‘I was happy enough to slip away’ – 18-time All-Ireland winner on retiring, regrets and an incredible career

Updated Apr 4th 2021, 12:00 PM

BRIEGE CORKERY DESERVES a lot of credit for how she managed to execute the Irish goodbye on this one.

Briege Corkery [file photo].

Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

It almost deserves a spot along with her already weighty list of achievements that includes 18 All-Ireland medals across the Ladies football and camogie codes.

She slipped away behind the curtain without any fanfare. No applause, no streams of tributes on social media or a sit-down interview for a sign-off. A quiet exit was always how she envisaged the end of her inter-county career and she managed it somehow.

“Yerra, I don’t know, I’ll see,” was the typical response she offered whenever anyone made inquiries. 

Even on social media, where whispers spread wildly and quickly, no-one could catch her as she left. 

Almost two years into her retirement from playing football and camogie for Cork, Corkery is up for the Laochra Gael treatment. She joins a star-studded cast of fellow GAA icons who all feature in the 19th season of the show.

“I was humming and hawing a long time about doing it,” Corkery tells The42 about her initial reluctance to be featured in the programme which will be aired on TG4 this Thursday night at 9.30pm.

“I suppose when I was finished, I was finished and I was happy enough. I suppose Mairéad and Catherine, my sisters, they were like, ‘Do it for Mam and Dad, it’d be nice for them to watch it.’ And in years to come, maybe for my own family to watch as well.

“That was really the turning point. I’m cringing every minute I see the word Laochra Gael come up,” she laughs. “So I’m not looking forward to it but it’s done and it’ll be nice for my parents and my aunts and uncles and people who supported me all the way.

“It was a nice way to thank people for all their support and I hope it comes across that way.”

There’s a lot to unpack in the Briege Corkery story. The accolades and achievements in sport are one aspect of the tale, but there’s a lot more to her life story.

Coming from a family of 10, pursuing a job as a stone mason and her habitual drink the night before an All-Ireland final are all interesting elements that come up in Corkery’s programme.

She spent a year in Australia with her then-boyfriend and now-husband Diarmuid, and was also struck with viral meningitis. 

The extended format of the Laochra Gael episodes allows viewers to see more than just the on-field persona that they already know, a change which Corkery was happy to see coming in.

People sometimes formed misconceptions about her based purely on what they saw when she was on the pitch.

“I remember being at an All-Stars one time and one of the girls came up to me and said, ‘You’re nothing but a fitness freak, I bet you.’ And thankfully Nollaig Cleary was beside me and she was like, ‘You definitely have the wrong Briege.’

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I gave everything when I was on the pitch. I always trained and trained as hard as I could. But once I’m off it, that’s it. I don’t hold grudges off the pitch too much. When we’re beat in a game, I like to support the team that has beaten us.

“I don’t go out to play to be put in the paper or things like that. That’s the way I’ve always taken it.

“As a player, people can take you very differently. I love looking at them and seeing the personality of them. You’re a totally different person on the pitch than you are off it and I’ve always said that about myself.”

Corkery’s last official games in a Cork jersey were the 2016 All-Ireland ladies final against Dublin, and the 2019 All-Ireland camogie semi-final defeat to Galway. 

She also made an appearance at the 2018 Ladies inter-pro competition.

In 2017, she informed Cork camogie manager Paudie Murray that she was committed to play that season. A few days later, she discovered she was pregnant with her son Tadhg.

She returned to the panel in 2018, featuring in their All-Ireland semi-final win over Tipperary and was an unused sub in their decider win against Kilkenny.

2019 proved to be her final campaign with the Cork camogs. But nothing official ever followed to confirm her departure.

“I thought I was done in 2017,” Corkery expalins. “I was walking away. I remember having a conversation with Frankie Flannery and he said to make a decision. And I said, ‘What if I want to go back though?’

“I genuinely never thought I would go back. And then 2018 came and I did go back. I just wanted to slip away anyway, that was always going to be my thing.

“I do remember Linda Mellerick texting me saying, ‘Briege, what’s your story? I don’t think you should go as quiet [as this] after all you’ve won.’ I think I was pretty rude, I don’t think I even replied for ages. I just didn’t want to make a thing out of it and I suppose I was leaving off the inevitable. I didn’t want to make it final.

“There’s a small bit of regret that I went back in 2019 because I was disappointed with how I finished. And it wasn’t because we lost, it was more that I didn’t perform. My year went against me.

“I got injured, things went against me and it kind of left me in limbo land. In 2017, I was done and I was happy to be done. Part of me was saying, ‘I should have just stayed done.’

“I thoroughly enjoyed ’18 and ’19 but there’s just a part of me in limbo land thinking I should go back and give it another go. But time has just ran out.”

Ask Corkery for her standout memories and a few things get an instant mention.

“You’ll never be as fit again,” she laughs down the phone.

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Feeling fortunate to have achieved what she did alongside the players she shared a dressing-room with is another highlight for her. The craic and the stories from within the Cork camp and their nights out together get a nod too.

Of all the matches she played, Corkery immediately points to that famous All-Ireland Ladies final in 2014 when Cork resurrected from 10 points down to defeat Dublin. She fondly recalls their 2007 victory over Mayo as well, while also remarking on their win over Monaghan in 2013 “cos I nearly lost it for us.”

Eamonn Ryan [file photo].

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Éamonn Ryan gets a special dedication from Corkery too. The mastermind behind Cork’s success passed away earlier this year following an illness.

“Now that he’s passed away you’d be thinking, ‘God, we were really lucky to have him in our lives.’ You appreciate those kind of things.

“I spoke to him around Christmas, he was looking for a number for someone. We were chatting on the phone for a bit.  

“I’d have rang him a couple of times over the lockdown to see how he was doing. They’re the things you like, that you can pick up the phone to them all the time and it’s a great to have those times with them.

“I remember being out on the road here and we used to do these famous three-track runs and this was maybe a week or two after he passed away. I was out on the road and I was doing the three-track runs and I was like, ‘D’ya know what, I want to do something different. I’ll text Eamonn now and see what were the 45 runs. And then I realised, I can’t.

“He did so much for so many people and held everyone in such high regard. It was lovely looking back at what people said about him and stuff.”

Corkery says that there’s no on-one left in either Cork camp from when she started out. Time moves on as new waves of talent pour in.

But life is still busy for Corkery. She gave birth to a second child recently, with the arrival of little Nonie to the flock. Farming life is busy too as calving season continues.

“We won those medals because there was a gang of us together,” Corkery says reflecting on it all and the way she wanted to slip away to retirement unnoticed.

“I didn’t want to make anything out of it. I was happy enough to slip away and say nothing. If they remember you, they remember you, if they don’t, that suits me just fine. I’m happier if they wouldn’t.”

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