Cora Staunton ready for more practice but less pressure in AFLW
‘It is the draw of a new challenge as a sportsperson who wants to be challenged’
Mayo GAA footballer Cora Staunton and Alan McConnell, coach of Great Western Sydney Giants, at Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney, Australia at a Tourism Ireland event with President Michael D Higgins.
Learning the rules of the game. That’s the biggest challenge Mayo full-forward Cora Staunton sees in playing Australian Rules football for the Great Western Sydney Giants for the first time from the end of January.
It will be a steep learning curve if the 35-year-old four-time All Ireland title winner is to adapt to life quickly in the professional AFLW - from learning the basics of handling an oval ball to mastering new skills Down Under.
“I don’t really have much time to learn it because the season starts at the end of January so it is going to be a very quick turnaround,” she said, speaking after an event at the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney attended by President Michael D Higgins as part of his State visit to Australia.
Staunton concedes that learning new skills at an older age will be difficult and will inevitably require more practice. She accepts that it is “a bit more physical” to GAA women’s football but there will be less pressure too.
“When I play any of the ladies football games at home, there is huge pressure on me every day to go and out and perform. There might not be as much pressure on me here because I am only picking up the game,” she said.
She followed the likes of Kerry’s Tadhg Kennelly, Zach Tuohy from Laois (still playing with Geelong) and the late Dubliner Jim Stynes as well as her Mayo compatriots, brothers Pearce and Cian Hanley who all took the professional path to Australia.
“It is the draw of a new challenge as a sportsperson who wants to be challenged and try to make yourself better,” said Staunton.
When you get the call to come over and see a professional set-up for a couple of months and play a different sport - no, it wasn’t a difficult decision
She intends to draw on her two decades of experience playing Gaelic football at home and being a 10-time all-star, and share that experience in only the second year of the Aussie Rules women’s league. Switching between sports is nothing new to her having won an FAI Women’s Cup winner’s medal and played club rugby union too.
“While an amateur sport [GAA], it is a very professional environment. I am hope to bring what I have learned in the last 20 years and help them and maybe some of the younger players within the club,” she said.
The decision to be draft pick 45th out 46 for the Sydney team this week and becoming only the second Irish player in Australian Rules women’s football (after Cavan’s Laura Corrigan) was not a difficult choice.
“I am an amateur sports person playing sport in Ireland for over 20 years and I suppose when you get the call to come over and see a professional set-up for a couple of months and play a different sport - no, it wasn’t a difficult decision,” she said, standing next to Alan McConnell, the head coach of GWS Giants.
Playing a professional game and not to have to work a couple of months a year was not the only draw. Her brother and sister-in-law and their children live in Sydney and the weather was also an attraction too.
“Maybe not for me because I am struggling already in the heat,” she said, checking her view of the Sydney sunshine after a series of training sessions in the 34-degree Australian temperatures this week.
Asked what pushed the club to recruit Staunton, coach McConnell lists off some of her qualities: “Her values, her attitude, her work ethic, her desire to be really good at what she does.”
“We are a very young club. We are developing a new club in this market place. I think when you build a new club and a new team, you want people with good values,” said McConnell who works at the GWS Giants with assistant coach Nicholas Walsh, the former Cavan footballer.
“You need to build a good fan-base and there’s no question that Cora has all of those qualities. She is also successful in everything she does and we want to be a successful team and we think she can make a contribution.”
McConnell recognises Staunton’s commitment to her club, Carnacon, and her county and that she will come under pressure to deliver in a “really condensed fashion.”
“She is a very loyal woman and doesn’t want to let down her club or her county, and we are fortunate that our season allows that to happen. We have been waiting to have her come out here now for many months,” he said.
The whirlwind visit to Australia has brought its challenges for Staunton. She flies back to Ireland on Saturday and will be out training the following day in preparation for the Connacht final with her club against Leitrim champions Kiltubrid on Sunday week.
“It has probably been a bit hard on the body but it has been very exciting and the club has been brilliant,” she said.
Staunton will be hoping for as long a club season as possible before heading to Australia; McConnell less so.
“I can only say that behind her back,” he said with a laugh.
Her gruelling travel and training commitments this week has convinced him of Staunton’s potential.
“This lady’s a pro,” he said. “That’s why we’re going with her.”
That and “some Mayo magic,” he said.