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Dublin: 6°C Tuesday 15 June 2021

'He put his life, his heart and soul into it... when he's not there, that's the hard part now'

Carnacon and Mayo ladies football legend Jimmy Corbett passed away earlier this year. A celebration of his life and legacy.

“JIMMY’S LOSS TO Carnacon and Mayo is incalculable but he leaves behind a legacy that will endure for generations to come.”

- LGFA President Marie Hickey, March 2019

jimmy-corbett The late Jimmy Corbett. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

A legacy that will endure for generations to come, indeed. 

Jimmy Corbett built ladies football powerhouse Carnacon from the ground up. He really was the architect of a footballing dynasty out West.

One half of the club’s long-serving dynamic duo and one of the most influential coaches in the game, Corbett had been at the coalface of one of the most successful sides in the country since its foundation in 1986. And at inter-county level, too. He put an incredible amount of work into Mayo ladies football.

Sadness swept across the parish, the county and the country in late March after Corbett’s death. He was 74. He had suffered with illness from time to time over the past few years, but his passing was sudden and unexpected.

It’s something many are still coming to terms with over eight months on, though celebrating his colourful life and reflecting on his stellar achievements help. The memories are endless.

And “Jimmy’s other daughter”, Cora Staunton, is happy to offer a few of her own to honour his memory. Corbett’s name is one she has mentioned time and time again through the years.

She’s spoken glowingly of him and of Beatrice Casey, and how they have always been a central part of her glittering career. They’ve just always been there. 

“When I was about nine or 10, Jimmy and Beatrice would have been a constant at our house,” Staunton tells The42. ”I come from quite a big family. My mom would have been a housewife and my dad was a farmer, and with eight kids they were very, very busy.

Jimmy and Beatrice would have come to bring me to training all the time. They just lived over the road so my parents wouldn’t have to be bringing me to training. Jimmy’s car pulling up outside the house, me with the Carnacon gearbag on my back,” she smiles, reflecting on her earliest memories of her only club manager.

“I’d head off with them and I could be gone for the day. A Mayo match, a Carnacon match, whatever it would be.”

It was the same when she started to climb the Mayo underage ranks, with the dynamic duo heavily involved in the Green and Red set-up. Corbett was U14 and U16 manager and Casey was on the county board, so they’d ferry Staunton around the country.

“Every day, they were pulling up at the house to pick me up and drop me off,” the 11-time All-Star and now AFLW ace laughs. “I’d spend full Saturdays and Sundays with them going off to matches or wherever.

They were constantly looking after me and minding me. The Corbetts do laugh, I was like Jimmy’s other daughter even though he had four, so he didn’t need any more!

Marie and Michelle are his two daughters who are involved with the team, but truth be told, every Carnacon player was like a daughter to Jimmy Corbett.

Staunton was just four-years-old when the club was founded, but she has vague memories of the early, early days. Now six-time All-Ireland champions, with 16 Connacht crowns, 21 — 20 of those in-a-row — county titles, and all of those in the senior grade, it’s hard to recall the days when they didn’t even have a place to train. 

carnacon-celebrate-after-the-match After Carnacon's last All-Ireland win in 2017. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Corbett came up with a Plan B right beside his house.

“I was very young at the time, just watching training. I wouldn’t call it a pitch now, it was a field with a lot of hills in it,” Staunton laughs.

“He had training on a pitch, a field he owned across from the house. I remember we used to train over in Ballyglass as well, part of the parish, a place where they used to hold the annual sports. Again, the facility wasn’t a pitch.

“But anywhere with a bit of green space when there wasn’t a pitch around, he’d have us out there. He was very inventive like that.

Jimmy was most happy when he was out on the pitch, watching us train or at matches, travelling to matches and talking about football. That’s what he loved doing, whether it was men’s or women’s.

“He especially loved the women’s game. He just loved seeing young girls going out and enjoying football, having the craic, whether it was travelling away for Féile, for the All-Ireland Sevens, going watching us play in Croke Park, whatever it was. That’s the happiest he was, when he was on the sideline.

“Even analysing the match a couple of hours later whether it was in the pub or celebrating or whatever, that’s what he loved. He loved everyone being together.”

That’s the hardest part now. 

To put it simply; his absence.

But he’d never let that be the case with someone else, Staunton assures. 

Manager until he passed away, that team — and the Carnacon girls — was Corbett’s life.

“He was very heavily involved in the club in general,” she nods. “He’s the person that, if someone said they didn’t want to play football or give up, they’d have to be well aware that Jimmy would be calling to their house and knocking on their door to try to convince them to come back.

“Underage players, senior players; he was brilliant at getting young girls to come out and play. He’d spend hours on the road calling to them, trying to persuade them to play or to come back or whatever the situation was.

There wasn’t a house in the parish that he hadn’t been in in some way trying to get a young girl out to play football, which was amazing when you think of it. He put his life, his heart and soul into it.

“He’s the man that formed it 33 years ago now. Essentially it’s his club, he’s been there right from the start, up to the last couple of months. He’s been there through it all.

“Anything that we’ve won, it’s been attributed to him and to Beatrice, really. They’re the ones that have been there through everything. From the formation of the club right through to winning our last All-Ireland in 2017, whatever we’ve won underage as well.”

It wasn’t even all about winning.

Corbett made sure that younger girls saw the fun of the game, and the enjoyment associated with being involved. He just had a way with youngsters, his caring soul and his larger than life character bringing them all on board.

But at the same time, he was an excellent coach.

“He had a very good side in the coaching regard, and teaching us all the basic fundamentals,” Staunton adds.

“A lot of people would have said that about Carnacon underage players coming through: they were very good at the basic skills; soloing left and right, kicking with your left and right. That was something that was drilled into us by Jimmy all the time.

“We have many memories, and Jimmy would have talked about memories before even I came along with him… bringing 10 or 12 girls in his car to a match! You wouldn’t have as many options of buses and stuff at the time. 

He a charismatic man. Jimmy would have travelled the length and breadth of the country. He knew everyone and everyone kind of knew him. He was just renowned for being a football man, whether it was within Mayo or outside. Everyone just knew him wherever they went.

“Still now, anytime you meet anyone that played football through the years, that’s the first thing they talk about — Jimmy, and the memories and stuff.”

In the days and weeks following his passing, several Mayo players were up for interview at media events, and each and every one of them had a few touching words for the man himself. 

Everyone involved in Mayo ladies football have their own special stories about Corbett.

He coached Sarah Rowe for two years at underage level.

“Ah, me and Jimmy had such a good relationship,” the Kilmoremoy star smiled through sadness at the time. “He was one of those people… when I’d see him after a game at the pitch, honestly it would just light me up.

“We got on so well. He was just the nicest, most genuine man you’d ever meet. It’s absolutely devastating for Mayo and for Mayo football. He really was a true Mayo supporter. He was just a great man, we all loved him.

What he’s done has been unbelievable and his legacy will live forever. The memories of Jimmy Corbett will last forever. Me and my family, we just all loved Jimmy. He was just such a special man, he’ll be sorely missed in Mayo but you can be sure that his legacy will live on.

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Moy Davitts forward and Mayo captain Niamh Kelly, who played on the same teams, echoed Rowe’s sentiments: “Jimmy was a great man. He was a legend of the game really.

beatrice-casey-and-jimmy-corbett-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle With his long-time joint-manager Beatrice Casey. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“He put years and years of time into ladies football. It must have been tough for Carnacon, and really shook them. He was a great man to us, very loyal.”

And Staunton, of course, is well versed to share how his passing shocked the club and the community. The 38-year-old was in Australia at her Aussie Rules base when the terrible news came. 

“I got a call on a Friday night — obviously a Friday morning Irish time — to say he dropped dead at home,” she frowns. “A sudden heart attack.”

For Staunton, it was a difficult one to process. She flew home the next morning, but only for a fleeting visit to pay her respects. An injury kept her in Australia for longer than planned following her return, so the grieving process was almost put on hold again.

“Until you’re home and around it, and you’re going to Carnacon training and he’s not there… For me, personally, it kind of hit then. Like, ‘Oh, God,’” she explains.

It was very, very strange. He had a huge impact on ladies football. He’s probably the main reason why women’s football in Mayo has been so strong over the last 30/35 years.

“The funeral probably told that — especially the night of the removal in Carnacon and even the next day in the church — the amount of women and young girls and girls that played under him years ago, the amount of people that came to the community centre in Carnacon to pay their respects showed the amount of respect people had for him. And how many different girls and women’s lives that he touched through football.”

One thing that did hit home around the time of the funeral was the amount that Corbett had achieved.

“The night of the funeral in the community centre in Carnacon, lucky enough, Teresa McGing, Michelle’s mom, had scrapbooks kept from over the years. And I mean, she must have had 40 scrapbooks.

“It was lovely to see memories from early days, when we were winning Féile back in ’95 and stuff like that when Jimmy was involved. 

“What he’s achieved… I suppose you forget what he has achieved as a manager, it’s been phenomenal. Again, the night of the funeral, there was a board done up of everything he had achieved. I couldn’t even go through a quarter of the stuff he achieved as a manager.

But he just loved it. Jimmy just lived for football, and he loved it. At club training or whatever, you turn around waiting to see him and he’s not there any more. That’s the hardest thing. It was probably the hardest thing this year not seeing him on the sideline.

“There were very few matches where Jimmy was missing. A couple of years ago he had to get his hip done, and that’s probably the only match that I remember ever that Jimmy had missed.”

The void he has left is one that could never be filled, that’s for sure.

cora-staunton-after-scoring-a-goal Staunton in action for Carnacon. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

It’s understandably been a tough few months for the club and for the family, and it’s only going to be more difficult through their first Christmas without Jimmy. 

“Again, that’s the hard part now… after a victory or something when he’s not there, it’s just very strange,” Staunton stresses. “We’ve been used to him being on the sideline for so long, when he’s not there, that’s probably the hard part now. The part that we’re getting used to this year.

All the girls are like his extra daughters, like. Especially the older girls who have been around for a long time: the McGings, Fiona McHale, Martha [Carter] and all of these girls that have been playing for a long, long time underneath him. That’s what they’ve grown up with. He’s just like an extra father figure to them all.

But his life, and his legacy, must be celebrated.

“It’s a huge blow for the club but all we can do is try and continue to honour him the best way we can,” Staunton concludes. “We’ll do that as long as our bodies and the mind will let us do that.”

And that, they will.

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About the author:

Emma Duffy

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