Cork GAA stars recall the Turning Points that shaped their careers

New book from Bandon's Hamilton High School highlights the key moments the lives of prominent figures
Cork GAA stars recall the Turning Points that shaped their careers

Hamilton High School teachers Rob Honohan and Ciarán Collins, pictured with the Turning Points book. Picture: Denis Minihane

Some prominent Cork GAA personalities feature among the many high-profile people who have contributed to Turning Points, a new book produced by the staff and students of Bandon’s Hamilton High School.

The brainchild of teachers Rob Honohan and Ciarán Collins, it is hoped that the book will raise funds for a new astroturf pitch at the school. People from all walks of life, such as Mary McAleese, Bertie Ahern, Eamon Dunphy and Ken Doherty speak about key moments in their lives that set them on a positive path.

Also included Rena Buckley, who gives an insight into the drive and determination that saw her win 18 All-Ireland medals across camogie and ladies’ football. She recalls the 2013 All-Ireland camogie semi-final when she was playing centre-back against Kilkenny.

“There was one ball in the first half – a puck-out from our goalkeeper Aoife Murray – which I can recognise now as a turning point in my career,” she writes.

“For that puck-out, I watched Aoife puck the ball. I turned, expecting the ball to go over my head. The ball did not beat me, it didn’t go over my head. My player did not turn to face out the field as I did. Instead, she collected the ball and struck it over the bar.

“I was disgusted. It showed a lack of concentration, a lack of awareness, a lack of competitiveness, and just made me feel terrible. It forced me to really look at whether I was reaching my potential. I considered finishing up with Cork. I considered choosing between football and camogie. 

After much soul-searching, I decided that I was talented; I still had huge levels of desire, but I needed to up my work-rate.”

That winter, Buckley – who had won 12 All-Irelands by that stage – undertook extra work at Rylane Boxing Club to ensure that she was ready for the 2014 campaign and she added six more medals over the next four years.

“I learned that we all make choices and decisions in our lives every day and our choices become habits. If what we choose brings us closer to what we want in our lives, then they are good choices. If we make good choices day-to-day, we make good habits. Good habits ensure we reach our potential.”

Cork camogie and ladies' football legend Rena Buckley. Picture: Inpho
Cork camogie and ladies' football legend Rena Buckley. Picture: Inpho

Similarly, Cork footballer Mark Collins used disappointment to drive him on after he was left on the bench for the county U14 team in the Tony Forristal Tournament.

“We had a few trial matches and training sessions and I was really looking forward to representing my county,” he writes.

“I didn’t make the starting 15, I was given the number 24 jersey and I actually still have the jersey at home. I remember being absolutely devastated. It was my first-ever experience of not making a team and I didn’t really know how to react.”

He upped his efforts ahead of his U15 year and reaped the rewards. “It was one of the best things that ever happened to me in my GAA career and even in my life in general. 

It was my first little setback in sport and it taught me so much. It taught that nothing comes easy and that you have to work hard for things. 

"On the flip-side, 2005 showed me that when you do work hard and put in the effort then you can be rewarded.”

Jamie Wall – a past pupil of the school – turned what could have been a negative experience into a positive one. On the Cork minor football panel, he was one of just 18 players involved in a challenge game against Beara U21s, with many of the squad ruled out due to the Leaving Certificate.

With his shoulder strapped, he considered sitting out the game but opted to play and was chosen at wing-back.

“All along with my club Kilbrittain, I had only ever played as a forward or midfield and had no experience of ever being back that far,” he writes.

“I was a bit nervous and I turned to Peter Murphy (who was in my class in Hammies) who was playing centre-back and told him that he’d have to talk me through the entire hour.

“It was one of those games where I had a really good game and I felt I played really well. I got forward from wing-back and kicked a score and coming off the field I said, ‘Jesus, though could be a real position for me.’ 

"The management seemed really happy with me and, afterwards I got into the car with my Dad and he said, ‘What did ya make of being back there?’ I said, ‘To be honest with ya Dad, when they named me there I thought the next step was I was going to be out the door.’

I went from a position of wearing number 24 and being an unused substitute as a forward against Clare in the first round to starting wing-back in the next round against Tipperary and playing all the way to an All-Ireland final in Croke Park. 

"The following year, I was starting at U21 on a team that won three Munster titles in a row.

“I got such a benefit from the jump in standard in terms of preparation and it’s really set me up now as I’m prematurely retired due to my injury. It also set me up for developing an interest in management as I really got a taste of being managed by some really good people like Brian Cuthbert and John Cleary.”

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