IT’S inevitable, she admits, but Rena Buckley is dreading the day when Cork ladies’ football manager Eamonn Ryan decides to say enough is enough.
One of the main reasons – if not the most important reason – that Cork have bossed the ladies’ senior football landscape for just over a decade, Ryan’s influence on Rebel football cannot be understated.
Ten All-Irelands in 11 years is an incredible record, and there to play a role in each and everyone of those triumphs has been Rena Buckley who, along with teammate Briege Corkery, are the most decorated players in GAA history.
After this season’s Cork ladies’ football and camogie double, the dual stars have now amassed 16 All-Ireland senior medals each (ten in football, six in camogie) – more than anyone else.
Buckley, a physiotherapist based in Macroom, acknowledges how important Eamonn Ryan has been in her football journey, and she’s not ready for it to end anytime soon.
‘We certainly don’t want it to happen, that Eamonn packs it in, but it’s inevitable that it will at some stage,’ Buckley said.
‘Eamonn talks to us about pushing out losing as far as we can, so if we can push out losing Eamonn as far as we can, we’ll be very happy.’
The same applies to Cork camogie manager Paudie Murray, who has masterminded back-to-back All-Ireland triumphs. Rena’s message is simple: don’t go anywhere.
‘When you experience success you want to mimic it again and again, so we’d be hoping that both lads would stay on,’ said Buckley, who was also honoured with a UCD Foundation Alumni Award last month.
As for herself, the Donoughmore woman (28) has an insatiable appetite for both codes, and there’s a lot more to come from her, she insists.
After picking up two more All-Stars in the last few weeks, honoured in both ladies’ football and camogie for her heroic campaigns, it takes her All-Star tally to an incredible nine – and she’s not finished yet.
‘I work for myself which is not ideal in some ways. But as long as work gives me the flexibility to play and as long as I am fit and healthy enough to play, then I will play for as long as I can,’ Buckley explained.
‘I enjoy it hugely. I get great enjoyment out of it. I know it’s a big commitment but I wouldn’t be doing it only that I really love it. It’s a fantastic opportunity for me. I enjoy a lot of aspects of it.
‘Why do I love it? You could break it down into a lot of things. The competitive element of it is fantastic in terms of the games, and training would be quite competitive as well.
‘It’s also a really healthy way of life. I enjoy the healthiness of it. Then there is the camaraderie as well – there are fierce friendships built up over the years because you’re sharing something unique with a group of people.’
Winds of change
Buckley came along at a good time in Cork ladies’ football in the early to mid noughties, at a time when the winds of change were starting to blow, coinciding with Eamonn Ryan’s appointment and a talented group of players coming together at the same time.
‘I started playing football in 2003 and I didn’t manage to break into the camogie team until 2004. It was harder to break into the camogie team at the time. I wouldn’t say it was easy to get onto the football panel, but it’s no secret that football wasn’t successful back then,’ Buckley explained.
‘I would never have envisaged the success we had over the years. It’s been unbelievable and a privilege to be part of such a fantastic setup. It’s been an amazing part of my life.’
As the footballers took over and dominated their patch, it wasn’t a similar story for the camogie team as after winning four All-Irelands in five years from 2005 to ’09, it got bleaker with no All-Ireland success again until 2014.
Switching codes regularly throughout the season from a successful football setup to a camogie team waiting for the door to open required patience and perseverance before the rewards came.
‘It was frustrating in one way because you could see that the camogie team had loads of talent but that they weren’t winning All-Irelands,’ Buckley said.
‘You’d be comparing the two groups, which I don’t know was a right or wrong thing to do, but when you are involved in two groups, naturally you would compare them. There are slightly different approaches taken.
‘We have been so blessed with the football over the years, but any team compared to the football team wouldn’t look as successful, even though Cork camogie has been very successful as well.’
Juggling the dual role is demanding, but Buckley, like Corkery, knows no other way. It’s been like this from day one for her at inter-county level; it’s second nature at this stage.
‘It’s tricky in ways. What is really important is that you have yourself in really good physical condition so you won’t be tired during the year because that will happen,’ Buckley explained.
‘You have to put in extra work, especially in hurling and you need to go to the ball alley to keep on top of it. You need to stay sharp.
‘The two groups (football and camogie) would be different in ways. There are different personalities there. It’s two different gangs. You’d enjoy both of them and appreciate that they would be different.
‘As it goes on, football and hurling are becoming more and more different, so it can be difficult in ways, but it’s not something that is new to us – we’ve been doing this all our lives at club level and then county level.’
Source of frustration
The medals have flowed in recent years for both teams and Buckley has been central to that, even though it’s still a huge source of frustration that dual players – like Buckley and Corkery – have been forced to play two games (ladies’ football and camogie) on the one day.
The latest example was in July, when the duo helped the camogie team beat Offaly in the championship in Páirc Uí Rinn before driving straight to Mallow to play in the Munster final loss to Kerry. It’s simply not acceptable to place demands like this on any players.
‘That was hugely disappointing. Everybody knows on the ground, in the GAA communities, that the people who play football and hurling are, mostly, the same people, so it’s disappointing that the associations can’t work together,’ Buckley said.
‘What we were looking for wasn’t a seven-day gap, it was to have the games on two separate days on the same weekend, which was very reasonable from our point of view.
‘It’s a bit disrespectful to be asked to play two games in the one day, so hopefully things will change and lessons will be learned from what happened this year.’
Looking more closely at the dual role, which is non-existent at the top level in the men’s game, Buckley still believes that players can juggle both codes. It is possible, she maintains.
‘I think there is a future for it,’ the Rebel dual ace said.
‘It was a little bit easier for us when we started in 2003 and 2004. It was a little easier to break onto the football team at that stage.
‘I would have found it more difficult to break into the camogie team. The camogie team was winning All-Irelands at that stage while the football was off the pace a small bit.
‘It’s harder now to get onto both teams which makes being a dual player more difficult, but if people have the talent and are interested in making it at both, the management we have at the moment would accommodate that. Hopefully, it will continue like this.’
Already, Buckley is looking forward to 2016 and its challenges, and now that herself and Corkery have surpassed Kathleen Mills’ long-standing record of winning 15 senior All-Irelands, there won’t be as much pressure on them.
‘There was a bit of talk about that record before the football final which I wasn’t very comfortable about. It added a little bit of pressure,’ Buckley admitted.
‘Thankfully there were two of us in the same position so that was a great help. I am old enough at this stage to not let things like that bother me, but I wasn’t overly happy about all the talk before the game.
‘It’s a team sport and I am just very lucky that I have been around at the right time. I have been lucky to grow up in a place that plays football and hurling and the timing has been key as well. We’ve been blessed with the timing.’