Just before Cork headed back out the door of dressing room 2 for the second-half of yesterday’s senior All-Ireland final in Croke Park, Briege Corkery took to the floor.
Cork had been here before in 2014, trailing Dublin at the turnaround, albeit not by as much, but this time, for some reason, it meant a bit more. The tears shed at half-time by some would suggest so anyways.
Maybe it was because they hadn’t done themselves justice, but maybe too it was because this could very well be the last curtain call for those who’ve battled in red since 2005. Some as young as 15, like Deirdre O’Reilly.
Momentum was with Gregory McGonigle’s Dublin, seeking to oust Cork at the third time of asking, but Corkery’s actions instigated a rise in the tide.
In her hands she had two photographs. The first she placed on the cold concrete floor at her feet. The second she placed on the wall left of the dressing room door.
“We can either be that person, or we can be that person,” she said, pointing at both, looking around the room. All eyes on her. Not a flicker of an eyelid.
The first snapshot she places on the floor is that of a crumpled Juliet Murphy lying on the turf in Banagher in 2010. The former Cork captain’s chin is tucked into her chest. Torn. Distraught. It’s the 2010 All-Ireland quarter-final loss to Tyrone; the only defeat Cork have suffered in the All-Ireland series since 2005. Corkery doesn’t want to go back there, and she’s not going to allow her teammates go there either.
The second snapshot Corkery face-plants onto the wall seconds later is from Cork’s 2014 comeback against Dublin two years earlier. Ten points down with 16 minutes to go, Eamonn Ryan’s troops came from hell and back to win by a point. This time the snapshot is of goalkeeper Martina O’Brien jumping in the air at the final whistle. The time is now, the feeling is now, and Corkery reminds those bunkered down in dressing room 2 what it’s like to feel elation again. She’s just shown them.
She felt the heartache of defeat two weeks ago with the Cork senior camogie team, and she’s not in the mood to feel it again.
Upon passing O’Brien’s winning emotion on the wall as they walk back out onto the pitch, the Cork players walk into another win in Croke Park — their 11th — and with it a new era under manager Ephie Fitzgerald.
For Corkery, it’s her 17th senior All-Ireland medal, and who do you think she inspired most during her turnaround talk? That of her dual star comrade, player of the match Rena Buckley.
The Donoughmore woman collected her 11th Celtic Cross in football; she also collected her very first MVP award in a senior ladies football All- Ireland final.
The legend of Corkery and Buckley is already living, and before it’s too late it has to be immortalised. A decade ago they inspired a young girl watching the 2006 All-Ireland final against Armagh from the stands. The scoreline that day was the exact same as yesterday’s — 1-7 to 1-6 — and peering down in awe was a future Cork captain, Ciara O’Sullivan.
For the second September running, O’Sullivan has climbed the Hogan Stand to raise the Brendan Martin Cup, and it’s in no small part to the inspiration of Corkery and Buckley a decade before.
They started and have maintained something extraordinary, and the general GAA public in Cork needs action, not words — it’s time to honour two of the greats.
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