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16 for 16: The most important Irish athletes of the last 100 years - Cora Staunton

The long-time Mayo servant may well be the definitive ladies footballer of her generation.

CORA STAUNTON IS the subject of the 11th in a series of articles focusing on the most important Irish sportspeople of the last 100 years. The list will include GAA players, Olympians, boxers, golfers and more who dared to dream.

We had 15 in the class and it was half boys and girls. (Arthur Ó Súilleabháin) pushed the idea of all sports. I was the only one who picked up Gaelic football and ended up being quite good at it. And he pushed me all the time to go out playing with the lads. Some of the girls had no interest in football and that was fine. So I ended up as the only girl on the team. And that made it a mixed team.”

Cora Staunton was born in 1982, the second youngest of eight children of James and Mary, who spent a lot of time of the family farm helping with the milking of cows. When not needed there, she’d cycle the three miles to train with the local U10s, alongside her brother.

It became clear quite quickly that Staunton was a special talent, terrorising boys who were at first embarrassed to be marking a girl but soon had red faces from attempting to chase her as she raced through on goal time after time.

With her club she played alongside Mayo forward Alan Dillon and often outscored him and was called up to the Mayo senior ladies team in 1995 at the age of just 13.

Cora Staunton Cora Staunton continues to tog out for Mayo after two decades. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

That same year, her mother was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1998, a year before Mayo won its first All-Ireland senior ladies title.

Suffering a rare injury, Staunton broke her collarbone in training the week before the 1999 final. However, such was her role in getting them there, the team elected to start her in that game anyway before substituting her after 90 seconds.

A year later, still aged just 18, Staunton was celebrating a second title, this time playing a much bigger role in the final.

In a powerhouse display that would become her trademark, she terrorised the Waterford defence, scoring 2-2 in a 3-6 to 0-14 win.

Staunton would suffer the first All-Ireland final loss of her career the following September when a controversial late free-kick gave Laois the win but victories in 2002 and 2003 meant she had four Brendan Martin Cups to her name at the age of just 21.

Showing just how much of a warrior she is, in that 2003 season, Staunton tore her cruciate against Laois in April but still went on to capture the All-Ireland title. Indeed, in a remarkable display of courage, Staunton didn’t actually get her knee operated on until January 2008 and was back playing in June without missing any football.

While Mayo have not won a senior All-Ireland crown since 2003, Staunton has been the dominant player of her generation, picking up 10 All-Stars for her troubles and finding herself as the top scorer in championship action year after year.

Source: LadiesFootballTV/YouTube

She’s also starred for her club, Carnacon, helping them to five All-Ireland club titles since 2002 and four finals in a row between 2010 and 2013, winning two.

Along the way, Staunton has shown no signs of slowing down and as recently as June 2015 found herself scoring 9-12 in a club game just one week after starring in the Connacht senior final. 

Away from the pitch, Staunton has not been afraid to speak out about the issues facing the women’s game in Ireland and, when asked by Newstalk if her Mayo team got to train in McHale Park very often, replied:

No! God no. We might be lucky if we get it before a Connacht final.”

Her day job sees her working as a liaison officer with women from the Travelling community in Mayo and, with the help of Ballina Stephenites has used Gaelic football to help those women and their families feel less isolated.

Given that her inter-county career has now lasted 21 years, few could doubt Staunton’s influence on the sport both in terms of encouraging new participants and putting bums on seats.

But perhaps her greatest legacy is that, even after two decades, she’s still fighting for her sport, she’s still determined to be the best and she’d still probably leave a lot of male players in her wake were she given the opportunity.

Over the next two months, in association with Allianz Insurance, we’ll be profiling the 16 most important Irish athletes of the last 100 years. 

Allianz Insurance — The world belongs to those who dare.

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