Sport GAA

Thursday 27 April 2017

Sinead Kissane: Stats don't tell full story of Staunton's influence and empowerment of others

Mayo's Cora Staunton Picture: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Mayo's Cora Staunton Picture: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

When one of the most influential players in the history of Irish women's sport goes to work, she's not labelled as 'Cora the Footballer'. Cora Staunton has worked as a primary health co-ordinator with the Mayo Travellers Support Group in Castlebar for the past seven years.

Staunton works with women who are community health workers from the Traveller community and every month Staunton trains the women on a particular health issue - like mental health, for example, diabetes, cervical cancer, breast cancer, smoking etc - and she develops an information pack which they take with them to inform and educate other Travellers in their locality.

"The main part of my work is promoting health within the Traveller community and trying to get their health better. Traveller men live 14 years less than a settled man. Traveller women live 11 years less than a settled woman. You're trying to improve it all the time," Staunton says.

Staunton doesn't just inform and train these women from the Traveller community, she empowers them. She sees how the confidence of these women has grown since they joined the support group. She sees how they have become "figureheads in their community".

"I'm teaching them but I'm also learning from them as well. Them women are such powerful women with what they go through on a day-to-day basis," Staunton admits. "At times, I find them completely amazing with what they can do and what might be going on in other areas of their life. If that was my life, I wouldn't cope as well as they are."

Staunton's work has made her acutely aware of the discrimination these women face. She also sees the way others look at her if she meets one of the women in town. "I can see some people in the shop looking and saying, 'Why is she talking to them?'" Staunton says.

Discrimination

"There's still huge discrimination. It's daily. It's ongoing. For them it's becomes the norm. If they want to go out on a Friday night for a drink they would spend the whole day worrying about what will happen when they get there. And when they get there, they're told it's a private party."

A private party.

When Staunton and her team-mates sat in their dressing-room after their defeat to Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final last Saturday, she couldn't get any words out. Usually she would say something to the group. But this time, Staunton was too numb. She went into this season thinking this would be her last. She went into last Saturday's semi-final thinking - no, absolutely convinced - that this would not be her last game with Mayo. They lost by a point.

For the past week, Staunton has felt a bit lost, a bit in limbo. She's been trying to hide from the public because she knows people will ask if she's retiring and she hasn't been ready to face a question she doesn't know the answer to.

"People are trying to retire you all the time. I'll go when I go," Staunton says. "In a way you'd like to say, 'Did you not just see the way I performed? Did you not just see that three people were marking me?' I might be 34 but that to me is a huge compliment that you still have it."

Whenever the day comes that one of the most influential players in the history of Irish women's sport decides to retire, a trail of stats will follow Cora Staunton's name. Who else makes their inter-county debut at the age of 13? Who else has four All-Ireland inter-county titles, five All-Ireland club medals and 10 All-Stars over 22 seasons playing for their county and that's just the national accolades? Who else could score 9-12 in a club game?

But who else could make a fool of statistics because they still don't tell the full story of the influence Staunton has had and how she opened up Gaelic football for other girls and women to understand things like possibility and potential.

The stats also don't record how one of the most influential players in the history of Irish women's sport never got a penny for all the mileage she did to get to training. The stats won't tell you about the five euro a week Staunton and her team-mates put into a kitty so they have food after training outside of the one hot meal they've started getting recently. The stats won't tell you that Staunton pays for her own boots after a previous boot deal ran out years ago. Or tell you that they have to pay for training gear because the county women's team gets the bare minimum in comparison to the county men's team. The stats won't tell you there's no such thing as 'perks' in the women's game.

The stats won't tell you that one of the most influential players in the history of Irish women's sport won't receive a ticket from the GAA or LGFA to see her county play in the men's All-Ireland football final later this month. Staunton will have to depend on a favour from others to get a ticket to Croke Park.

The stats won't tell you that she sometimes wishes she were a man: "You'd be telling a lie if you weren't. Why wouldn't I love to be running out in front of 82,000 in a couple of weeks' time?"

Pressure

The stats won't tell you that training with boys like Alan Dillon growing up made her the player she is today. She doesn't get the kick you presume she would when others say to her that she would be well able to tog out with the men's team: "In a way I find it insulting to the Mayo men's team. While it's the same sport, it's completely different. We cannot compete with men."

Staunton would like to see both the GAA and LGFA work together to try and make conditions better for women. She would also like to see the women's All-Ireland final held the same day as the men's at Croke Park.

She's right, of course. Why shouldn't the women's final be on the same day and on the same level playing field as the men's? This marquee date shouldn't be a private party open to male and minor footballers only.

That's Cora. Challenging the way things are. Challenging the way we look at ourselves. And, more importantly, challenging the way we look at others.

Irish Independent

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