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Joanne O’Riordan: No words to describe the one and only Rena Buckley

Psychologists want to know what makes her tick, but people who know her say ‘that’s just Rena’

Cork’s Rena Buckley lifting the O’Duffy Cup. There are certain things in life like taxes and death, but you can add Buckley winning an All-Ireland medal to that list. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Andrea Pirlo reflected in his book I Think Therefore I Play about the infamous Liverpool comeback against AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final, and wrote how “there are always lessons to be found in the darkest moments”.

“It’s a moral obligation to dig deep and find that little glimmer of hope or pearl of wisdom. You might hit upon an elegant phrase that stays with you, and makes the journey that little bit less bitter. I have tried with Istanbul and have not managed to get beyond these words: for f-ck’s sake.”

The weekend just past was not a dark moment – well perhaps for Kilkenny – but as a Cork fan I was searching for words to describe the one and only Rena Buckley.

You could try swearing, you could try looking through a thesaurus, but every single adjective has already been used. You could try general sound effects like grunt, shout, scream or yell. You could also just express an emotion like laughing, crying or fist-pumping. But eventually you realise there are not enough words in the English language.

All the superlatives have been uttered, and words like legend and hero are sometimes used in a patronising manner in women’s sports. But, honestly, she embodies everything that hero and legend were designed for.


Writing this article I contemplated listing all of her achievements. I thought about mentioning that one time I got to share a stage with her after the LGFA gave me an honorary All-Star. But listing her achievements is almost an injustice to others who slave away at a game to not get anything in return. It’s almost like sitting in a poker game going all in knowing you have the winning hand.

I once heard Galway legend Noel Lane say to get the one All-Ireland victory is great – it does not matter how many you get after that, the first will always be the sweetest. Yet for Rena, the roll of honour just keeps rolling in. Just like the solar eclipse, just like Halley’s comet, these feats are very rare.

The best thing about her was after doing a full speech in Irish, a rarity these days, she came off the stand smiling.

“How are you feeling Rena?”


No big deal, then. Just your average day for Rena.

Winning All-Irelands as Rena Buckley is like scoring goals as Lionel Messi. There are certain things in life like taxes and death, but you can add Rena Buckley winning an All-Ireland medal to that list.


One of the incredible things about Rena is how rarely she disappoints. In fact, it is tempting to say she has made the ridiculous so routine that she does not get talked about as much as deserves.

Henry Shefflin was rightfully lauded a hero for winning his 11 All-Irelands. Jack Lynch has a tunnel named after him. Christy Ring has a whole park in his honour. So, I propose we should have a stand or a statue commemorating Rena.

Knowing her, she is happy enough to just stand and smile, with all her medals glistening in a drawer at home.

Watching her do interviews as she hung the O’Duffy Cup down at her side like an elderly lady carrying the shopping, it is clear that it is the winning that matters. There are no airs and graces. What you see is what you get.

A hero. An idol. An inspiration. A legend. But, behind it all, she will probably come back as hungry as ever. That’s something you can’t teach.

Sports psychologists would fight one another to have a sit-down chat with her just to see what makes her tick. But if you ask anyone in Innishannon or Donoughmore, they’ll shrug and say “that’s just Rena”.

Count yourself lucky

So, tonight and over the next week I dare you to tell people about Rena Buckley. Down the line people will talk about her as a historical figure, and discuss how these players only come around once a generation. At least you can count yourself lucky and say “I was there”.

There are no ways to discuss her legacy, at least in a polite manner. All you can do is open your eyes wide, open your mouth and utter whatever word comes to mind.