Briege Corkery: You have to enjoy life off the pitch to deliver on it

Cork icon talks about the key issues facing women's GAA ahead of new Laochra Gael show
Briege Corkery: You have to enjoy life off the pitch to deliver on it

Briege Corkery excelled in both codes. The definition of a Laochra Gael. Picture: Larry Cummins.

WHEN you were as successful as Briege Corkery, it’s tricky to select a favourite moment in the Cork geansaí, considering she collected 18 senior All-Irelands along the way.

The ladies football and camogie icon will feature on TG4’s Laochra Gael series on Thursday, 9.30pm, but speaking ahead of the show, she opted for the 2014 Croke Park comeback against Dublin as the highlight.

“I enjoyed every win. They were all mighty, but 2014 stands out. We couldn’t believe it in the end [having been 10 points down] and looking back we nearly still can’t

Corkery was captain in 2014, sealing a double, which was repeated in 2015, while there was another ladies football All-Ireland in 2016. Yet her hunger was waning.

Towards the end of 2016, I was getting tired of it. I was on the road a lot and we were flat out all the time farming: 12 hour days and then running out the door to training.

“I just had enough. I was humming and hawing in 2017 about going back and four days later, after I told Paudie Murray, I found out I was pregnant.

“I went back in 2018 [collecing another camogie All-Ireland] and I might have regretted going back because in 2018 and 19 I was injured, I didn’t get to play, it didn’t go well. I still had a grá to be playing, but it was too late for me. I got a taste for it again but life has to move on.”

Naturally a positive person, she doesn’t dwell on regrets.

“As sports people we all make mistakes along the way but thankfully I learned from a lot of my mistakes. I don’t think there was a whole pile I’d change, I was very happy doing it and I did the best I could.”

Her career was weaved into the era of Eamonn Ryan, the brilliant but humble coach of 10 ladies football All-Irelands, who sadly passed away last winter.

“We all know how influential he has been. He was such a good manager and such a good people person. We miss him. It’s the end of an era, but we’re so glad we had the opportunity to work with him.”

Briege Corkery takes a picture of Eamon Ryan at the RTÉ Sports Awards 2014. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE
Briege Corkery takes a picture of Eamon Ryan at the RTÉ Sports Awards 2014. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

Corkery also had massive time for Fiona O’Driscoll, camogie manager in the mid-noughties, and was able to balance those dual demands without picking up injuries.

“I was naturally fit I suppose, it was one of my main assets. I was always working physically myself, I was farming, on the building sites as a stonemason, always physically active and nothing beats a natural strength. That’s why I found it hard to go to the gym.

“I’d come back in January a couple of stone overweight and I’d work hard to lose that. I might do a bit of running, or core work or HIIT work at home, but I’d never go running as such otherwise. Since I retired from Cork it’s a learning curve to do gym work.”

One of her secrets was to let her hair down in the winter by putting training on hold.

“I enjoyed my time off and got to meet up with my friends who didn’t play camogie and ladies football and just go out and relax with them. Most of the time, you weren’t able to during the year. 

My motto has always been: ‘we’re here for a good time, not a long time’. I like to stick to that.”

If she was a few years younger, she could well have been on our screens already in recent weeks playing Aussie Rules. A host of talented ladies footballers, including Cork’s Bríd Stack, have headed Down Under lately with the same blend of athleticism, drive and skill that marked Corkery out at the peak of her Cork career.

Would she have liked the opportunity to play in the AFWL?

“I genuinely can’t give a straight answer. I don’t know would I like to be a professional sports person but then if the opportunity had been there would I have gone?”

Corkery has nothing but admiration for Cora Staunton and co but would worry about the exodus of players if the campaign in Australia was longer than the current three-month format.

“The players that have gone out are savagely talented. Cora, Sinead Goldrick... they always performed for their counties. Sarah Rowe has always been excellent for Mayo, Aisling McCarthy as well. Top players, so I’m not surprised they’re doing well.

“The season is short but if it got longer it would be a shame because we want to keep the standard as high as possible in ladies football. Once it remains short there won’t be any issue.”

Closer to home, female sports participation continues to rise but problems remain for ladies football and camogie, with a disparity in terms of financial support and coverage. Corkery’s primary concerns are the ongoing fixture clashes for dual players and small numbers attending matches outside of finals.

Briege Corkery still plays at club level with Cloughduv. Picture: Larry Cummins
Briege Corkery still plays at club level with Cloughduv. Picture: Larry Cummins

“The first thing we need to do is to stop the games clashing. Players just want 24 hours between the matches. There are a lot of games so that’s why there is more clashing. 

There’s a fine line but I don’t think girls, or fellas, should have to make a choice of which sport to play.

“I’d like them to look at how to get people to the quarter-finals and semi-finals instead of just the final. They’re big games as well. So there are a lot bigger things to look at rather than just expenses.

“Maybe counties need to organise buses to go because it shouldn’t be just the finals. They need to develop the sport more that way.

“If you go to a ladies football game there would be more men at it than women. We need to support each other better. Now look I’ve a family of my own and I know it’s hard to drop everything and just go to a match. But I do think there is more interest from a lot of women in the men’s game rather than the women’s game and I would like that to change.”

Cork's Briege Corkery and Niamh O'Dea of Clare battle for the sliotar. Picture: INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan
Cork's Briege Corkery and Niamh O'Dea of Clare battle for the sliotar. Picture: INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan

A lack of proper expenses is also a source of huge frustration for elite women’s GAA players, which was the case throughout Corkery’s stint in Rebel red too.

“I know girls are spending a fortune driving up and down the country and injuries but that was something that never bothered us when we were playing.

“I would love to see the sports all come under the one roof.”

Standards and expectations have risen, helped by social media promotion.

“In general, everything became a lot more serious. Social media probably had a bit to do with that. Towards the end, everybody knew about the games and it became more of a topic. You were promoting ladies football at all times.”

Briege Corkery runs at the Kerry defence. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Briege Corkery runs at the Kerry defence. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

Cork dominated from their breakthrough success in 2005 until 2016, annexing 11 of the 12 senior titles. Now Dublin are firmly in the driving seat, with the resources that hint at an even longer period on top.

“All-Irelands come and go and there will always be a team that dominates. Kerry did it in the men’s game and the ladies, the Kilkenny hurlers did it, we did it. There will always be a dominant team but Dublin’s time will come too, someone will get the better of them. You can only play 15 players on the pitch so counties need to develop their players.

“Money is a huge issue, they have the best of everything in Dublin but I do think it comes in circles and some other county will take over again.”

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