Wednesday 14 November 2018

These extraordinary women show true grit and tenacity

 

A different ball game: Cora: The Greatest followed Staunton’s switch to Aussie rules
A different ball game: Cora: The Greatest followed Staunton’s switch to Aussie rules

John Boland

Two remarkable Irish women were profiled in the week's most engrossing documentaries - one of them battling with a new sporting challenge, the other fighting for her life.

Most people already know of the young woman featured in Orla Tinsley: Warrior (RTÉ1). A cystic fibrosis sufferer who has campaigned widely throughout various media, the 30-year-old went to New York early last year in the hope of a life-saving double lung transplant, the result of which was ultimately successful.

Yet though the majority of viewers would have been aware of this happy outcome, it didn't lessen the tension as she was summoned to New York's Presbyterian Hospital six times for a transplant - only to discover that the donors' organs weren't in a sufficiently healthy state for the elaborate procedure to be undertaken.

Throughout it all, she retained the upbeat resilience that had endeared her to so many down through the years. Even in the imminent face of death, she was declaring to camera: "I feel like I've had a great life" and exhorting other young people to "go after your dreams...and live your life the way you want to live it".

Tara Peterman and Sally Roden's film (with Tinsley herself as executive producer) showed her as she pursued her creative writing master's degree at Columbia University, pulling her oxygen cylinder behind her on wheels, and as she chatted with her parents - "the most incredible people", she said - who were constantly jetting back and forth from Ireland.

And if by the end of the film there were matters that weren't explained (how, for instance, her treatment and extended stay in New York were financially possible) and if you were left feeling that you hadn't really got to know the person herself, she was a luminous presence throughout - and a reflective, one, too, constantly reminding herself and the viewer that, given her circumstances, "for you to live, somebody else has to die".

Not being an ardent follower of GAA women's football, I had known little about Cora Staunton beyond the fact that among her many achievements she had won four All-Ireland medals with Mayo and that she's in the news again due to current problems in the Mayo women's game. However, Cora: The Greatest (TG4) focused its attention on the 36-year-old's decision last year to play a season of Australian rules football, a sport with which she was not familiar.

And most of her colleagues in the Greater Western Sydney Giants were just as unfamiliar with the Irish woman's renown back home, captain Amanda Farrugia confessing: "I had no idea who she was or what she was about."

Despite Staunton's initial difficulties with handling the oval ball and with some of the Aussie game's more arcane rules and its ruthless physicality, Farrugia soon saw for herself the Mayo player's skills and grit, as did coach Alan McConnell, who was just as driven in his bid for success as his star Irish signing.

Shauna Keogh's absorbing film followed the Giants through their spirited but patchy season, the games televised but mostly played in front of fewer than 5,000 spectators.

In between we got to hear from Staunton herself, though little about her life off the field - beyond her observation that "the ideal world is to get married and have a couple of kids" but that this ideal world had so far eluded her. And she spoke movingly about her mother, who had died of cancer and from whom she has inherited "a little bit of crankiness".

Of the two sporting disciplines, she felt that in the GAA game, which was more about "evasion" than physical confrontation, "you probably express yourself more", but Alan McConnell was in no doubt about what the Giants' bid for success would be missing. "She's had a profound influence on this team, and I'm grateful", he said.

Meanwhile, current BBC drama seems intent on prematurely bumping off most of its major actors. First we had the brutal demise of endearing David Haig in the second episode of Killing Eve (RTÉ2/BBC1).

Then there was Keeley Hawes' home secretary blown to bits in the third instalment of Bodyguard (BBC1). And this week, the second episode of Black Earth Rising (BBC2) had hardly begun before lead actress Harriet Walter was fatally gunned down outside the Hague's international criminal court.

It's as if the makers of these series had all just belatedly watched Hitchcock's 1960 masterpiece, Psycho, in which star performer Janet Leigh got slaughtered in the shower after 40 minutes, and thought: what a brilliantly innovative idea.

Well, certainly a confounding one, though Killing Eve is so subversive of narrative conventions and audience expectations that its early murder of Haig was all of a piece with its mischievous tone. I'm more worried that in RTÉ2's screening of the fifth episode (four ahead of the BBC screening) Eve and her nemesis have met face to face. Wouldn't it have been better to keep them apart for as long as possible?

As for Bodyguard, all will be revealed, and I hope explained, in tomorrow night's finale, though Black Earth Rising will have to work hard to compensate for the loss of Walter.

But I'll stick with it for the time being, which I won't be doing with Trust (BBC2), a 10-episode account of how the billionaire John Paul Getty dealt with the 1973 kidnapping of his hippie grandson.

Donald Sutherland is monstrously good as the miserly old patriarch, but the problem is that everyone else in the opening episode was just as repellent, and I'd no wish to spend any time in their company.

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