It was a wild, wet and wintry December morning when I arrived on Michael Bateman’s farm in Crookstown, Co Cork, in search of Briege Corkery. But alas Briege was nowhere to be found. At least, that is, nowhere in the vicinity of the house.
And so, bracing myself for the elements, I headed up to the yard, seeking the 17-time All-Ireland winning football and camogie star and, sure enough, I soon find her up to her armpits in work. In oil skins, drying off cows, and generally in the thick of it.
Briege is an outdoor girl; it’s where she is happiest.
“Yeah, we’re drying off some cows right now alright,” Briege says. “It’s quickly becoming a quieter time of the year.”
And it certainly is a quieter time for a girl who spent her summer playing a full-time role on the pitch and also in the milking of a 540-cow herd.
With many dairy herds expanding to extraordinary levels since the collapse of the milk quota wall, milk production partnerships have become very popular. Briege and her husband Diarmuid Scannell are involved in such a dairy partnership enterprise with Crookstown-based dairy farmer, Michael Bateman.
A 36-unit herringbone milking parlour delivers the goods from the Jersey-cross cows, with the milk supplied to Dairygold Co-Op.
“We share the production costs and get a percentage of the milk cheque. It simply means more responsibility around the yard and encourages you to work harder. It’s a partnership that is working well, for all of us on this farm,” Briege says.
Briege began her working life as a stone mason.
“I was never one for the office job, as you might guess,” she says with a laugh.
“I have always loved the outdoors and I enjoyed my time with Kieran Lehane as a stone mason, but unfortunately due to the downturn in the economy a few years ago, I had to leave it behind.”
And from the hammer and chisel, Briege moved onto the scalpel and calving jack, spending the next four years working with Muskerry Veterinary Clinic in Macroom.
“I really had a great time with the gang in Macroom, they are a terrific bunch and of course I learned a lot about animal welfare from my time with the vets. But when the opportunity came here on this farm in Crookstown to get into shared milking, Diarmuid and I decided to go for it.”
So now she finds herself back on a farm, familiar ground really for a lady who grew up on a dairy farm just a few miles from Macroom. Briege is the second youngest of a family of 10 — her brother Sean now runs the family farm.
“When I was younger I always loved farming. Any chance I got I would be outside helping my father and brothers. I have always liked working with animals, and driving the tractor, when I got the chance.
“Like many other families growing up, we all had our chores to do, girls were mostly kept inside, but I’d would always be looking to skedaddle outside.”
And what is her view on women in farming? I ask, as more and more join the ranks. Is Briege all for an increased role for women in farming and in agriculture in general?
“I suppose some might believe I’m a feminist because of my commitment to football and camogie, but I’m not. And honestly, the topic of women in farming doesn’t bother me.
“Yes, through farm meetings and discussion group gatherings you will see more and more women attending, and this is great. But I think really, if you want to get involved in farming, whether you’re a man or a woman, just do it. Don’t make a big deal about it, just do it and give it 100%. At the end of the day, it’s what makes you happy that is the most important thing.”
I read a report during the summer which claimed that Briege had no difficulty in milking the 540 cows before heading off to play a match. I asked her about this. Was it true or was it the ravings of a mad journalist?
“When it comes to playing matches I like to stick to routine,” Briege says. “It keeps me grounded. Milking cows on the morning of a match makes it feel like any other day, and then heading off to the match is no problem as far as I’m concerned.”
And looking beyond the parlour, indeed looking beyond the playing fields, I ask about the future. Has she done any thinking about life after sport, perhaps going into the bar or pub business like many more sporting heroes down through the years?
“My sister Catherine and her husband Jason run a pub, and from time to time, I’ve done bar work, I enjoyed it, But I also enjoy sitting at the other side of the counter.
“At the moment with work and sport commitments, it’s a non runner. Perhaps sometime in the future. But for now I’m very happy where I am.”
Deep hatred of losing is All Ireland winner’s secret to success
“It’s not that I have a great desire to win, its more the hatred of losing that drives me on,” Briege Corkery tells me when we discuss her motivation on the playing field. “And this is really the motto for the team, we simply don’t like to lose.”
And her love of sport began at home with her father Mike Joe Corkery, who played football with Aghinagh in his younger days, before increased commitment on the farm forced Mike Joe to focus on other matters. But the interest in sport remained.
“Gerard Coakley, the principal of Rusheen National School, I would have to say, was the person who got me started in sport.
“Gerard promoted football and camogie at our national school even though it wasn’t a very big school. Rusheen school at the time had about 30 pupils enrolled.
“I was in first class and they were short a player for the Sciath na Scol. So he asked mam could I play camogie with the school team. And sure to get a game in first class was great. I was away.”
And while success evaded Rusheen National School at their first attempt of Sciath na Scol, they reached the final in year two, losing by a point.
Not a bad result, for a school with a student population of 30.
While both the football and farming fields are calmer at this time of the year, Briege is still on the move.
I met her at Macroom Mart on Saturday doing a spot of celebrity auctioneering, and spreading a bit of Christmas cheer for charity in the process. She was on hand to sell cattle donated by farmers in aid of Temple Street Children’s Hospital, Crumlin Children’s Hospital and Marymount Hospice.
Briege is happy to do what she can at events like this and will always sign those autographs or stand in for that all-important selfie.
“It’s nice to be acknowledged and of course you help out in any way you can,” she says.
And how did she do with the auctioneering in Macroom mart on Saturday you might wonder. Well she performed just as good as she does in Croke Park. In a nutshell, she did a lot better than many well seasoned men in the auctioneering game.
“Here we have an animal with a fine ass, a bit like my own,” she quipped to the cheers of a packed mart as the first Limousin appeared in the ring. The straight talker with more sporting accolades that anyone else in the history of the GAA had no problem in getting the charity auction off to a flying start.
No problem whatsoever, for the All-Star with her feet firmly on the ground.