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Celebrating The Unique Gaelic Football Genius Of Colin Corkery

Celebrating The Unique Gaelic Football Genius Of Colin Corkery
By Gavan Casey

"Lazarus was a great man, but he couldn't kick points like Colin Corkery."

On the 25th of August, 2002, I was sitting with my father in the lower Cusack Stand. It was the All-Ireland football semi-final, and Kerry led Cork by 2-15 to 2-7 with about 15 minutes remaining.

Both sides had been reduced to 14 men after Fionán Murray of Cork and Kerry's Tom O'Sullivan downed their tools and got stuck into each other. Murray was one of the most gifted and yet ill-tempered forwards I've ever seen, and if memory serves he seemed to almost mount O'Sullivan not in a dissimilar manner to how a jockey would a horse, although his red card was later rescinded.

The game was over as a contest, but despite my youthful protestations my father was adamant that we not give the buoyant Kerry fans the soot of waving us 'cheerio', as we watched a couple of thousand Corkonians trudge out onto Jones Road with their tails between their legs. Truth be told, I don't think he could have suffered the indignation.

There's a unique, internalised strand of resentment endured by Cork fans when the footballers get annihilated by our neighbours to the west, particularly when we've already beaten them in Munster just months previous. It's our annual check-up with Dr. Reality. Maybe it keeps us grounded. It would ultimately get the better of Cork captain Colin Corkery that sunny evening.

Corkery was the pitch-level embodiment of a Cork football fan. Vocally disenchanted with a number of refereeing decisions and doubtless aware that the game was beyond his side, he snapped, lashing boot to ball after referee Brian White had whistled for a Kerry a free-in about 40 yards from Kevin O'Dwyer's goal.

Manhandled by Séamus Moynihan from minute one, the corner-forward had been contemptuous towards White all game. But as soon as the ball left his foot and took off in the referee's direction, the look of mortification on his face would have been visible from McGrath's on the lower Drumcondra Road. It wasn't that he didn't mean it - he absolutely did - but it was a split-second decision born of red mist, an almost reflexive swivel and swing provoked by the colours he was playing against. He knew he was gone.

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Corkery was duly shown his second yellow card for what would later be described as 'histrionics', but few from Cork held him accountable for the Rebels' humiliation at the feet of the old enemy that day. Most of us kicked that ball with him. Cork fans kicked every ball with him. He loved playing for his county.

The Boot

It was the only red card of the gentle giant's career, but perhaps the biggest surprise was that he failed to hit the target; equally prolific off either foot, Corkery was widely regarded as one of the country's finest free-takers throughout his career. To quote my housemate, a Mayo man, on hearing his name:

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I remember watching him put one over from the sideline - it must have been about the halfway line - for Nemo one day. Such a boot on a man. Jesus wept.

Indeed, it was more than just the power and accuracy of Corkery's boot for which he became a cult hero. Long before Gavin Henson broke the mould in rugby, Cork's talisman blew a hole in the continuum of GAA footwear.

In 2003, at the grand old age of 32, the big man began to don a pair of white Adidas Predator Manias, his own name emblazoned along the much-coveted tongue. To put his choice of boot into context, the only other GAA player wearing white Preds at the time was Ciarán McDonald.

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It was the ultimate two-fingered gesture to critics from Corkery, who for years had faced scrutiny over his physical appearance; even allowing for the increasing social awareness towards body-shaming in 2016, it's not unreasonable to say he was a gargantuan specimen relative to the typical high-level athlete on his return from heart trouble in 2002.

Indeed, the latter stages of his career struck as a perpetual battle to 'prove his fitness': off the pitch, you'd scarcely see Corkery televised outside of the confines of a gym, where he'd usually be filmed riding an exercise bike. Prove his fitness he did, however, duly silencing many particularly cruel fans who suggested his weight and heart issues were embroiled in a 'chicken or egg'-type scenario.

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In truth, the extra few pounds simply added to the spectacle when he nonchalantly landed points from outrageous distances. Corkery was the archetypal 'mystery talent' - a heavyset individual with a penchant for the freakishly sublime, a predilection for producing moments of magic that the fittest athlete in the same craft could only dream of. Matt Le Tissier was the Colin Corkery of the Premier League.

Corkery's comeback season may have ended in a sending off and a 3-19 to 2-7 defeat against The Kingdom, but it also produced one of Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh's most storied quotes:

Colin Corkery on the 45 lets go with the right boot. It's over the bar! This man shouldn't be playing football! He's made an almost Lazarus-like recovery from a heart condition! Lazarus was a great man but he couldn't kick points like Colin Corkery!

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The Legend

It's easy to forget that the Nemo man's senior sporting career began in Carlton, Australia. One of the 1989 'Gang of Five', he jetted off as a reigning All-Ireland champion at under-21 level and spent two seasons playing AFL, during the first of which Billy Morgan's Cork won their second-most recent title at senior.

Despite being a surprisingly superb fielder of a ball, he didn't make much headway Down Under, returning to Ireland in '91 and immediately joining up with the Cork panel. He would have to wait until the 1993 Munster Championship to make his senior debut, but when the day finally arrived Corkery hit Clare for 2-5, adding a penalty to this blistering strike (while also being christened 'Kieran' by a then-unfamiliar Martin Carney).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppRAoN504VA

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Corkery's first championship season ended in All-Ireland defeat to Derry, along with his first and only All Star award.

The latter is difficult to fathom considering the corner-forward's strike rate over the course of an inter-county career that spanned 11 years: In 32 Championship appearances for Cork, the big man notched a remarkable 32 goals and 182 points.

But if Corkery's name never quite joined the pantheon of inter-county greats, he must surely be considered one of the finest club players of his generation.

A minor county champion in '89, Corkery graduated to Nemo Rangers' senior ranks, starring in the side that trounced Castlebar Mitchells 3–11 to 0–8 in the 1994 All-Ireland club final. It would take seven years for Corkery and Nemo to qualify for another national final, but from 2001 onwards they reached three on the spin.

The '01 final was famously delayed due to Foot and Mouth disease, with a Ciarán McDonald-inspired Crossmolina edging Rangers by a point despite a late Corkery goal. The following year, Corkery picked up his third county and provincial titles respectively, with Nemo falling to Ballinderry in Thurles while Croke Park underwent reconstruction.

In 2003, the hoodoo ended. Captained by Corkery for their 2002 county campaign, Nemo had become the first team in almost 60 years to win three Cork county titles on the spin. The momentum of a 4-15 to 0-6 victory over Monaleen in the Munster final at the turn of the year propelled the South Douglas Road club towards Croker the following March. Crossmolina again provided the opposition, but six points from Corkery - including an inspirational lead score in the 58th minute - saw Nemo repeat the feat of '94, earning the captain his second All-Ireland winners medal at the third time of asking.

In 2005, Corkery called it a day having won two All-Irelands, four Munster titles and four county titles with his beloved club. He's currently involved with manager Steve O'Brien's backroom team.


Due to the quiet conclusion of his inter-county career in 2004 and subsequent avoidance of punditry or other such gigs, Corkery's achievements have been grossly understated over the past decade. He's probably fine with it, but a player of his ilk is seldom seen, and worthy of at least the odd highlight reel.

In reality, of course, there is no such thing as a 'mystery talent'. But not many men could kick points like Colin Corkery.

This piece originally appeared on Balls.ie on March 14, 2006

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