Nowadays, girls and boys have to stop playing together on GAA teams after under 12. But, in the early sporting career of Briege Corkery, one of the most successful GAA players of all time, this was most definitely not the case. She played up to minor level with her local men’s Gaelic football club Aghinagh, as well as playing camogie for Cloughduv and ladies football for St Val’s.

“I used to always be togging off for the men’s minors, I just did it,” laughs Briege. “I would drive into them and if they hit me I wouldn’t care either, that was just the way it was.”

Such is the Cork woman’s mentality that she doesn’t see obstacles, only ways around them, and very much believes in doing what makes her happy. This ethos is evident in every aspect of her life, whether it be sport, family or farming, and is something she intends to discuss next week when she speaks at the Women and Agriculture Conference, supported by FBD Insurance.

“Sometimes we feel because we are women, we shouldn’t do it or we can’t do it, but it’s just a matter of getting out there and doing it anyway. It’s not about being a feminist or anything like that. It’s just literally if you want to do it, do it and enjoy it,” says Briege simply.

“I think most of the time in life I’ve definitely done what has made me happy, that’s the most important thing. Since I was young, football and camogie always made me happy. I tried the piano, I tried school, I tried college – they weren’t for me. Football and camogie were always something I enjoyed. Farming is something I really enjoy too.”

Briege Corkery with her son Tadgh on the family farm in Coachford, Co Cork. \ Clare Keogh

County comeback

Following Cork’s dramatic win over Kilkenny in this year’s All-Ireland camogie final, Briege joined fellow Corkonian and good friend Rena Buckley in being the most decorated GAA player in history, with a whopping tally of 18 All-Ireland medals each. Though such is Briege’s down-to-earth nature, you’d scarcely know it by her.

Getting to the 18th All-Ireland wasn’t plain sailing for Briege. After the 2016 season she could no longer find happiness playing either code with Cork and stepped away from her illustrious intercounty playing career, enjoying some timeout to concentrate on just club.

But, it wasn’t long again before Briege was bitten by the bug and it was the middle of 2017, after being contacted by manager Paudie Murray, that she decided to return to intercounty camogie. However, someone else had other ideas: that someone being the now six-month-old Tadhg, who gurgles contentedly in the pram beside his mother while she speaks to Irish Country Living.

Briege Corkery with her son Tadgh on the family farm in Coachford, Co Cork. \ Clare Keogh

Briege Corkery with her son Tadgh on the family farm in Coachford, Co Cork. \ Clare Keogh

“I had made up my mind that I would go back, that was a Thursday, and I had to ring Paudie the Monday to tell him: ‘I’m out.’ I didn’t give the specifics, Tadhg was in the oven,” smiles Briege at her son. “I put it out of my mind, I thought: ‘That’s it, that’s my intercounty career done.’ I was enjoying my career with club, really enjoying it. I was enjoying more time to myself and I never visualised myself coming back.”

Tadhg was born in late March of this year and with Paudie still persistent on her return, by mid-summer Briege decided to give Cork camogie another go, embarking on a hectic summer of sport. Of course Tadhg, who loves being in the thick of everything, was brought with her.

“He’d go most evenings to training and I have two brilliant nephews who would mind him on the sideline. It’s not easy to get a babysitter every evening and that was the only way of going back. The two boys were delighted to be there, they were picking up sliotars, robbing sliotars and different things, but that was their payment,” she laughs.

The day after Cork camogie’s big win, Tadhg was on the front page of most daily newspapers, pictured in the O’Duffy Cup, face scrunched up and crying. It’s an unfortunate portrayal of the little fella, who is one of the most placid children Irish Country Living has ever met and much more amiable in the pictures we take. However, we have a secret weapon, he’s stone mad about cows.

Briege on the farm with the family dog Hernández. \ Clare Keogh

Farming fit

All the years of playing team sports is clearly ingrained in Briege, who never goes anywhere without her own mini-team, mostly made up of Tadhg and her terrier Hernández, who evidentially thinks he’s a sheepdog when we go out to see the heifers.

Briege is a keen farmer and as with the other aspects of her life, isn’t afraid of getting stuck in around the yard. She was born on a dairy farm near Coachford and has always been very much an outdoors-type person. From a young age she helped out; feeding calves, milking cows, scraping cubicles and putting down beds.

“We were all put to work. Maybe not Mairead, she’s the youngest one. I was the youngest for 10 years and then she came along. She’s a bit of a princess,” jokes Briege. “We were all made do our duties around the yard. It was great for us, something I really enjoyed.”

Briege isn’t a huge gym goer, but farming is a very good outlet for keeping fit, she believes. “You go to the gym and you are lifting 25kg or 30kg weights, throw a few bags of ration into the calves, you’ve your gym session done without going anywhere. It 100% benefits you,” she says.

And farming isn’t the only line of work Briege undertook that kept her physically fit and strong. For four years she worked as a stone mason, which she very much enjoyed and would have continued to do only there was little full-time work during the recession.

Milk and muck

Briege is married to Diarmuid Scannell, who is from a beef farm in Coolea. The pair went travelling for a year and despite Diarmuid having only been in the parlour a couple of times with Briege at home, they ended up milking in Australia and New Zealand. Afterwards, without an acre or a cow to their name, they deciding to get into dairying.

“In New Zealand, Diarmuid loved it. He really learned an awful lot there and when he came home he said that he wanted to go farming,” remembers Briege. “He was very lucky, someone knew someone and it brought us to Mike Bateman in Crookstown. Diarmuid started there for a couple of months for the calving season of 2011 and he’s there since. We are in partnership at the moment with Mike, milking just over 600 cows.”

Heavily involved in managing the herd for a number of years, Briege decided to take a step back in order to work as a schools’ ambassador with Bank of Ireland, a role she is currently on maternity leave from. In the future, Briege says that she can see herself going back to farming full-time and the plan is for her and Diarmuid to build up their cows and lease their own farm in time.

Briege Corkery on the family farm in Coachford, Co Cork. \ Clare Keogh

Undoubtedly, Briege has a momentous year put down, with the arrival of baby Tadhg, a return to camogie and another All-Ireland in the bag. The 16-time duel all-star didn’t play the All-Ireland camogie final this year, but came on in the semi-final against Tipperary. Going back to Cork camogie is something Briege is very happy that she did and she is not committing as to whether or not she’ll play intercounty again next year. So too, she’s not pinning Tadhg into playing GAA either.

“He can do whatever he wants, just not be a pup,” laughs Briege. “I’m not going to pressure him into anything. He can grow up to be who he wants to be. At home, mam and dad always let us do that as well, once we were mannerly to people and were respectful to people. Mam and dad never pushed any of us into camogie, hurling or football, it was just the way it happened for all of us.”

This very much reflects Briege’s mentality – both mother and son will do what they want to do; whatever makes them happy.

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