Retired Rebel still passionate about women's causes
It’s less than four months since her inter-county retirement so no surprise that Valerie Mulcahy cannot stop herself sometimes.
Retirement after 15 years playing for Cork has finally gifted the time to attend the sort of happy family occasions that football so often precluded.
But when an 80th birthday party clashed with this year’s Lidl Division 1 final – where Cork beat Mayo - she somehow found herself “sneaking in and out” to monitor their progress.
She bursts into laughter when asked if she’s found anything yet into which she can channel her famously competitive instincts.
“I was at a hen last week and there were a few games, like moving all the red balls into a blue box and vice versa and, yes, I was kinda competitive alright!” she admits. “I probably miss that element sometimes.”
But the ladies’ football superstar has no regrets on calling time on a career that helped indelibly stamp the game, and Cork’s phenomenal team, on the Irish public’s consciousness.
“There’s a little bit of a void there, a bit of readjustment needed, but that’s understandable,” the 10-time All-Ireland winner and six-time Allstar admits.
With distance has come other benefits.
“It was lovely to go to the Munster final and appreciate what I have been involved in, to know you were part of something great.
“When you’re in it it’s all consuming. You’re always focussed on trying to win and perform well for the team. It’s nice now to see the girls progress and go ‘that was me, I was part of that!’ You do have a better overview and appreciation of it.”
Mulcahy’s still playing with her club Rockban of course, and will soon be gracing our screens again as TG4 have just snapped her up as an analyst.
But there’s spare time now for the sort of normality that so many inter-county players are prepared to sacrifice.
When she married Meg last summer, surrounded by her county teammates, football meant there was no question of a honeymoon - but they finally got one, just a year late.
“We went to Paris for the first match in the Euros, against Sweden, which was good fun, and then did a bit of travelling around Europe, including Sitges (near Barcelona) and London.
“Apart from a wedding once I hadn’t ever gone away in June before so it was lovely, and great not to be worrying about what training you were missing,” Mulcahy reflects.
“When I was playing every decision in my life, whether it was food or time, was based on ‘will this impact on my performance?’ It’s nice not to have that kind of thought process going on all the time.”
She is not exactly resting on her laurels though.
Mulcahy is a founding and executive member of the Women’s Gaelic Players Association (WGPA), who have hugely increased the visibility and recognition of their members and recently helped secure the first ever government funding (€1m, over two years) for women’s GAA players.
“That was massive. It’s definitely going to help counties and players to improve their set-ups,” she notes.
“Compared to when I started, the standard of the game is very high now, and the girls’ work-rate and their commitment off the pitch in terms of trying to be better players, is huge.”
After coming out publicly two years ago Mulcahy is also a powerful advocate for the LGBT community.
“I’ve had such positive feedback. At a league match this year a girl came up to me and said ‘congratulations on your retirement, and thanks very much for speaking out, it helped an awful lot.’
“I got lots of personal messages on social media, from people taking the time to say ‘thanks’ and it’s just great that it had that impact. That was the intention. When you have a voice you have to try and use it in a positive way, especially if it can help others.”
She is particularly proud of the WGPA’s recent ‘Be You – Belong’ campaign in collaboration with mental health advocates Jigsaw (formerly Headstrong). For more on the WGPA’s ‘Be You-Belong campaign’ see their website and Facebook page.
“I love that message,” says the Cork PE teacher.
“It’s really important for young people to understand that it’s great to embrace who you are.
“When you’re young you’re always trying to fit in, you think difference is scary or less attractive.
“I think the older you get you realise that the things that make you different are the things that people love about you!
“Football gave me confidence and has given a lot of people a sense of belonging. It’s great for your self-esteem, and to have that camaraderie.
“You learn that a team requires all different types of people and skills to make it work, and the importance of work-rate.
“There’s an awful lot to be said for being involved in a team when you’re younger, and as you get older too,” she enthuses. “It’s like a family unit really.”
The Ladies Football Championship Final will take centre stage September 25th. Be there to show your #SeriousSupport.