Eleven-time All-Ireland winner Bríd Stack was recently named Senior Players’ Player of the Year. KIERAN McCARTHY caught up with her to look back on another memorable season
THESE are busy times for Bríd Stack.
The Cork defender won her 11th All-Ireland senior title in October, picked up her seventh All-Star award last month, was also named senior Players’ Player of the Year the same night, and now she’s busy preparing for her wedding day with Newcestown’s Carthach Keane on December 29th.
Finding time in her packed diary, the Carrigaline Community School teacher spoke to The Southern Star about another memorable year for Cork ladies football after a clean sweep of honours – the Ladies’ NFL Division 1, Munster and All-Ireland trophies will all spend the winter on Leeside, a familiar haunt in recent years.
Rockchapel native Stack is one of the four remaining links to the Cork team that won the county’s first All-Ireland senior ladies title in 2005, and along with Briege Corkery, Rena Buckley and Deirdre O’Reilly, this amazing quartet has been the driving force in the Rebel juggernaut.
What’s more, both Stack (player of the match in the 2007 and ’13 finals) and Corkery have played every minute of Cork’s 11 All-Ireland final wins in the past 12 years – a tremendous record for two of the county’s best-ever ladies’ footballers.
Kieran McCarthy (KMC): Congrats on your Players’ Player of the Year award, how much does it mean to win an individual award like that when it’s the footballers you play with and against that voted for you?
Bríd Stack (BS): It ranks up there near the top. To get something that is peer-voted is a little bit special because these are the girls I am playing against year on year. It means a lot then when these girls, who put in the same training as you and know what hard work we’ve put in to achieve what we have, voted for me.
It was a huge shock when they called out my name. I was up against Briege (Corkery) and Sinead Aherne from Dublin so I thought that I didn’t have a hope at all. I was in complete shock when they called out my name and it’s one of the first times that I have been lost for words.
KMC: I know Cork ended up winning the lot this year but what was it like early in the season when Ephie Fitzgerald replaced Eamonn Ryan as manager?
BS: This year came with its own uncertainty at the start – but thankfully we had two fantastic people in Frankie Honohan and Pat O’Leary who have been there for the last few years and they kept the whole show going early on this year while they were trying to sort out a new manager.
When Ephie came in then, in fairness to Frank and Pat they had kept the whole thing going and it was a seamless transition from then on.
Ephie brought new faces like James Masters, Mike Carroll and Con O’Sullivan, and that freshened things up again. We had to go out and impress the new manager and that brought the best out in a lot of us.
KMC: It was a new manager and a clean slate for everyone – did you all have to prove yourself again?
BS: Eamonn had us drilled so well but even after ten years we were still trying to impress him because that’s what he demanded. Since 2005 we have always gone out with the attitude that you are only as good as your last game – and that didn’t change this year.
KMC: As well as management changes, this team is evolving all the time but despite losing some big names over the last few seasons, it hasn’t derailed the team – why is that?
BS: You’re right, we had personnel changes this year and we have also lost some stalwarts over the last few years, like Geraldine (O’Flynn) and Valerie (Mulcahy) last season, and before that Angela Walsh, Juliet Murphy, Nollaig Cleary and Elaine Harte, and these players, we thought, were irreplaceable – but thankfully the younger girls have stood up to the mark and showed that they will be big names for the future. That’s what you want to see.
Of course there was the thought that we have lost all these experienced players and big names, and will we cope against the bigger teams? But our younger girls have proven their worth and they have really stoop and up and been counted in the last few years.
We knew we had a big task ahead of us this year, a lot of teams would be a lot younger than us, but it’s our younger girls who have taken this on.
KMC: I presume that injection of youth energises the entire the squad?
BS: You need that bit of freshness and they bring life and energy to the whole set-up. They’re just so eager to play, to win as much ball as possible, and when you’re a back coming out with the ball, they are the players you want to see in front of you, forwards who are itching for ball.
KMC: Can Cork keep it going again next year and will the incentive of beating Kerry’s 11 All-Ireland senior titles in 2017 (Cork also have 11) act as an incentive to the group?
BS: We never go out trying to prove anything to anyone, we do this for the love of football, we love playing football and we love the fun and the craic we have as a group. As long as we are enjoying it and as long as we are able that team will stay together for as long as we can.
We go out and play because we love football – that’s the deciding factor. If you give the commitment and you feel that your body is able, that’s what you make your decision on. You don’t read too much into anything else like records and so on. If the body is able and you have the time to give the commitment, that’s what decides whether you go back next year.
KMC: Are you enjoying your football now as much as in your early days?
BS: As I am getting older, you become more confident in yourself as a player and you get a bit cuter as well, which you need to because everyone else is getting faster! I’m enjoying it.
The gang that I started with in 2005, there are four of us left – Briege, Rena, Deirdre and myself. I love playing football and I’ve loved every moment I have played with those girls for all these years; it’s been a brilliant roller-coaster.’
KMC: That group of four you’re a part of, is there more responsibility on ye to lead in the dressing-room?
BS: Everyone takes on ownership, this is a collective responsibility. Last season Orla Finn came on and was given the responsibility of taking frees. Everyone has to stand up and be counted so there isn’t a massive responsibility on the older girls, but we all take pride in what we have done with this team.’
KMC: Finally, can we expect to see you back in a Cork jersey in 2017 and leading the Cork defence as usual?
BS: To be honest, I haven’t made a decision yet, I’m going to enjoy the winter and enjoy the wedding. I haven’t thought about it (playing next year with Cork) because everything has been geared towards this Christmas so that’s a thought for a different day.