Watch: GAA star Valerie Mulcahy opens up about her struggles with her sexuality

Ladies' football legend Valerie Mulcahy opens up about her struggles and her hopes of being a role model for younger players.

Valerie Mulcahy is wearing a Cork jersey and running with a football mid-game. She has an eager expression.

In a video released on Monday, September 9th, Cork ladies’ football star Valerie Mulcahy speaks about her struggle to accept her sexuality and how it intersects with her love of Gaelic football. 

The video opens with Mulcahy speaking about how sports have always provided a space for her to be herself, but off the pitch, she was less than sure. “Sport was a great forum to be yourself, but off the pitch, I think I was trying to figure out who I was.” She tracks her enthusiasm for football from a young age and relates how her family established a Ladies’ football club as there was nowhere for girls to play after primary school.

Although she was involved with the Cork team from the age of 13 and has always had “a great sense of pride in the Cork jersey,” she often found it difficult to take pride in her sexuality. Speaking about how this struggle affected her performance on the pitch, Mulcahy says: “You’re carrying around a secret and it isn’t easy. It definitely affected one performance alright in an All-Ireland in 2006. Probably the only match I never scored in and I was kind of more consumed by what people would think or that my name would be synonymous with being gay and I didn’t want the headlines, I didn’t want the attention.”

Mulcahy played in the corner-forward position for Cork Senior Ladies’ Football from 2004 to 2015. During this time, the team won ten All-Ireland titles in a row, an unprecedented feat. Mulcahy was the top scorer in seven out of these ten years. Although she retired from the senior team in 2015, in the same year Mulcahy became the GAA’s first openly gay sportswoman when she appeared in an influential documentary, “Coming Out of the Curve”, which was aired a few months before the 2015 Marriage Equality Referendum. Since then she has been an influential force behind both the Irish LGBT+ rights movement and the campaign for greater gender equality within the GAA. 

Mulcahy also highlights the importance of role models and the significance of having someone to look up to. “When I was younger, I lacked that person that I could look up to and see that everything was going to be fine.” Speaking to UCC students at a TEDx talk earlier this year, she cites Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova as role models: “But I couldn’t really relate to them: I didn’t play the same sport as them; I wasn’t from the same country as them, and I certainly didn’t want their hairstyle.” She stresses that having relatable role models could have made her experience a little bit easier, and is determined to be that role model for the younger generation. “If people look up to me and see that it will all be ok, I think that’s a nice thing to be able to do.”

Despite this, focusing on her sport rather than on her sexuality has been a common theme for Mulcahy in the past: she has often stressed that she would like people to know her as a footballer. Speaking at the 2015 launch of the Women’s Gaelic Players Association, which she helped to found, she stated: “Anyone who knows me knows my sexual orientation and it’s not everything about me. They know who I am, they know I’m an athlete and I’d rather if they were talking about my skills and football expertise.”

“I just wanted to be known as the footballer who played well,” she says in this video.

The video is part of SuperValu’s ‘Where You’re From’ campaign, created to encapsulate the shared values of SuperValu and the GAA as the company enters into its 10th year of GAA sponsorship. Mulcahy, who is one of four SuperValu GAA Ambassadors, speaks to journalist Marie Crowe in the video from Pairc Ui Caoimh in Cork, saying that “Where I’m from means a lot to me, and as a Cork woman I’m very proud.. to be part of such a great historic Cork team.”

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