‘I definitely found myself getting a bit upset because this could be the last time you’re in Croke Park’

September 18, 2021 0 By HearthstoneYarns

AFTER 11 ALL-IRELAND senior wins, that Croke Park final whistle still sparks an emotional response.

There’s no tedium for the Cork ladies footballers in their relentless stockpiling of national triumphs.

For the longer-serving members of the team, their latest success last September held a great significance.

“Every year is definitely getting that bit more special,” reflects full-back Brid Stack.

“After the All-Ireland final, I definitely found myself getting a bit upset just because this could be the very last time you’re in Croke Park.”

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

There was nothing new about Cork being crowned as champions but doing it without Eamonn Ryan directing them from the sideline was unfamiliar.

His vacating of the hotseat last December created a new dynamic from the outset in 2016. A couple of other pillars of the Cork side were unavailable as well.

“At the start of the year there was a lot of uncertainty with Eamonn announcing his retirement,” admits Stack.

“Then Geraldine had got injured in the All-Ireland final and was out for a lot of the year, and Valerie announced her retirement as well.

“There was a lot of big changes but this core group has been together for so long, it was still in us. Thankfully Pat O’Leary and Frankie Honohan kept the whole thing going until Ephie (Fitzgerald) was appointed and it all fell into place then.”

The quest to impress a new manager was a challenge that fuelled their drive for the season ahead.

“We’d seen what Ephie had done with Nemo and we saw what James brings to the board, he was a phenomenal footballer. We knew that we really had to impress.

“They took to it like ducks to water. Everyone on the panel felt they’d a shot if they were willing to take it. Eamonn was with us for so long and we were so successful and he instilled so much belief in us.

“But maybe for a lot of the girls on the panel, this was a new lease of life. Somebody else they could make a mark themselves with.”

Ephie Fitzgerald celebrating Cork’s All-Ireland final win

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Stack was one of the core figures that the team could still rely on. She’d been around since she was brought on board as a 16 year-old with Rena Buckley to the Cork set up. That time was a world removed from the current golden era.

“We were very young and Cork football wasn’t in a great state. I trained under Charlie McLaughlin for one or two years but I had been training under him anyway, he was our underage coach.

“We experienced such fantastic success with them and Fr Kelleher, we were really indebted to them, they gave us such a fantastic platform to go on and play senior football.

“Then Mary Collins came on board, I was delighted, she was from my home place Rockchapel. I’d seen first hand what commitment and effort she gave. She was instrumental in bringing Eamonn (Ryan) on.

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I’m one of the older ones but in saying that there are girls on our panel who have been there for 7, 8, 9 years. There’s massive experience on our team, not just from the starting players.

“If you get the call up at 18, it’s great that you buy completely into it. There’s a lot of leaders there.”

Cork’s last four All-Ireland wins have been by an aggregate total of five points. It’s a reflection that challengers are pushing them hard but they’re summoning the will to survive those battles.

This was a campaign which featured the blip of a June defeat to Kerry in Macroom yet a punishing training regime helped get them back on track.

“We’re all sportspeople and were all very competitive,” says Stack.

“Our worst match and probably the turning point of the year was the first match we lost to against Kerry. Once we lost to them, it was do or die at that stage.

“I don’t think we’ve ran as hard this year/ I remember we ran really hard with Eamonn a couple of years ago but this year the running was cruel.

“We’ve Mike Carroll to thank for that, he came in as fitness coach, he was with the camogie. You think of all those lung-bursting runs.

“On the (final) day we definitely didn’t play our best football. It was really frustrating in the first-half because we’d played such great football in the run up to the final.

“It was a great turnaround in the second-half but it was down to everyone thinking, ‘Jesus, this could go from us’. When you have won the last few years, you do become accustomed to it and you want that feeling back at all costs.”

Brid Stack celebrating Cork’s victory with Shauna Kelly

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

September was the third year on the bounce when they were celebrating a narrow win. and Dublin were left hurting on the same pitch.

“When you look back over the last 11 years, for many years we’d many different opponents. We’d Galway, Mayo, Monaghan and then in the last few years Dublin have really raised the bar.

“In saying that we’d a massive battle against Mayo in the league final, it could have gone either way. I’d probably know a bit more against Dublin in the All-Ireland finals. They would probably be a bit younger than us, you always know they’ll run the legs off you.”

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The off season has brought a bunch of honours for Stack. A seventh All-Star, a first Player of the Year award and a place amongst the shortlist nominees to rival 2016 RTÉ Sportsperson Conor McGregor.

Source: Cody Glenn/SPORTSFILE

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Being part of a previous RTÉ award victory two years was cherished.

“That was absolutely huge to win Team of the Year and for it to go to public vote. It was probably the fashion that we won in 2014 with the comeback against Dublin from 10 points down.

“That was probably the first time that people took maybe some bit of account of us. You would have your great fans but for it to go to public vote and win was really special. I was delighted that Eamonn was there on the night as well to accept it.”

For the Carrigaline based school teacher, thought of the 2017 campaign have not cropped up yet. Her wedding this week and savouring the year that was, are the priority over Christmas.

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“I haven’t actually thought about it (next season) once! I’m more thinking about table plans, that’s my big thing at the moment!

“I just really want to take in 2016 and really enjoy it with my friends and family.”

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