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'The leader in that role for so many years' - Dublin star salutes Cork's 11-time All-Ireland champion

Niamh Collins’ words on recently-retired Rebels legend Bríd Stack epitomise the mutual respect between the sides.

DUBLIN STAR DEFENDER Niamh Collins has paid tribute to her now-retired Cork counterpart Bríd Stack, saying she’s been “the leader in that role for so, so many years.”

Brid Stack Cork defender Bríd Stack has announced her retirement. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

11-time All-Ireland senior champion Stack first confirmed her decision to bring her inter-county career to a close at the age of 32 to The Irish Examiner over the weekend.

Stack was crowned Footballer of the Year in 2016, the same year she became just one of four players to win 11 senior All-Ireland medals — Briege Corkery, Rena Buckley and Deirdre O’Reilly are the others.

She has played every minute of every final in which the Rebels were successful and finishes up with seven All-Stars.

While 24-year-old Collins would have locked horns with Stack on the field, she says that she always admired and looked up to her.

“Absolutely,” the Foxrock-Cabinteely defender told The42. “I mean especially in my position on the field. She would have been the leader in that role for so, so many years.

“Obviously I would never have come directly up against her because we would have been at different ends of the pitch. But yeah, she would have been one of the most formidable full-backs for most of our full-forward line. It’s sad to see her go but she had an absolutely great career.”

DW6I1159 Niamh Collins at today's eir sport launch. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

While a lot of her heroes were closer to home as a child, Collins recalls that as she broke onto the scene, she watched Stack in action more and more. 

“Being honest when I was younger, I was entirely fixated on the Dublin ladies. They were what drove me on. But when I was coming up minor and young on the senior team that’s when I would have seen her more.

“She came in to do talks for a couple of the girls when they were in college and they’d talk about how motivational she was for them as well. She gave a lot to the game as a woman in sport, absolutely, and she has quite a phenomenal cabinet of silverware at this point.”

Over the past few days, many players past and present have come out with kind words for Stack and Collins joins her teammates Sinead Goldrick and Sinead Aherne in paying tribute to the Cork legend. 

After three heartbreaking defeats to the Rebels in 2014, 2015 and 2016, Mick Bohan’s Dublin finally exacted sweet revenge on them in the September’s All-Ireland final in Croke Park.

In 2017, Dublin got that monkey off their back and beat Mayo in the decider to lift the Brendan Martin Cup after the Westerners knocked Stack’s Cork side out in the semi-final.

Plagued by injury, she opted to sit out in 2018 but the fierce rivals locked horns once again in the showpiece for the fourth time in five years. Beating Cork, for Dublin, was massive.

“It’d be a lie to say it wasn’t,” Collins continues, “especially having been on the team in 2014, ’15 and ’16… it was something that was going to play on your mind even if you tried to not let it.

“I think for a lot of us, while winning an All-Ireland was always the ultimate goal, I don’t think we really would have felt that we’d have achieved everything we wanted to in our careers until we beat them. But like, you know…. we go again!”

Doireann O'Sullivan with Niamh Collins Collins facing Cork's Doireann O'Sullivan. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

She adds: “It’s a rivalry completely built out of respect.

“Every game I think we’ve played against them in the past few years has always been close; them edging us out and then us last year finally edging them out.

“It’s a rivalry that’s there because we both give the best we can to each other, every single time we play each other.”

Attention now turns to 2019 for the back-to-back champions with the first task at hand defending their first-ever Lidl Ladies National League Division 1 title.

They’ll open their defence in Croke Park against Donegal on Saturday, 2 February, one of two double-headers which were confirmed last week. They’ll also face Mayo at HQ as part of a double billing with their male counterparts, with both games to be shown live on eir sport.

“It really is nice,” she says of the double-headers and added exposure. “Games like that are really contributing to the whole 20×20 vision for women’s football. It’s great excitement for players being able to go out and play in Croke Park at the beginning of the season.

Sinead Aherne, Tarah O’Sullivan, Niamh Collins, Deirdre Murphy and Noelle Healy celebrate Celebrating September's win with teammates. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“It almost brings the freshness to the league and it gets the team excited. It brings a totally new element to it. I really, really enjoy those matches and long may it continue.

“People say, ‘We’ll go in and take a look [at the ladies game before the men's]‘. My opinion is they’ll generally be very pleasantly surprised. The level of skill that’s there, the game really is growing. The skill has come on so much in ladies football in the last 10 years.

“It’s almost a different game to watch than men’s football. There’s different elements to it to what the guys bring. It’s open to that audience, for new people.”

And of course, there’s already plenty of talk around three in-a-row and whether Bohan’s Sky Blues can break that new ground in 2019.

“To be honest I have heard a few rumblings about it,” Collins grins. “It’s not really something that has been playing on my mind, probably because we’re only coming back but yeah, you have to be cognitive of it.

DW6I1201 Collins, Declan Hannon and Cillian O'Connor at today's launch. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“It’s not something that you want to get into your head or into the team’s mindset. At the end of the day with county football, there’s a big turnover every year. Conditions can change, teams can change. Just because you won last year doesn’t mean anything.

“That’s the line that I would take on it. We’ve seen how easy it is to come the whole way and not get over the line. So, yeah, 2018 is last year in my opinion.”

****

eir sport have today announced details of its Allianz Leagues coverage for 2019, while also confirming it will broadcast two games from the Lidl Ladies National Football League. In total eir sport will broadcast fifteen live games in the coming months with up to three live matches available to GAA fans some weekends. The coverage begins on January 26th on the home of live GAA on Saturday nights under lights. 

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