AT 12.20pm today, Valerie Mulcahy will take to the podium.
The nerves will tremble, unlike game day in Croke Park. She was always one to accept the trepidation but this is a remit she’s unfamiliar with. As news broke of the 33-year-old’s retirement earlier this week, Mulcahy’s self-confessed pedantic trait was riffling through pages preparing her script for the Law Society of Ireland’s Annual Conference.
A two-day event at the Fota Island Resort, Mulcahy was on the radar as a potential speaker long before she announced she was stepping away from the game that’s yielded her 31 senior titles, three All-Ireland final player of the match performances, and six All-Stars. For it’s not just her vision on the pitch that gathers admirers, it’s her vision off it.
Today she will speak in front of some of the country’s most insightful minds, yet hers is the one they’ve come to assimilate.
She will pave the way for Olympic medalist and World and European champion Sonia O’Sullivan, while tomorrow investigative journalist David Walsh will captivate the crowd with his obsession to seek the truth in taking down World Lance.
And so Mulcahy stands among leaders – great champions and visionaries – to tell her own story.
As a player, she was the classiest of all. Making simple the most intricate of moves. Her boot apparel was eye candy for the die-hards come championship, but the flare of the leather always matched the flare of her game.
She wasn’t afraid to take chances – try the fancy flick, the unsuspecting pass, or a Usain Bolt celebratory pose for that matter. Football was her canvass, and unquestionably she coloured the sport. Some would call it swag, but Mulcahy had the skill to back it up.
She featured in all ten of Cork’s All-Ireland finals. Scoring in nine, she amassed a total of 7-39. The biggest haul came in 2008, tallying 3-2, including her second of three All-Ireland final player of the match awards.
The third was special though. When Cork found themselves down 10 points with 16 minutes remaining in the 2014 All-Ireland, Mulcahy stepped up. She always did in tight games. Seven points she kicked, one from a placed ball, slotted over by her trademark off-the ground technique. Two points from play were crucial. Off her left, and off her right, Mulcahy fired over two long distance aerial gems. Double-teamed both times upon pulling the trigger, she delivered to narrow the gap. Then there was the fisted assist to Rhona Ní Bhuachalla, who’s goal kickstarted the comeback. Game on.
For when Mulcahy sparkled, Cork sparkled. Those around her fed off her obvious enjoyment when she was playing well. She wore her heart on her sleeve, yet in her early years she didn’t realise the demand for her to be the leader others wanted her to be. With maturity, came the realisation that she was someone her teammates looked up to.
Her coming out in January 2015 was not just a huge moment for ladies football, but for gay female athletes across the country, whatever the code. But, it would go much further than the boundaries of sport. She was never one to hide her sexuality in close circles, but she knew that by speaking publicly she could make a difference. Change perceptions, change society.
Being a secondary school teacher taught her as much. Watching teenagers struggle with their identity was something she wasn’t willing to stand for any more, and her honesty and bravery to divulge her own private life was admirable as it was momentous.
Media attention naturally gravitated Mulcahy’s way. There was invariably a cheeky quote, but listen back. The team was always referenced.
With a hugely supportive family and a partner who must be beaming with pride given the glowing tributes reeling in this week, it would be easy for Mulcahy to have a self-appreciating agenda. But, the agenda will remain the same – to live life to the fullest and make a difference.
For the last 15 years within the four white lines of turf, she did just that.
The parameters may have moved, but no question Mulcahy will continue to make a difference.