Cork dual stars Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley both picked up their 17th All-Ireland senior medals in 2016 – 11 in football, six in camogie – so we challenged DENIS HURLEY to find out more about these living legends of Cork sport
THEY’RE renowned as dual stars in ladies’ Gaelic games, so it’s hardly surprising that the sporting prowess of Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley would extend even further than that.
Two unrelated stories centred around distance running provide vivid examples of the dedication and single-mindedness that has seen the pair each win 17 senior All-Ireland medals across ladies’ football and camogie for Cork – the latest arrived in the 2016 All-Ireland ladies senior football final.
Gerard Coakley, the principal of Rusheen NS, where Briege was educated, recalls one particular race that, by rights, she shouldn’t have run it at all.
‘She was, and is, a ball of energy,’ he says.
‘I remember the time the cross-country was on, say, a Wednesday and she had broken her hand at the weekend. I didn’t even consider that she’d be involved but Wednesday morning she comes in with the gear on.
‘I said, “Where you going?” and she says, “Off to the cross-country, my mother says it’ll be fine, I’ll throw off the sling”. She won the cross-country at a canter, I couldn’t believe my eyes, she went down the back straight and she was 20 or 30 yards ahead of everyone else.
‘She was undaunted by that, whereas someone else would be moaning and groaning.’
Similarly, Juliet Murphy – no slouch when it comes to putting in the hard yards – can remember Rena raising the bar.
‘When she joined Donoughmore, I suppose she was 13 or 14 at the time, she used to do a lot of cross-country running,’ she says.
‘Mossie Barrett would have been our coach and he was great for physical training, so we wouldn’t have seen the ball much early in the year. When the pitch at Lackabawn was being built, when there was no pitch effectively, we were running up and down the hills under bare light.
‘I used to cycle to training, thinking that I was going above and beyond what was required, but one night Rena, as part of her cross-country training, did 16 laps before we started properly.
‘That really, for me, sums up why Rena has been able to do what she has done. Even at that age, she was so driven and so focused in whatever she was doing that it was 100 percent. Another person would have maybe foregone football training to focus on the cross-country but Rena was always doubling up in sports.’
Inniscarra camogie legend Irene O’Keeffe backs up that view of the player who inspired the club to the county senior championship again this year.
‘Rena and her twin Mary, I would have trained them at U12,’ she says.
‘We got to a county final that year and Rena was ruling the roost from centre-back, from very early on you could see that she was something special, that she was going to make it.
‘Her drive and her ability to read the game and the way her performance lifted everyone else around to play well too. Rena will never say much but she’s a bit like Paul O’Connell, you’d follow her into anywhere because she leads by example.
‘She was doing everything when she was a kid, Irish dancing and the whole lot, she was a natural athlete.’
Rena played Sciath na Scol with the Berrings NS boys’ team while Briege wasn’t afraid to mix it either, so much so that she became a figure of fear, as Gerard Coakley relates.
‘A fairly respected man in mid-Cork that I’d know, he said to me that when she used to be playing against the boys of the club he was involved with, they’d be keeping an eye out beforehand to see if she was there, as she’d have so many games she might miss one or two.
‘He said, “I could know straight, if Briege was there, their hearts would go down a small bit. Then, there’d be a spring in their step if she was missing”, she had the boys terrorised!’
Juliet Murphy endorses that story.
‘My first memory of Briege was when my brother was involved with Donoughmore U14s, they played Aghinagh and he came home and said, “There was a girl playing for them and I’ve never seen anything like her”.
‘She used to carry the ball an awful lot when she came into the Cork team first, I suppose because she was so fast, but she developed her skills very quickly and adapted to playing on a county team.’
When she was in fifth class, Briege helped Rusheen to a Sciath win and those same qualities present then are still pushing her.
‘In the thick of the action, that’s where you’d put Briege, there was no point putting her in the corner,’ Coakley says.
‘She was at the centre of everything and she was a very strong player, even at that age.
‘The best thing of all was her attitude – she just did it and that was it. She has balanced St Val’s, she has balanced Cloughduv, Cork ladies, Cork camogie.
‘They’ll throw five games in the week at her and she’ll play them all and never complain because she loves playing.
‘She’s an inspiration, absolutely, and she comes back year after year with the other girls on the Cork panels and she’d help out no matter what you wanted. She has this positive attitude all the time, nothing is any bother.’
Clearly, nice guys – and gals – don’t necessarily have to finish last and Irene O’Keeffe has similar tales regarding Rena.
‘She always looked after herself and never did anything silly,’ she says, ‘she got the rest and sleep she needed and ate right, even from a young age she was always doing the right things.
‘Having said that, sometimes you had to tell her, “Rena, you’re not training tonight, you need a break”. From a club perspective, 99 percent of the time she’d turn up and once she turned up she’d want to train.
‘Off the pitch, she’d make sure to set the example for everyone else. She’s the most dedicated club player I’ve come across, even with all the national titles she was won it still comes back to the club. She’s at the meetings and arranging the trainers, the club is still where her heart is.’
They’ve been there so long, it seems like they always will and the cliché or missing something or someone when they’re gone will apply. Juliet Murphy is confident that they can, and will, go on their own terms and it won’t be a case of physical demands catching up.
‘One might look at Rena and Briege and think they’re missing out socially or whatever, but for the girls it’s always the sunny side.
‘Physically won’t be the challenge for either of them, it’ll just be choices for them, choices of life changing and life moving on.
‘They’ve seen changes with management in both codes, the seismic change was Ephie (Fitzgerald) taking over from Eamonn (Ryan) but they showed they were able to adapt and I’m sure they both had important roles in the leadership they had to show.
‘There’ll just come a time when they’ll make a choice and that’s the nature of it.’