What is the secret behind becoming the most decorated GAA player in history? Is there a magic exercise to perform in the gym, an extravagant diet to follow or an obscure practice to take part in?

Only one person knows the answer: Rena Buckley who, in recent weeks – after Cork beat Kilkenny in the All-Ireland senior camogie final – became the most accomplished GAA player ever, winning 18 All-Ireland medals.

Repeatedly achieving the highest accolade in both camogie and ladies football, Rena explains that the secret to her success is nothing gimmicky or off-the-wall, but simply getting the basics right.

“There are lots of things that are ‘sellable’, but if you eat well, sleep well and train well I think you are on a winner. Train well consistently, sleep well consistently and eat well consistently, – otherwise you are just going to break down.”

Modest and determined

Whatever it may be that Rena puts her success down to, she certainly does not get caught up in it – and maybe that, in itself, is the key. The Cork woman is both modest and determined in equal measures.

Her 18 All-Ireland medals are at home in a press in Berrings. She says she will organise them when she finishes up playing – and she is definitely not done yet.

“Sure, I am still playing with the club; we are playing next weekend. That is the next focus: the next game. The club puts in a great effort, and you have to put in as much of an effort too. The week after the All-Ireland was a bit mad, but it settled away down again, thanks be to God.”

Playing camogie for Inniscarra and ladies football for Donoughmore, Rena this year decided to focus on just camogie at inter-county level. She believes that in a player’s younger years taking part in both codes at inter-county level is certainly achievable, but as you get older you may only be able to focus on one, as the body needs more time to recover.

Being a physiotherapist, Rena feels, has definitely helped her stay injury free, and it is clear that although she may be hardy, she still places a huge emphasis on looking after herself: “If I have any old niggle, I know what to do straight away: not to leave it brew and develop into something bad. For example, my Achilles give me a good bit of trouble – and they have for a couple of years – but I have been able to manage them.”

Big changes through the years

Throughout her years of playing, Rena has witnessed big changes in both camogie and ladies football at inter-county level. She highlights that players are now physically in better shape and there are a lot more components to their training.

“There were more club games before during the year; that has changed now. We would never have been taught as much about our diets before. Now we go to cryotherapy, we went to the sea a lot this year and we had a sports psychologist speaking to us. That would all have only come about in the last few years.”

The Cork camogie skipper thinks female GAA players are being taken more seriously and that increased participation at all levels helps.

“I think it is important as well that women continue playing on into adulthood: that it is not just girls playing, that it is women playing – and to have that normalised. There are great benefits for women involved in sport. There are loads of studies showing that it helps women in their careers and that it boosts teenage girls’ self-esteem as well,” says Rena.

Camogie Player of the Year

Rena has been nominated for an All-Star and as Camogie Player of the Year. Like with everything else, she will take it in her stride.

One of the standout parts of this season for the Cork woman was a gap of five weeks between their last group game and the semi-final, when she did not have a match to play –something unheard of for Rena.

“There was a huge gap. I had never experienced that before, so it was mad. Matches are what you want to be playing, like.”

Clearly, for Rena it is not about success, but a genuine love of the game. CL

All-Ireland Smiles

This year Rena is an ambassador for the All-Ireland Smiles Competition 2017. For the month of October Sensodyne and Corsodyl have teamed up to find out which county is the smiliest in Ireland and to offer one lucky participant a chance to win €5,000. To enter, participants have to upload a selfie showing off their smile to social media using #AllIrelandSmiles and say what they love about their county and why.