valerie Mulcahy, she’s a citóg, and the Castlehaven woman made it difficult for so many defenders in the past. The pace and stamina she garnered from playing SuperLeague basketball at the highest level was invaluable when games were on the line. Cleary was dynamite for winning the ball, taking it on and passing it off, but she was more than comfortable in front of the posts too. Her contribution in coming off the bench in the 2014 All-Ireland final was a masterstroke as she caused havoc, resulting in Cork coming back from ten points down with 16 minutes left to win their ninth All-Ireland title.
8. BRID STACK
A multi All-Star winner, Brid Stack has run the show in Cork’s half-back and full-back line in recent years. She feeds off one and one situations and guaranteed she’ll win most 50:50 balls that come between her and her opponent. It’s that knack that has seen numerous attacks break down for opponents, with Stack’s superior ability in that domain. She’s vocal and positive, and with an all-seeing eye in front of her, she’s given midfield duos much ammo, given her defensive steals. She always plays smart and works hard, and off the field her smile lights up any room.
7. DEIRDRE O’REILLY
No one will argue that Deirdre O’Reilly is the most physical specimen the ladies game has seen. Her strength is from another planet, but it’s her gutsy and fearless displays that make her one of the best. O’Reilly will put her head on the line to block any woman, and her defensive grit is something that’s lectured to young players up and down the country.
O’Reilly just puts her head down and gets the job done, but again her adaptability is incredible. She loves a challenge and to prove you wrong, and there’s no better woman you’d want to take into battle with you.
6. RENA BUCKLEY
A 16-time senior All-Ireland medal winner, Buckley is one of the all-time greats. Like her dual counterpart, Briege Corkery, her longevity in the game is mindboggling. The manner in which Buckley has managed herself has allowed her to stay injury free for the bulk of her career, and as a result she’s been one of the most serving players in a Cork jersey.
Her demeanour off the pitch stands her in good stead. Like her mentor, Juliet Murphy, Buckley is calm, collected, yet has a competitive streak in her that on numerous occasions has seen her almost single-handedly pull Cork out of games, driving forward from midfield to point, and take games by the scruff of the neck.
5. BRIEGE CORKERY
What a machine, and what an engine. The fact Corkery’s been going for so long, and so well in both codes, is remarkable. Without question she gives it everything on the pitch, every day, every session. Her striding runs forward are epic, and every time she had ball in hand, you never knew what would happen. She could win a ball in the air against someone twice her height, or steal a vital interception, but it’s her work rate that makes Corkery such a renowned star.
She’s not afraid to be herself, and her honest approach, both on and off the pitch, is refreshing. The day Corkery retires, ladies football will most certainly lose its most colourful character.
4. ANGELA WALSH
No one will argue this one. Angela Walsh is the best full-back the sport has ever seen since its inception in 1974. Walsh’s athletic stature was her forte, and many a time incoming players would literally bounce off of her. She was the fiercest of the lot, and yet it was her composure that brought her ability to read the game to a whole other level.
Her presence was monstrous yet delicate. Both in terms of instilling confidence in her teammates in knowing Walsh had their back, or whether it was instilling fear into any opposing forward coming within her vicinity.
Her style however was always above board, and the admiration she got for that among her peers, and opponents, will never be forgotten.
3. GERALDINE O’FLYNN
Geraldine O’Flynn has been the most underestimated Cork player ever, and without a doubt belongs in the top three. Her adaptability is something else. Her defensive skills are renowned, but just as equally her scoring ability. In two All-Ireland finals she ventured from wing-back to sling over the winning points at the death, and yet her modesty always remained so. It was no surprise then that she won the 2013 LFGA Players’ Player of the Year award.
She could switch from wing-back to full-back at the bat of an eye, but what makes Geraldine O’Flynn a true great is the level of consistency in her play. She rarely fails to deliver, and she always does so with the least amount of fuss.
To make the top three having also suffered two knee cruciate injuries just tells you of her absolute quality.
2. VALERIE MULCAHY
The most prolific forward in the history of Cork ladies football, Valerie Mulcahy is nipping on the heels of our number one. Having scored 7-39 in ten All-Ireland finals, and winning Player of the Match in three finals, Mulcahy was the ultimate clutch player.
Her trademark freekicks added another deadly weapon to her armoury, but it was her skill in front of goal, and her ability to score off both her left and right, that had many a defender tearing their hair out. And, lest we not forget her sheer skill.
What many didn’t take much notice of during her playing career however, was her vision. Her selflessness and ability to switch play was equally joyous to watch.
1. JULIET MURPHY
There’s no question about this one.
Donoughmore’s Juliet Murphy paved the way for what Cork ladies football should be. Her placid, personal manner rubbed off on her team-mates. She was private, yet the three-time All-Ireland-winning captain had brilliant diplomacy, and a way with words, which instilled confidence, never cockiness.
She led the players’ personal transformations. On the pitch, she was magic, a master at dictating play; lest we forget her exceptional free-taking too. Juliet Murphy set the standard again and again, and always with class.
Her legacy of hard work and modesty moulded future generations, and for that alone there’s no question she’s the best there’s ever been.
• Those who came close to making the list include Hanora Kelleher, Elaine Harte and Amanda Murphy. Do you agree with our top ten? If not, email us your top ten to: [email protected]