Cora Staunton's one last mission before heading Down Under
All-Ireland club title with Carnacon would send her to Greater Western Sydney Giants smiling
Cora Staunton of Carnacon with the Dolores Tyrrell Memorial Cup during a LGFA All-Ireland club finals captain’s day at Croke Park in Dublin. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
How are you?
You haven’t the heart to tell her that it’ll be 29 degrees in Sydney on Sunday when she’s taking to the field at Parnell Park for the All-Ireland club final, but Cora Staunton has no one but herself to blame for the delay in her departure to Australia.
If she hadn’t scored 1-6 against Kilkerrin-Clonberne in the replay of the Connacht final, or 1-7 against St Macartan’s in the All-Ireland semi-final, she’d be baking in the Sydney sun by now, having been scheduled to arrive there on November 10th to commence her Australian Rules career.
“That’s when my contract started, but the club in Sydney have been very good,” she says, “that was the agreement, I wouldn’t be going over until the club championship finished.”
Considering Carnacon hadn’t reached a final since 2013 – having appeared in seven in eight years from 2006 – Greater Western Sydney Giants might have thought that the chances of them going all the way this year were slim enough.
But if anything it was the pain of Mayo’s 12 point defeat by Dublin in September’s All-Ireland final that drove on the Carnacon players, 10 of whom began the year on the county panel, five of them – Staunton, Martha Carter, Fiona McHale, Marie Corbett and Doireann Hughes – in the starting line-up that day in Croke Park.
They were back training with Carnacon the Thursday after the final, and had a county semi-final on the Sunday. “When your year ends badly it’s great that you can just step back in to club football, in to a winning mentality,” says Staunton.
“That’s probably half the reason I’m playing as long, when you leave Mayo after a disappointing season you’re going in to a club with very similar minded people, there’s a culture in the club for winning, we don’t really know much more. This is our ninth club final and I’ve been involved in all of them, as a lot of the girls have. They mightn’t get as many headlines, but they’re the mainstay of our club.”
“It’s different to Mayo, it’s very community-based. And it’s important that you’re never too focussed on Mayo, that you’re not leaving your club behind. We came home from the All Stars and went club training and you’re just back to being a normal person again, one of the gang. You’re 35, but you’re running beside a 14- or 15-year-old in training, slagging them, there’s great banter between us. As older players we’d feel an onus to look out for the younger girls in the team, you’re constantly minding them, whether it’s bringing them to training, whatever it is, you’re just guiding them through. The older girls put the arm around them and look after them, but at the same time we give them plenty of slagging and don’t let them away with too much.”
“So, I haven’t really even looked back on it [the All-Ireland final] or talked much to many people about it because our focus was on club right after. We’ve had matches six out of the last 10 weekends, and I had a trip to Australia in between, so it’s been all go. There wasn’t much time to dwell on it. Probably no harm. But yeah, looking back, it was very disappointing. I was reliving a few of the bad memories on Saturday night at the All Stars.”
And it was on Saturday night that Staunton collected an 11th All-Star, putting her level with Kerry’s Mary Jo Curran at the top of the list. She’s proud of the achievement, but nothing makes her prouder than success with her club. She has won five All-Ireland club titles with them, her sights are now set on six.
“I suppose for us it’s been a bit of a wait since 2013, but like any club you have to go through a bit of a transition. We’ve been at the top in club football in Mayo for the last 19 years, we won our 16th Connacht title a couple of weeks back. We’ve been at the top for so long people expect so much of us all the time, but we lose players every year, three or four from last year.
“So for the club it’s great to be back. A lot of the more established girls on the team are getting older, we’ve a huge gap between older and younger, it’s about trying to bridge that gap and get the younger girls enough experience for times ahead when we won’t be there.”
Sunday’s opponents are Cork’s Mourneabbey who are seeking their first ever senior club title having lost both the 2014 and 2015 finals. “It’s a unique pairing, we’ve never played Mourneabbey before. But they had about five players in the Cork set-up this year, so we’d know their established stars well, like Ciara and Doireann [the O’Sullivan sisters] and Brid [another O’Sullivan, but no relation]. They’ve been there or there abouts, they just haven’t got over the line, so we know it’s going to be very difficult.”
What if there’s a replay?
“There’s an agreement with the club [Sydney], I’d be staying at home for it,” she says. “I’ve been trying to keep my focus on Carnacon, but I’m looking forward to Australia. It’ll probably be when I’m flying to Abu Dhabi that I’ll get in to the AFL mode. I have my first training session on Saturday morning.
“I’ve been trying to do a little bit outside of club football to get used to the oval ball, sometimes I bring it to training, a couple of the girls come down to the pitch with me, kick it back to me and stuff, learning to get the kick right and all that.”
Wait and see
The same girls are wishing her well in Australia, but hoping too they’ll have Staunton back with them next year. It’s wait and see, though.
“I’m due back in April when the season finishes, I’m contracted ‘til then. And I won’t make any decision about the future until then. Physically I don’t know what shape I’ll be in coming home. I should be in better shape having gone out to a professional environment, but this is month 12 of the season, from next week I have to fit another four in, so whether the body will be able for that, and how the mind is come April, if I’m able to go for another season, who knows.
“I’ve made that clear to the new Mayo management team, I won’t be making any decisions until I come back. Would my body be able for another couple of months with Mayo? I could be in great shape, or I could be the opposite.”
Saturday will be spent packing, then she’ll focus her mind on Sunday’s final. It’s almost two decades since she captained Carnacon to their first county title, when she was just 16, and in 2002 she captained them to their first All-Ireland success. Before she sets off for Australia, she’s intent on raising that trophy once again.
“Please God I’ll be on the plane Tuesday evening with an All-Ireland medal in the back pocket,” she smiles.