Culture construction will only take matters so far

There’s a story which has by now become folklore pertaining to when #SeanBoylan took over as #Meath senior football manager. The gist of which was, that certain senior individuals within the group of players – who shall remain nameless – informed the #Dunboyne man that if he stuck around long enough, they’d make a manager out of him! Now read on…

In fact, if one was to even attempt to encapsulate the early part of my neighbour’s terrific tenure, perhaps the best portrayal thereof was that he made winners out of what was, to some extent, already a talented and decorated group of players. Winning is an acquired habit, just like losing, and, for the majority of Sean’s stint in charge – to the immense gratitude of us followers – Meath was enveloped in a winning culture.

Culture construction will only take matters so far however. Take Clare’s Munster SFC triumph of 1992 or the emergence of Leitrim from Connacht two years later. John Maughan and John O’Mahony respectively instilled an ethos in each county which culminated in ground breaking success for both. To a lesser extent, it could be said that Liam Griffin did likewise during his time with the Wexford hurlers.

Elsewhere, it’s understandable and increasingly obvious that the input of such luminaries of rugby as Eddie Jones and former England player Steve Borthwick have had a demonstrable effect on the fortunes of the Japanese. You might even argue that the aura surrounding Joe Schmidt has had a similar impact with Ireland.

Actually, there’s no argument – he has. Where the stories diverge, though, is that, for all the impact of Jones and Borthwick and Japan’s historic usurpation of the Springboks, they were thereafter (their annihilation of Samoa aside) unable to maintain output to high levels, whereas, regardless of what may transpire in the coming weeks, one would expect Irish rugby to remain in rude health the foreseeable future.

Primarily owing to the depth and adaptability of the talent currently available to the coach. Notwithstanding the fact that I feel far too much was read into the warm up games (Mickey Harte’s disdain for challenge games carries credence), and also retaining cognisance of the deficiencies of competition supplied by some of Ireland’s pool opponents, the displays of the likes of Devin Toner, Keith Earls, Simon Zebo, Iain Henderson and the (harshly) maligned Tommy Bowe must bode well.

It takes even more to reach and sustain true greatness however. Which brings me to what brought about the offering – the sustained, maybe unquantifiable success earned – and that truly is the apt adjective – by the exemplary exponents of Camogie and Ladies Football from Cork.

Here’s a feeble attempt at putting into some form of context what they’ve achieved. These wheels were only inside the wire in Croke Park twice. The first such occasion was on the day the Meath ladies team – with Dunboyne’s Dorothy McGoldrick and Lisa Kane aboard – won the All Ireland JFC. The senior final that day was between Waterford and Monaghan who, along with Laois, dominated the landscape in the sport at the time. Remember, this was back in the times when Camogie was played on short pitches and Cork – led by the great Linda Mellerick – and Kilkenny, with the legendary Downey sisters, Angela and Anne, more or less had the sport to themselves.

As far as it went in Munster in terms of ladies football, Kerry provided best representation. Now factor in that, since achieving their breakthrough, Cork have won ten out of the last eleven football titles. Whilst at the same time voraciously mopping up titles with hurls too. Thus enabling iconic duel stars Rena Buckley and Breege Corkery annex 16 All Ireland medals apiece and so pass out the record of the late Kathleen Mills. Who for so long was the one female GAA star even those with only a frivolous interest therein knew of.

Now stop and think. About Corkery and Buckley. And the generation of players they and their kinfolk have inspired, both in Cork and everywhere else. With the latter, I think of my own club. Ladies Football in the area became formally organised again in 1996. But camogie took longer to reclaim its rightful place in the annals – just around the time this Cork bandwagon got rolling. As this piece was, there are a group of ladies striving to add camogie championship medals to football ones collected a few weeks ago. It didn’t work out, but, either way, things are on an incredibly sound footing.

Think, too, of Cork ladies football manager Eamonn Ryan. His dedication to and inspiration of them. The reverence in which his players hold him. Perhaps, however, the greatest tribute to these amazing people is the impact they have on our lives away from GAA fields.

Valerie Mulcahy’s key role in the Marriage Equality Referendum. This year’s camogie captain Ashling Thompson espousing utmost bravery in highlighting mental health issues which afflict so many of us – and overcoming them inspirationally. Living their lives in public and inspiring people. Legacy assured.


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