Joanne O’Riordan: An inspirational role model? I’d pick Rena Buckley

Cork’s finest has won numerous All-Irelands but there’s so much more to her than that

Over the weekend I got completely caught up in a wave of cycling, athletics and even pentathlon.

I thought 2018 was the year for learning new sports, but I think in 2019 I’ll have my hands full deciding on which sport to take up next. By taking up, I mean watch on TV . . . my lazy ass isn’t ready for participation levels yet.

But during the mad hype for Ciara Mageean, Mark English, Natalya Coyle, Lydia Boylan and Mark Downey, I flicked over to find that awfully named SheBelives tournament was still running.

The number one ranked USA were taking on England. Soccer analysis aside, I was struck by the Americans having their players' respective heroes on their shirts. Some sparked a giggle. Notoriously radical goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris had Cardi B, some of the young players chose singers such as Beyonce and Carrie Underwood, while the older players picked figures who did something that rocked society.


Defender Becky Sauerbrunn chose Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Notorious RBG and infamous judge who was appointed to the Supreme Court judge and shook American law to its core. Captain America Carli Lloyd chose Malala Yousafzai, the female education activist from Pakistan who took the world by storm after being shot by the Taliban while on the way to school.

The whole idea got me thinking. If something like this was to be developed for females in Ireland, at both adult and at youth level, who would be the Irish women to inspire the future generations?

Although I don't play a sport, therefore ruling me out of this adventure, without a shadow of a doubt I would pick someone like Rena Buckley. Call it clear Cork bias or whatever you want. I've met Messi, the Pope, a Kennedy offspring, but last weekend when I had to interview Rena for an upcoming project, I literally forgot my own name.

It is very rare in life that you meet your heroes. If you do, chances are you might end up disappointed and literally begin to hate yourself for even idolising that person at some stage (everyone has to have at least one!).

My first task was to uncover what makes Rena Buckley tick, and more importantly, why the hell would she still be hungry for more All-Ireland medals?

The beauty of having local heroes near you – people who you could potentially interact with – is that you can study them, talk with them and more importantly, learn from them.

Serious drive

Every player on the USA team had to write a paragraph on why their chosen person inspires them. While I would try to refrain from doing an ode to Rena, after last night’s Laochra Gael and after conversing with her for over two hours, I think an ode would be the only suitable way to tell you how great she is and why it’s important to have someone that you can aspire to be like.

Aside from the fact that winning numerous All-Ireland medals requires serious drive, hard work and ambition, what I learned was that having a team around you is the most important thing. Apart from a team driving you on and pushing you to incredible lengths, there probably is nothing greater than winning with your pals and those who you’ve grown up with.

Another thing that struck me when I met Rena was how considerate she was to those she played with. I don’t think anyone would blame her for getting a bit carried away with all the accumulated accolades she has garnered, but the modest way she talks about everyone’s role in her career is admirable.

During our interview, we discussed those she had played with. A day later Rena got in touch to tell me she’d forgot to mention one particular player and felt terribly guilty about it. Moral of the story: you’re kind of nothing without those around you.

While watching the athletics, club camogie finals, football and cycling, I began to think of all those watching along who would be impacted or inspired by the accolades being won by Irish athletes. Who would be wearing an eye patch like Natalya Coyle, who would have a hot water bottle with them in goals like Gailltír goalie Ciara Jackman and who will we be writing about in years to come?

Who would be a constant student of their sport like Ciara Mageean, always eager to improve and learn and be the best?

On International Women’s Day, I would ask everyone to sit back and wonder who their hero is?

After that, I would hope that you encourage daughters, sons, younger siblings to choose a hero and show them that without hard work, determination and sheer relentlessness that it’s impossible to achieve whatever you want to achieve?

Then take them out to any sporting occasion. You’d never know what hero and role model you might raise in the future.