Wednesday 17 October 2018

Comment: Cora steps off stage as greatest we have ever seen

Staunton departs for Aussie Rules with a fresh All-Ireland medal and unique legacy

Captain of Carnacon Cora Staunton leads her team during the parade prior to the All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Club Championship Final in 2017. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Captain of Carnacon Cora Staunton leads her team during the parade prior to the All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Club Championship Final in 2017. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Eamonn Sweeney

No-one has ever wanted to win more than Cora Staunton does. The desire for victory burns in her with a fierce and vivid flame.

She demands the ball with unusual urgency, she takes it into contact, she bursts free, she is bumped and hustled and hassled, she implores the referee to see her point of view with the dramatic flourish of some tragic heroine at odds with fate, she shoots, she scores, and when she's on the ball the game seems to suddenly increase in both speed and intensity. Cora Staunton is like a sprinting and solo-running embodiment of the will to win. There is no-one quite like her.

In Parnell Park yesterday, Cora did what Cora does, leading her club, Carnacon, to a sixth All-Ireland title, kicking seven points, four of them from play, in a narrow victory over Cork's Mourneabbey. Kicking four points from play in an All-Ireland club final is no easy task. Yet these four points are not ordinary points, they're Cora Points which in terms of the effort they require should perhaps count double.

The singular nature of Staunton's talent means that she is subject in every game to the kind of policing most forwards will never experience in any game.

Yesterday was typical. Before she got the ball, there were two defenders in attendance and once she tried to do something with it the numbers had usually become four-to-one. Every run required her to cut a way through a thicket of defenders. Negotiating her way through such obstacle courses has been Staunton's lot for a long time.

She finds her way out of these labyrinths because of both immense physical power and the extraordinary quickness of foot and thought she displays in tight spaces. She sometimes seems like an American football running back finding a path through an opposition defensive line.

Carnacon players and mentors celebrate with supporters following their side’s victory in the All-Ireland Ladies Football Club senior final at Parnell Park. Photo: SEB DALY/SPORTSFILE
Carnacon players and mentors celebrate with supporters following their side’s victory in the All-Ireland Ladies Football Club senior final at Parnell Park. Photo: SEB DALY/SPORTSFILE

Except that Staunton doesn't have blockers to help her. She's her own blocker.

It says a lot about Staunton's standing within the game that some people will look at yesterday's haul and say, "Seven points, is that all?"

She has only herself to blame. What can you expect if you do something like scoring 4-13 in the Connacht final against Kilkerrin-Clonberne? That score was amassed not in a massacre but in a draw. Even Cora Staunton wasn't going to do that every day yet she finished the championship with an average of almost 13 points a game.

She is the best ladies footballer there's been. The 11th All Star she won recently makes her the joint record holder along with Mary Jo Curran of Kerry.

Pre-eminence

Yet Curran won most of her awards as part of an all-conquering Kingdom team at a time when the game was less competitive than now.

Staunton, on the other hand, has managed to assert her pre-eminence despite not winning an All-Ireland title at county level since 2003. This year's losing final appearance was her first in a decade. Yet her reputation has never dimmed. She has played senior inter-county football for 22 years. It is hard to think of the game without thinking of her.

Yet we will soon have to think of Staunton as an Australian Rules footballer when she joins the Greater Western Sydney Giants. It is a huge challenge. Though the women's AFL will only be in its second season its players have been playing at a regional level since childhood. Staunton will find herself in the unusual position of being a rookie. Yet the possibilities are intriguing. The Mayo star deserves to paint her pictures on a broader canvas.

The prospect of physical punishment will hardly faze her. No footballer of either sex has been pulled, dragged and person-handled the way Staunton has been in her career. Accidentally pole-axed early in the second half she played through the pain and, though unusually inaccurate at times, came through when the game was up for grabs.

Twice yellow cards left Carnacon a player short in the second half and Mourneabbey stormed back into the game. Late on Staunton fisted a point to give her side some precious breathing space and turned up in her own full-back line to force a free out as the Cork side sought a levelling goal.

Marquee

Then she won the ball in her own half and surged 40 yards forward at a rate of knots. After passing to a team-mate she was pole-axed again before she could take the return. It's not always easy being your sport's marquee player.

Cora Staunton is one of the greatest Irish sportswomen of all-time. She is certainly the most under-rated, suffering because, like Angela Downey or on the male side Ducksie Walsh, her genius manifested itself in a sport which spent too much time under the radar.

She has left a unique mark on ladies football. There have been years when other women played better than her, but none of them were so good for so long.

There's a trademark Staunton moment. It's when she wins the ball and suddenly finds herself bottled up by a horde of defenders. The odds look ridiculous and the position impossible yet she strives to make something out of nothing; she may burst through a couple of challenges or sidestep them or gain a little space with a judicious solo.

Above all, she never gives up until she's made the best of the situation.

That's the essence of Cora Staunton. She keeps on keeping on. She's done it for 20-odd years. And counting. The Aussies won't know what's hit them.

Irish Independent

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