Sport Ladies Football

Friday 23 June 2017

'If I was a young player now, I might choose rugby over the GAA' - Cora Staunton

Cora Staunton (pictured): “The (women’s) national soccer league is growing all the time, the U-17s are through to the European Championship finals and the senior team won’t be far away from the World Cup.” Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Cora Staunton (pictured): “The (women’s) national soccer league is growing all the time, the U-17s are through to the European Championship finals and the senior team won’t be far away from the World Cup.” Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Jackie Cahill

This is rugby country, or so we're told. Cora Staunton feels it, sees it.

Rugby's not the dominant sport in Mayo but Staunton, who has played the game when time allowed during the winter months, is aware of maybe four or five local women's clubs with thriving underage structures.

In recent times, former ladies footballers have made a successful switch to the oval ball - and represented their country with distinction.

Lindsay Peat won an All-Ireland senior medal with Dublin in 2010 and Clare's Eimear Considine has represented her county in camogie and ladies football. Dubliners Hannah Tyrrell and Kim Flood have also swapped ladies football for rugby.

Seeing the opportunities available - the chance to play in front of TV cameras or a shot at the Olympics with the Sevens' team - has left Mayo superstar Staunton a little introspective.

She wonders: "At 15 or 16, you have to choose and for young girls at the moment, is it rugby or GAA? You'd have to say rugby at the moment.

"If I was young again, would I have struck with GAA? Who knows but rugby is on the crest of a wave.

"Sevens is an Olympic sport, you get to travel the world, the 15s game is promoted massively by our national broadcaster and it's World Cup year.

"That's not in any way saying that the Ladies Gaelic Football Association isn't doing a great job, and ladies football is my sport and I'm very passionate about it.

"But we have to be very strategic and continue to grow it and continue to get young players playing. That could be a problem because while there are plenty playing, other sports are coming along. Rugby is the biggest and soccer is there too.

"The (women's) national soccer league is growing all the time, the U-17s are through to the European Championship finals and the senior team won't be far away from the World Cup."

Ladies football is getting there. TG4 provide stellar summer championship coverage, and feature other competitions too, while Lidl's sponsorship of the National Leagues has certainly helped to raise awareness.

But it's been almost nine years since Staunton, one of the greatest players in the history of the game, has played a game at Croke Park.

"It's a hugely important step," she says. But even this week, Mayo manager Frank Browne was battling against the tide in his own county, stuck in an unnecessary tug of war.

Amy Dowling, Saoirse Walsh and Sadhbh Larkin are three players from Staunton's club, Carnacon, who were scheduled to play a Connacht minor championship game againsy Galway today.

But all three are also members of Browne's senior panel and Dowling, tipped as a real senior star of the future, is expected to start.

Three teenagers torn between a loyalty to their minor team-mates and the dream of playing at Croke Park. Surely, they shouldn't have to choose?

Dublin and Mayo battle it out for precious League points at GAA HQ this evening (5pm), before Dublin's men take on Roscommon.

Staunton hasn't graced the turf since the 2008 All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry and, even then, the semi-final against Monaghan was played in Navan.

Staunton has played at Mayo's county ground, Elvery's MacHale Park in Castlebar, but doesn't ever recall lining out there on a double-bill with the men.

And she notes how some of Cork's greatest-ever stars - Juliet Murphy, Briege Corkery, Rena Buckley, recently-retired Deirdre O'Reilly, to name but a few - never played ladies football for Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Staunton also points out how the promotion of top ladies senior stars can provide aspiring young players with role models.

When she was young, she idolised Sonia O'Sullivan but Staunton smiles and admits that she was never going to be a 3000m or 5000m runner.

And while the crowd this evening might not be huge, it's a starting point.

Staunton explains: "Even if it only starts with people coming in 20 minutes before the end of the men's game, they'll see the standard is good. Next time, they might come in for half an hour and, in time, they might come in for the full match."

Indo Sport

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport