Briege Corkery believes ‘natural strength’ played key part in her longevity

Cork dual star admits returning in 2018 wasn’t the happiest of experiences

Briege Corkery and her son Tadhg after Cork’s victory over Kilkenny in the 2018 Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship Final at Croke Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Thursday is in some ways the ultimate Laochra Gael programme on TG4. Briege Corkery has 18 senior All-Ireland medals. Although her former team-mate Rena Buckley has the same career haul, it's safe to say that we'll wait a long time for anyone to empty a comparable stash onto the table for documentary cameras.

It’s been a pioneering trail from debuting in Cork’s first football win in 2005 and in an involvement with the county in both codes that lasted until 2018, Corkery accumulated 11 football titles and seven in camogie.

For the most part, she was a durable, athletic middle-third player with a spirited attitude that helped to define a number of death-defying recoveries by her teams, especially a couple of famous comebacks against the Dublin footballers.

“Definitely, I was naturally fit. That was probably one of my main assets. The other thing about it then was I was always working physically myself – I was farming, on building sites and stonemasoning so I was always physically active.


I suppose I liked to meet up with friends as well who did not play camogie and football

“Nothing beats natural strength so I suppose that’s where I found it hard to start going to the gym, I wasn’t used to it and didn’t like going. Thankfully I just had physical jobs at the time.”

As a lifestyle it spared her endless gym routines and a few road sessions even if occasional re-adjustments were necessary after lived-up close seasons but she always found it relatively easy to re-assert control.

“Maybe if I’d come back in January a couple of stone overweight, I would work as hard as I could to lose some of it and get as fit as I could. I might do extra training on my own, running on my own or core work and HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts at home on my own but I never really go running as such.

“Everyone is different but I enjoyed my time off. I suppose I liked to meet up with friends as well who did not play camogie and football. It was lovely; you could go out and relax with them. Most of the time you would not have been able to go out with them during the year so that was my time of the year to enjoy myself and have a bit of crack.”

Cork’s Rena Buckley and Briege Corkery were named joint winners of the Irish Times Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Year award in 2015. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Her dislike of prescriptive, modern training techniques and the demands of managing a dairy farm with her husband Diarmuid were factors in finally convincing her to retire in 2016 but having agreed to come back the next year, Corkery discovered “four days later” that she was pregnant.

Although she decided to return in 2018, it wasn’t the happiest of experiences and in contemporary interviews she was uncomfortable with the suggestion that her comeback was purely about equalling Rena Buckley’s 18 medals.

Corkery is more concerned with practicalities such as the fixtures chaos between women's football and camogie that has affected her even in high-profile matches

“I went back in 2018 and regret going back when I did more than I regretted not going back in ’17 because in ’18 and ’19 things didn’t go my way. I was injured and didn’t get to play and things like that. Now I have this grá to be still playing. That’s my regret – that I got a taste for it again in ’18 and ’19 but I just think that life has to move on, too.”

She has seen the dynamic shifting in the relationship with men’s sports but still feels that equality is a while off. One of the many voices within the women’s games who would like to see an amalgamation under Croke Park, Corkery is more concerned with practicalities such as the fixtures chaos between women’s football and camogie that has affected her even in high-profile matches.

She is asked about Dublin camogie's Ali Twomey, who spoke only recently about the 'demoralisation' caused by the discrepancy in expenses compared to the men's game.

“The way I look at it I don’t think we should be too worried about expenses and all that yet. I think we must go back to the basics and worry about no more games clashing. That would be the first step.”

Similarly although the disparity in attendances between the men’s and women’s games were a frustration, this never really upset her.

“Not at all. I had conversations with other girls but crowds at matches didn’t bother us. If it was in the paper or not didn’t bother us. The way I looked at it, I was there for the football and to have a bit of crack and please God, we won at the end of the year.

“We didn’t worry too much about getting the free gear and stuff like that. We’d be fierce excited come the All-Ireland to get the new gear bag and tracksuit. We were easily pleased.”

Easily pleased? You must be joking.

*Briege Corkery will feature in the third episode of the latest Laochra Gael series, on TG4 this Thursday at 9.30 pm.