Staying ahead of the game
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.”
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.