Stay­ing ahead of the game

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Food - Clodagh Finn

THERE’S some­thing akin to nos­tal­gia in Va­lerie Mulc­ahy’s voice when the Cork GAA star re­calls the very early days of her in­ter county ca­reer when she and her team­mates would have a fry-up on the day of a big away match.

“How things have changed,” she says. The 10-time All-Ire­land win­ner has wit­nessed a rad­i­cal change in the at­ti­tude to sports nu­tri­tion dur­ing her ca­reer.

Ath­letes, she says, are now far more con­scious of mak­ing sure to eat the right foods be­fore a match while mak­ing sure to re­fuel prop­erly af­ter­wards to al­low the body to re­cover.

In the­ory, how­ever, none of that should mat­ter to one of Cork’s most gifted play­ers be­cause she bowed out of in­tercounty foot­ball in April last year af­ter win­ning an in­cred­i­ble 31 se­nior ti­tles.

Yet she’s still in the game, so to speak. She’s just been named brand am­bas­sador for Sona, the Ir­ish vi­ta­min com­pany and of­fi­cial broad­cast spon­sor of ladies gaelic foot­ball cov­er­age on TG4.

En­cour­ag­ing women to get in­volved in sport — and to stay in­volved — is very im­por­tant to her.

“I think girls don’t have the same choices as boys in terms of sport, and they are not en­cour­aged as much. It’s im­por­tant that we make it at­trac­tive to them and more of the norm,” she says.

When they do get in­volved, there can be a big drop-off, partly due to an in­creas­ing body-con­scious­ness but mostly due to lack of con­fi­dence.

“Con­fi­dence is a huge thing. And be­ing part of a team. It’s very im­por­tant for peo­ple to ex­pe­ri­ence what be­ing in­volved in a team sport brings; the ca­ma­raderie that can be gained,” she says.

Go­ing through tough train­ing to­gether and then be­ing able to share the highs of win­ning are what stand out for Va­lerie Mulc­ahy af­ter a ca­reer that has had more highs than most.

She’s still ac­tive in the Women’s Gaelic Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, a body she founded with other play­ers to pro­vide a uni­fied voice and sup­port for in­ter county womens’ foot­ball and camo­gie play­ers.

“It’s im­por­tant that play­ers have the op­por­tu­nity to ex­cel and to be the best that they can be,” she says. “The WGPA works to sup­port the de­vel­op­ment of the player, both on and off the field. We have pro­vided schol­ar­ships to play­ers, se­cured gov­ern­ment grants for in­ter-county squads as well as hav­ing in­creased the aware­ness of our play­ers to the gen­eral pub­lic.”

Even though she no longer plays, she keeps very fit and eats a re­ally healthy diet. Ex­er­cise, these days, is any­thing from a run or a swim to a work­out at the gym or a game of golf.

“I try to eat as healthily as pos­si­ble. I get as many vi­ta­mins as pos­si­ble from food and then I try to sup­ple­ment that to op­ti­mise health,” she says.

Break­fast can be any­thing from por­ridge or eggs to muesli and fruit. She’ll of­ten eat when she gets into work at Gael­choláiste Mhuire in Cork where she teaches PE and maths. Snacks range from Greek yo­ghurt and home­made gra­nola to cashew but­ter and ba­nana on oat­cakes, while lunch could be left­overs from din­ner or salad.

Va­lerie’s wife Meg Blyth is ve­gan so din­ner­times are far from the ‘meat-and-two-veg’ for­mula of tra­di­tion, al­though Va­lerie is quick to add that she is not ve­gan.

Her wife’s diet, how­ever, has made her food choices far more ad­ven­tur­ous. There is lots of va­ri­ety on the menu, from cur­ries, lentils and nut­loaf to veg­gie burg­ers, stir­fries and home­made falafels.

Ask her if she was ever tempted to go ve­gan, and she laughs adding that ‘tempted’ might not be the right word, al­though she’s a huge fan of veg­e­tar­ian food. Her favourite restau­rant is Café Par­adiso, the award-win­ning veg­e­tar­ian restau­rant in the Mardyke, Cork.

On mar­ried life, she says it’s won­der­ful and is so glad that Ire­land voted yes in the mar­riage equal­ity ref­er­en­dum in 2015. The re­sult, she says, has helped peo­ple to feel much more com­fort­able be­ing them­selves, al­though there is still a long way to go.

She ad­vises oth­ers who might be hes­i­tat­ing about com­ing out to try to be true to them­selves. “Talk to some­one you trust. Things will get eas­ier and the ini­tial dif­fi­cul­ties pass. It will all be worth it. The peo­ple that love you will only want the best for you and will want to see you happy.”

Pic­ture: Cody Glenn/Sports­file

Foot­ball legend Va­lerie Mulc­ahy is still ac­tive in the Women’s Gaelic Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion and is brand am­bas­sador for Sona vi­ta­mins, spon­sors of TG4’s women’s foot­ball.

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