Rena Buckley and Briege Corkery the first among equals

Cork pair share Sportswoman of the Year award following another outstanding year

There's a story in Mary White's book Relentless that begins with Rena Buckley driving through Macroom on a Saturday night in 2011. It's just short of midnight and the streets are teeming with the usual post-pub, pre-club crowd. Buckley's eye is caught by two figures moving faster than everyone else down the hill at the far end of the town.

A pair of women in their early 20s, zipping down the footpath on rollerblades, ducking through the hordes. Steadier on their feet than most of those in Saturday night shoes, they slalom their way through the crowds and finish by skating straight through the front door of the nightclub at the bottom of the hill.

Next morning, Buckley runs in to Briege Corkery and falls into stitches telling her about the daredevil duo from the night before.

“You should have seen them!” she laughs. “’Twas gas!”


“Yeah?” replies Corkery with a big smile. “Sure, wasn’t I one of them!”

It is not a story that would surprise anyone who has come across either of the joint winners of the 2015 Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Year Award.

Rena Buckley and Briege Corkery are night and day, just about as different as people as it is possible to be. Yet they will be forever entwined nonetheless, holders of a record that it’s nigh-on impossible ever to see broken.

When they hugged on the pitch at the end of this year's All-Ireland football final victory over Dublin, they became the first players in the history of Gaelic games to reach the milestone of 16 senior intercounty championships. Ten in football, six in camogie, passing the record of 15 held by Dublin camogie player Kay Mills.

Heaving mantelpieces

Mills won her last All-Ireland in 1961 at the age of 38 so her record stood for 54 years. Buckley is still just 28 and Corkery only turned 29 on Wednesday last. Who knows how much longer they’ll both play for? Or how many they’ll have against their name when the time comes?

Numbers can be blinding but it’s worth laying them out here all the same. In terms of titles, they have those 16 All-Irelands plus the following – four camogie leagues each, nine football leagues for Buckley and eight for Corkery (on account of Corkery having gone travelling in 2010 and missing that year).

Individually, they have their own heaving mantelpieces to point to.

Corkery has nine football All Stars, six camogie All Stars, two Footballer of the Year awards and in 2008, she took home the Texaco award for camogie.

Buckley has five football All Stars and four for camogie.

Both have led the walk up the steps of the Hogan Stand to lift the Brendan Martin Cup on All-Ireland football final day – when Buckley took the microphone in 2012, she delivered a word perfect speech in Irish.

The perennial juggernauting of the football team over the years has tended to obscure the fact that one of the great camogie teams in history has been hiding in plain sight.

Cork have won six All-Irelands in 11 years, a record matched only by a couple of teams since camogie began as an organised sport. Mills’s Dublin teams did it a couple of times and the great Kilkenny side of the 1980s managed it too.

It’s all the more admirable when you take into account their rocky start. Buckley and Corkery have never lost a football match in Croke Park but their initial introductions to the big house were not happy ones.

A 16-year-old Corkery came off the bench in the 2003 All-Ireland camogie final defeat to Tipperary, while a year later a 17-year-old Buckley was wing-back as Cork came up short once again to Tipp.

Few, if any, saw one of the best camogie teams of all time rising out of back-to-back All -Ireland final defeats but rise they did, with Corkery and Buckley at the heart of them.

Individual personalities

On the pitch, they are both the physical expression of their individual personalities.

Buckley is the calming presence, unfussy in possession, invariably taking the right option with football or sliotar.

Corkery is more of a wild card, perpetual motion the length and breadth of the pitch. She plays almost like a rugby number seven – wherever the action is, she is.

If all they did this year was hang around and pick up their 15th and 16th All-Ireland medals, it would still have been some achievement.

What sets them apart, however, is just how crucial they both were to the titles Cork won in 2015.

Corkery was Player of the Match in the All-Ireland quarter-final and final in football and scored the winning goal in the camogie final. Buckley was the dominant midfielder of the year in football and didn’t concede a single score to the players she marked in the knock-out stages of the camogie championship.

Both of them were All Stars in both codes. To put that achievement in context, only one other player has ever managed to win football and camogie All Stars in the same year, their erstwhile teammate Mary O’Connor. Yet this was Buckley third time to do it and – unbelievably – it was Corkery’s fifth.

With neither of them yet turned 30, there’s simply no telling where they will end up.

For now, they are the first ever joint winners of the Sportswoman of the Year award. Long may they roll.