BY DENIS HURLEY
A YEAR ago, Rena Buckley was part of a Cork camogie side aiming to achieve a three in a row only to be undone by Kilkenny.
Twelve months later and the two counties are once again opposing each other on the sport’s showpiece day. Having inspired Inniscarra to county championship glory last year, Buckley is the Cork captain this year and she admits that the build-up to this final is different to the 2016 edition.
‘The shoe is on the other foot now, there’s a definite change in dynamic,’ she says.
‘Since the final last year, we played Kilkenny in the league final this year and they had a nice cushion again. We’re definitely more aware of the fact that they’re an excellent team.
‘Last year, we were going in as champions, there was talk of a three in a row. I wouldn’t say we were on our high horse, but this year it is definitely different.’
Adding to the feeling of Cork being the challengers is the fact that Kilkenny also beat the Rebels in the national league final. That more recent defeat holds no particular regrets for Buckley, though.
‘They are a very good team,’ she says.
‘The initial reaction would have been, “We didn’t play well at all,” but on reflection, they were very good.’
Another big difference this year, for Buckley personally, is that the Macroom-based physiotherapist is only playing camogie, having won ten All-Ireland ladies’ football medals with Cork over the last 11 years.
Demands on her time meant she had to make a call, with the camogie captaincy a key factor in the decision. Naturally, there have been benefits and drawbacks.
‘It’s definitely a change,’ she says.
‘In one sense, it’s nice that you’re at all the sessions, you’re in with everything, you’re not flying off and worried about matches clashing or anything like that but obviously, I miss the football gang.
‘I would say though, even if you are only playing one, you’re still doing an amount of training, so it’s not like I’m sitting at home in the evening drinking tea and saying, “I’d love to be out playing football”.
‘You miss being involved with the team and the buzz, particularly at this time of year. You mightn’t miss the trips to Donegal in the league but I used to love the knockout games at the end of the championship.
‘When you’re playing less games, you’re definitely more tuned in for the bigger games.
‘On the other side, I definitely had a great base of fitness last year. With football, you have to be hopping fit. Look, it is what it is.’
Having topped their group in the round-robin stage of the All-Ireland championship, Cork faced Galway in the semi-finals with the Tribeswomen coming off a quarter-final win over Tipperary.
Victory was achieved, but it wasn’t easy.
‘We had a five-week gap, that’s a long time to be training,’ Buckley says.
‘You’re trying to peak at the right time and the big difference between intercounty and club is that you can’t get challenge games.
‘It is trickier, and ever since I’ve been playing with Cork, Galway have had a good team. They’ll be disappointed not to have got something out of it and I’m just delighted that we did.’
All told, Sunday will be Buckley’s 22nd time to play in Croke Park. She doesn’t have a particular routine in the lead-up to the big games, but she does make sure that she is well rested.
‘The week of a big game, I’d make sure I was in bed early, whereas when you’re 19 and 20 you stay up!’ she laughs.
‘I’d know a lot more about nutrition now too. As you learn new things, it’d be silly not to implement them for the sake of routine.’