Cork’s Rhona Ní Bhuachalla shies from the spotlight, but Mary White tells why her leadership is needed once again on Sunday
RHONA Ní Bhuachalla remembers well the dark cloud that hung in the Cork dressing room at halftime during the 2014 All-Ireland final.
A sub that day, it was Nollaig Cleary who got the call ahead of her to enter the warzone against a Dublin side tearing Cork to shreds.
Ní Bhuachalla was pumped and even Angela Walsh recalls catching the Naomh Fionnbarra player’s eye during her interval speech. She knew Ní Bhuachalla would go through a wall just to get onto the field.
With 42 minutes played, she got the call to warm up alongside Eimear Scally and Doireann O’Sullivan. There was a moment of doubt from the younger apprentices when Lindsay Peat nailed another goal to put the Dubs 10 points up. The eldest – there since a timid 16-year-old in 2007 – Ní Bhuachalla had a go at them. They didn’t train all year to have doubts now she told them.
In the thick of it for just three minutes, Ní Bhuachalla zig-zagged in attack, and when Valerie Mulcahy nodded her head, Ní Bhuachalla had the sense to interpret and go backdoor for the pass. She caught the assist, turned and buried the ball into the net. Game on. Game over.
Ní Bhuachalla’s always shied from the spotlight. It’s not her thing, but her presence is much more influential than the 26-year-old realises. Bar the ‘Four Tenners’ – Deirdre O’Reilly, Bríd Stack, Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley – Ní Bhuachalla is the only other remaining player from first-time captain Juliet Murphy’s era. That in itself will tell you about her calibre. Her contribution.
Rhona Ní Bhuachalla celebrates her eighth All-Ireland final win against Dublin in 2015 with Valerie Mulcahy.
2011 against Dublin in the quarter-final, and against Monaghan in the final. 2013 in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Dublin. And again against Dublin in the 2014 All-Ireland final. Clutch is her middle name, and without question she’s been the biggest impact sub in the modern game, in any county. But, does it get to her?
“I’d rather start obviously. You train your best to try and get that starting position, but at the end of the day it’s about the result and what’s best for the team. If they want me to come off the bench to do my best, I’ll do that. If they want me to start and do my best for as long as I can, I’ll do that.
“There’s girls there that don’t even get a jersey, so it’s a privilege to get that jersey. It’s a privilege to get a game. It’s a privilege to start, and it’s a privilege to get to train with such a great bunch,” admits the 26-year-old Bantry Gaelscoil SNA.
Born and raised across from the GAA pitch in Ballingeary, Ní Bhuachalla was steeped in the game from a young age. Her brother Paul would rope her in to collect footballs as he practised, while her boyfriend of nine years, Barra Concannon, plays for Ballingeary. In fact, as she gives this interview at the Cork press night in Carrigaline, Concannon is beating the locals in a senior football match on the pitch beside her.
Football is her life, and she loves it.
Her mother, Geraldine Buckley, is secretary of the club, and if it wasn’t for her, there would be no club. But if it wasn’t for Geraldine, there’d be no humble legend in the Buckley household either. And should her daughter collect a ninth Celtic Cross on Sunday, then perhaps too, so should Geraldine.
For when Rhona spent a spell in college at Tralee IT, her mother would drive the hour from Ballingeary across the county bounds to collect her daughter. The chats were good during the 70-minute commute to The Farm for training. It was back to Tralee again before Geraldine would curl into bed gone midnight in the Gaeltacht. Five-and-a-half hours of driving so her daughter could line out with Cork is deserving of a medal in itself.
Rhona Ní Bhuachalla in action against Kerry.
Sunday week ago, Ní Bhuachalla and her teammates trained at 8.45am before boarding Cormac O’Connor’s bus to watch their teammates line out in the camogie finals. The day she says was a dress rehearsal. A wake-up call. A reality check.
She remembers vividly Cork’s last defeat in the All-Ireland series, against Tyrone in 2010, and she doesn’t want to go back there.
“It’s going to come to an end some time, but we want to prolong it for as long as possible,” she says honestly.
“I remember the dressing room in Banagher. All you could hear was people crying and tears falling. We don’t want to experience that again.
“To see the girls upset after the camogie final, it was a reality check, and we want to give Briege, Rena, Hannah and Libby something to smile about again. It’s the least they deserve.”
Ní Bhuachalla is as caring as they come, but with an 11th All-Ireland on the line she’ll care about nothing else but getting the win. Expect her contribution, whatever guise it comes in, to be big. For without her, Cork would never have won so much.
September 20, 2016
Rhona Ní Bhuchalla celebrates her goal in the 2014 All-Ireland final, which instigated an 11-point turnaround for Cork to win by a point.