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'With broken bones at least you can still train away in some regard, but the back injury was very difficult'

Cora Staunton didn’t make it to her 23rd inter-county season without playing through the pain barrier.

CORA STAUNTON READILY admits she’s “a physio’s worst nightmare.”

Then again, it’s unlikely she’d be well into her 23rd year of senior inter-county football if she was content with looking on from the sidelines.

Launch of the 22nd Fexco Asian Gaelic Games Cora Staunton was in Croke Park for the launch of the 22nd Fexco Asian Gaelic Games Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

The Mayo great struggled with a back complaint during the earlier part of the summer but is happy to report she’s fit and raring to go ahead of today’s All-Ireland quarter-final against Donegal.

Staunton missed a three-week block of training in the lead-up to last month’s Connacht final defeat to Galway after suffering the injury during a routine session.

“I don’t know how I did it,” she tells The42. “I was fit to play but I’d missed a lot. It’s improved a lot in the last number of weeks, so it’s good.”

She reckons it’s the first year in a while she’s had a nagging injury during the season, but the four-week break before the qualifier clash with Kildare gave her ample time to regain full fitness.

The Lilywhites got a front-row seat to Staunton’s return to form. She took them for 1-11 and left her back injuries, ahem, behind her.

“I needed the long gap. It’s probably not good for everyone but because I was carrying an injury for about a month and I couldn’t get it right, the gap has been good for me. I’ve got a lot of training under my belt that I needed because of the time I missed.”

Olwen Carey and Sinead Finnegan with Cora Staunton Staunton in action against Dublin during their Croke Park league meeting in March Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Sitting out for a few weeks didn’t come easy for Staunton. Remember, this is the same player who started an All-Ireland final with a broken collar bone and played for three years on a torn cruciate. She’s made of sterner stuff.

“I’m very cranky (when I’m injured),” she says. “I’m the physio’s worst nightmare because I try to take max one session off and then I’ll try go back and make the injury worse. I’m not very good taking breaks. I need to be there because I hate missing training.

“When I hurt my back they didn’t want me doing anything at all, not going near a football and kicking. If I’m at training you’re still bound to be kicking around or stand in goal. I’m a nightmare patient when I’m injured because I just want to be playing.

“At times I’ve had broken bones and at least you can still train away in some regard, but the back injury was very difficult because you couldn’t really do anything. I was trying to do it and only making it worse.”

The fact she’s happy to train away on broken bones goes a little way to explaining the mindset of one of Ireland’s finest ever athletes. Staunton has been lining out for Mayo at the top-level since she was 13. It’s all she has known for the vast majority of her life.

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She’s 35 now. At some point in the future, she’ll have to call it a day. Since her mid-to-late 20s, the media have been inquiring about her retirement date and she’s been giving them the same answer.

“I’m being asked it the guts of seven or eight years at this stage. Once your body is fit to keep playing, once you’re enjoying the sport and being challenged. I want to get better all the time. Even though I’m 35 you’re trying to get better.

Cora Staunton at the end of the game Staunton after losing the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final last August Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“You might be slowing down or be as good as one thing, but you’re trying to improve something else. Whether it’s dummies, solos or whatever. The younger girls keep you on your toes. I still want to be at the top of the sprints and be as good as the 21-year-olds.

“I really enjoy the game and would you know life without it? You’re going have to know very soon what life is like without playing football.”

But don’t be fooled, she’s not sticking around just for kicks. It’s been 14 years since she last climbed the mountain with Mayo. By the time Staunton was 21, she had four senior All-Ireland medals to her name. Then a generation of remarkable Cork footballers came along and made the championship their own, winning 11 All-Irelands in 13 years.

Staunton is still chasing a fifth medal. Countless team-mates have come and gone without experiencing what it means to lift the Brendan Martin Cup.

The burning ambition is to bridge the gap and help a new generation feel the euphoria of bringing an All-Ireland back to Mayo. God knows they’ll be waiting long enough for the men to do it.

“You still dream you’re good enough to get back into Croke Park and get an All-Ireland medal and maybe that’ll satisfy you,” she says.

“The ultimate goal is to get back to Croke Park on All-Ireland final day. I’ve been lucky enough I’ve won four All-Irelands but there’s only me and Yvonne Byrne in the team that has played and won All-Irelands.

“I’ve so many good friends on the team that has never got a chance to play in Croke Park on All-Ireland final day, let alone win a medal. I’d love to see them get an opportunity to do that while I’m around, whether it happens or not who knows.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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