The Echo Rebel Legends quarter-finals: Briege Corkery v Sonia O'Sullivan

The Echo wants you to help pick the best Cork sports star since 1970 to be in with a chance to win a €200 voucher
The Echo Rebel Legends quarter-finals: Briege Corkery v Sonia O'Sullivan

Vote for your favourite Rebel Legends each day.

BRIEGE Corkery or Sonia O'Sullivan? 

The Echo is running a fun contest until March 11 where you can vote for your favourite Cork stars since 1970 and pick the winners in each round until we're left with an overall Rebel Legend winner.

We started with 32 contenders and we're now left with eight, which means there are hard calls to be made every day. This poll will be open until 8am on Thursday morning.

Here's the case for each of the Leeside stars and keep checking here for updates on the winners in each round.

BRIEGE CORKERY

EVERY team has special characters and unique characters — a character both on and off the field, and one who always produces the goods on the big day.

Cork dual star Briege Corkery certainly fits that bill. She loved to celebrate wins with her club and county and was always great fun in doing so. But once she crossed that white line then God help her direct opponent, because, be it football or camogie, they knew they were in for a tough day.

She has been compared to many sports stars, but one comparison rings true when fans said she was like Roy Keane. 

In that, they meant that from the first minute to the last she gave it everything, and such was her fitness levels she was full of running to the end.

To call her inspirational is probably understating the part she has played in Cork’s football and camogie success over the years.

Briege Corkery on the break past Kilkenny's Elaine Aylward. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Briege Corkery on the break past Kilkenny's Elaine Aylward. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

There are many outstanding moments, but one off the pitch in 2016 is one all those in the dressing-room that day will never forget.

Just before Cork headed back out the door of the dressing room for the second half of the 2016 All-Ireland football final, Corkery took to the floor.

Cork had been here before in 2014, trailing Dublin at the turnaround, albeit not by as much, but this time, for some reason, it meant a bit more. The tears shed at half-time by some would suggest so anyway.

Maybe it was because they hadn’t done themselves justice, but maybe it was because this could very well have been the final curtain call for those who’ve battled in red since 2005. Some as young as 15, like Deirdre O’Reilly.

Momentum was with Gregory McGonigle’s Dublin, seeking to oust Cork at the third time of asking, but Corkery’s actions instigated a rise in the tide.

In her hands, she had two photographs. The first she placed on the cold concrete floor at her feet. The second she placed on the wall left of the dressing room door.

“We can either be that person, or we can be that person,” she said, pointing at both, looking around the room. All eyes on her. Not a flicker of an eyelid.

The first snapshot she placed on the floor was that of a crumpled Juliet Murphy lying on the turf in Banagher in 2010. The former Cork captain’s chin is tucked into her chest. Torn. Distraught. 

It’s the 2010 All-Ireland quarter-final loss to Tyrone; the only defeat Cork had suffered in the All-Ireland series since 2005. Corkery doesn’t want to go back there, and she’s not going to allow her team-mates to go there either.

The second snapshot Corkery face-plants onto the wall seconds later is from Cork’s 2014 comeback against Dublin two years earlier. Ten points down with 16 minutes to go, Eamonn Ryan’s troops had been to hell and back to win by a point.

This time the snapshot is of goalkeeper Martina O’Brien jumping in the air at the final whistle. The time is now, the feeling is now, and Corkery reminds those bunkered down in dressing room two what it’s like to feel elation again.

She had just shown them.

She had felt the heartache of defeat two weeks earlier with the Cork camogie team, and she wasn’t in the mood to feel it again.

Upon passing O’Brien’s winning emotion on the wall as they walked back out onto the pitch, the Cork players walk into another win in Croke Park — their 11th — and with it a new era under manager Ephie Fitzgerald.

And that moment sums Briege, a leader by example, but when she spoke others listened and responded.

SONIA O'SULLIVAN

IT’S not an exact science, but a handy rule of thumb is that the greats are known by just one name.

If it happens to be that that’s the case among your own, but not across a wider area, there’s no shame in that, but if a single moniker is a national identifier, then you are certainly in the stratosphere.

So it is with Sonia, and don’t even pretend that you need to be told a surname.

Irish Olympian and 5,000m silver medallist Sonia O'Sullivan with the Olympic Flame. Picture: Brian Lawless/SPORTSFILE
Irish Olympian and 5,000m silver medallist Sonia O'Sullivan with the Olympic Flame. Picture: Brian Lawless/SPORTSFILE

She was only 21 when she knocked five seconds off the world 5,000m indoor record in 1991 and such was her versatility that in that same year she won gold in the 1,500m at the World Student Games in Sheffield and picked up silver in the 3,000m.

In 1992, she set six national records between the 800m and 5,000m, including five in the space of 11 days in August of that year.

Part of such a burst was probably fuelled by disappointment at a fourth-placed finish in the 3,000m at the Olympics, but time was on her side.

There was a real sense that she was building towards the Atlanta Games with silver in the 1,500m at the 1993 World Championships, gold in the 3,000m at the 1994 European Championships and then gold in the 5,000m at the worlds in 1995.

While the 3,000m had been taken off the Olympic roster, she was in good form in both the 1,500m and 5,000m in 1996 and the scheduling looked kind to allow a real tilt at both.

The heats went to plan in the 5,000m, but a stomach upset led to her failing to finish and she was still below her best as she didn’t make the 1,500m final.

Such a blow could have been fatal, but it only improved her resolve. In 1998, she entered the short- and long-course events at the World Cross-Country Championships in Marrakesh and won both.

When the 1,500m and 5,000m were scheduled for the same day in that year’s European Championships, she traded up to the 10,000m and won that along with the 5,000m.

The birth of her daughter Ciara kept her sidelined for much of 1999, but she was back training within a fortnight, ready to target the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

There, she would finally win the medal she so richly deserved, Ireland’s first in track and field since John Treacy in 1984.

In September of that year, she was narrowly pipped by Romania’s Gabriela Szabo as she took silver, setting a new national record in the 5,000m at the age of 30, one which still stands.

A month later, she made her marathon debut, winning in Dublin.

An Olympic medal didn’t mean a swansong, either, as she continued to compete, winning silver in the 5,000m and 10,000 and the 2002 worlds and she took part in her fourth Olympics in 2004 in Athens. 

While she finished last in the 5,000m as she suffered from illness, the ovation from the crowd summed up the regard in which she was held, both at home and abroad.

While it is more than a decade since she has seriously competed, she still holds seven Irish records. They may be beaten in time, but the bronze statue of her erected in her native Cobh in 2015 ensures that she and her achievements will never be forgotten.

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