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OFF CENTRE CIRCLE: Briege reminded us that sport is about much more than winning

April 22nd, 2021 9:10 AM

By Ger McCarthy

OFF CENTRE CIRCLE: Briege reminded us that sport is about much more than winning Image
Cork GAA legend Briege Corkery won 18 All-Ireland senior medals.

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YOU know you are getting old when your research reveals that TG4’s Laochra Gael series was first broadcast on May 28th, 2001.

The show profiles and celebrates the careers of the country’s greatest GAA football, hurling, ladies football and camogie players using archival footage and interviews with the subject as well as their former team mates or managers.

Like a fine wine, Laochra Gael has improved with age.

Twenty years on and there have been many memorable episodes including such luminaries as Mick O’Dwyer, Cora Staunton, Juliet Murphy, Peter Canavan and Jimmy Barry-Murphy.

Up until last Thursday night, my personal favourite was the episode that focused on Offaly’s Johnny Pilkington. Known as a ‘maverick’ off-the-cuff player, Pilkington was a terrific hurler and someone who enjoyed the social aspect of GAA as much as the competitive side.

Much to his many managers chagrin, training was never the be all and end all for Johnny. More often than not, the mercurial hurler managed to get the job done.

Briege Corkery might be cut from the same cloth as Pilkington except the former went on to become one of the most successful dual ladies football and camogie players of all time.

Hopes were high that Corkery’s Laochra Gael episode would deliver something special and the show’s producers didn’t disappoint. Stories of Corkery enjoying a drink – or two, she laughed –the night before a big championship match or storing skittles and Mars bars in her camogie skort will not have surprised those who know her best.

But Corkery’s achievements far outweighed the unconventional manner in which she achieved them. Maybe it was milking close to 600 cows every morning or possibly working as a stonemason that helped develop the All-Star’s incredible fitness levels. Footage used in last week’s TG4 episode included multiple clips of Corkery scoring at one end of the pitch before producing incredible blocks at the opposite end.

Adored by her team mates and respected by her opponents, Corkery blazed a successful trail with Cork’s football and camogie squads throughout a trophy-laden career. Always up for a laugh and a joke, she was able to balance the seriousness of inter-county training with making sure everyone enjoyed a bit of craic too.

It was telling that when asked about her greatest achievement, she picked a team rather than an individual accolade. The Cork ladies football team won the 2014 RTÉ Team of the Year award. Voted for by the public, Cork’s ninth All-Ireland title in ten years saw Corkery and her team-mates elevate ladies football to the nation’s attention. That award meant more to Corkery than any All-Ireland medal.

Some of the most interesting scenes in this Laochra Gael episode were those that included her husband Diarmuid, children Tadgh and Nonie plus mother Kitty and father Michael Joe. Family is and always has been the most important thing in Corkery’s life. One of nine children, she grew up in the parish of Aghinagh and, by her own admission, enjoyed plenty laughs and the odd argument with her brothers and sisters. Clearly, her happy childhood prepared her for dealing with the demands and pressures of competing at inter-county level.

The overwhelmingly positive social media reaction to Corkery’s Laochra Gael appearance encapsulated why the 18-time All-Ireland winner is loved by so many people both inside and outside Cork. One tweet suggested a Netflix series dedicated to the Corkerys would be an instant hit.

Corkery’s honest and down-to-earth approach to life plus her admission that the medals never mattered as much as the friendships and bonds formed during her time with Cork was refreshing to hear.

At a time everyone is clambering to get back out on a pitch, a decorated ladies football and camogie All-Star reminded us of what’s really important when it comes to sport. Medals, cups and championships come and go. The people you meet, the friends you make and the memories you create are what the GAA should be all about.

It took a Laochra Gael episode with Corkery to remind us of that.

Fitting then, that my new favourite episode of the TG4 production concluded with Corkery and the only other GAA player to match her for inter-county medals, Rena Buckley, together on a pitch. Two of the GAA’s greatest ever players casually pucking a sliotar back and forth and all the time laughing and joking. Two giants of their respective disciplines yet the humblest people you could meet.

There will be many more TG4 Laochra Gael episodes but none will touch Corkery’s for honesty, sheer fun and a reminder that sport is about so much more than winning.

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