Briege Corkery, the Rebel superstar who broke records on her own terms

Laochra Gael put the spotlight on Cork's dual ace who along with Rena Buckley picked up 18 senior All-Irelands
Briege Corkery, the Rebel superstar who broke records on her own terms

Briege Corkery when was Cork captain in 2014. Picture: Paul Mohan/SPORTSFILE

A FEW years back, a Cork ladies soccer squad spent a bonding day at an adventure centre which also had a military assault course, fully designed to test the endurance and toughness of visitors.

It was real boot camp stuff, but the competitiveness of the group naturally came to the fore when they were pitted against each other. 

When one of the girls asked the course leader what the record was for the individual time, they were blown away by a target that seemed near impossible.

‘Are you sure that’s right,’ one of the girls asked. ‘Who managed to complete the course in that time?’ 

‘Briege Corkery who plays camogie and ladies football for Cork,’ came the reply.

Corkery was the ultimate team player but she still always sped past new frontiers, blazing her own trail, always doing things her way, however she saw fit.

In her Laochra Gael episode shown last Thursday, Corkery spoke about always having one drink, maybe two, in Bealnamorrive the night before a championship game. 

When she started out first, Corkery used to keep a packet of skittles or a Mars bar in her skirt, nibbling on them before the second half. 

“She didn’t need any dieticians or anything,” said Geraldine O’Flynn on the TG4 programme.  “She was well able to keep going on the fuel she was taking in.” 

Corkery always got there in the end. Before one of her first All-Ireland ladies football finals, she missed the train to Dublin. 

Corkery just shrugged her shoulders and got the next train up to Dublin on her own.

Convention was always irrelevant. Corkery used to be a stonemason. 

Milking a herd of 540 cattle on the morning of championship games was more than just a routine. 

“It keeps me grounded,” Corkery once said. 

Milking cows on the morning of a match makes it feel like any other day. Then heading off to the match is no problem.” 

Corkery’s energy and drive defied convention and science but Corkery never put much thought into what she did, or how it looked – she just did it.

She was once asked her view on women in farming. 

“I suppose some might believe I’m a feminist because of my commitment to football and camogie, but I’m not,” said Corkery. 

“If you want to get involved in farming, whether you’re a man or a woman, just do it. Don’t make a big deal about it, just give it 100%. It’s what makes you happy that is the most important thing.” 

Corkery’s attitude was always governed by simple and basic principles – hard work can always make impossible goals seem reachable. 

Deirdre O'Reilly, Briege Corkery, Geraldine O'Flynn, Valerie Mulcahy Bríd Stack and Rena Buckley with Eamonn Ryan and Frank Honohan after winning their 10th senior All-Ireland football titles. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Deirdre O'Reilly, Briege Corkery, Geraldine O'Flynn, Valerie Mulcahy Bríd Stack and Rena Buckley with Eamonn Ryan and Frank Honohan after winning their 10th senior All-Ireland football titles. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Corkery’s career was a mirror image of how she played – perpetual motion, driving forward, chasing back, hunting for scores, always busy, all done without a hint of self-consciousness.

The next target was the only one that ever mattered. 

The 18 All-Ireland medals won by Corkery and Rena Buckley are like chapter titles of an incredible story of achievement and personal excellence. Despite not generating the status or profile of lesser achievements, the epic tale they wrote still had far-reaching implications for female sports.

When there was a fixtures stand-off last winter between five Cork dual players and the governing bodies of the camogie and ladies football associations, such a scenario could not have happened without the determination of Corkery and Buckley. 

The stoic and honourable way in which both players went about their task added more credence to the cause - Corkery and Buckley did more than anyone to legitimise the notion of female dual players at inter-county level.

Despite the fixtures logjam, which often saw them both having to play inter-county camogie and ladies football fixtures on the same day, Buckley and Corkery just focussed on the next challenge, which was the attitude instilled in them by the late Eamonn Ryan.

They didn’t set out to create such an enduring legacy, but their incredible success ensured they did much more; that Cork team brought ladies football into the bright light of the mainstream; they were voted RTÉ Team of the Year. 

When Ryan passed away in January, the massive outpouring of love and affection for him reflected his wider impact on the GAA community. Ryan and his players created a unique identity and left an indelible imprint on the GAA consciousness. 

As the joint-most decorated GAA player in history, Corkery’s showing on Laochra Gael was inevitable. Buckley already had her episode screened by TG4 in 2019.

In the first 10 series of Laochra Gael, there were only two female players involved, both of which were on the one programme – Ann and Angela Downey from Kilkenny.

In the last nine series’ though, there have been 10 female players, with four of those from Cork; Corkery, Buckley, Juliet Murphy and Ashling Thompson. That number underlines the massive impact a bunch of female Cork players have had on the GAA over the last two decades. 

TG4 obviously want to spread the net wider and include female GAA players from around the country. But there’s certainly any amount of Cork players from that generation, both camogie and ladies football, that could yet be featured on the programme. 

One on Gemma O’Connor, who retired in February, with nine senior camogie All-Ireland medals and 11 All-Stars after a career that spanned nearly 20 years, seems inevitable down the line.

The names don’t just reflect their deeds and achievements but also the impact they left on the game, and beyond it. 

Because so many of those female Cork players have rightly earned a reputation as some of the greatest players in the history of the GAA.

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