Wednesday 18 September 2019

Comment: Cora the Explorer’s big Australian adventure may open the floodgates – but don’t bank on it

Mayo's Cora Staunton Pic: Ramsey Cardy/ Sportsfile
Mayo's Cora Staunton Pic: Ramsey Cardy/ Sportsfile

Jackie Cahill

And so it's time for Cora the Explorer to embark on a new challenge.

The Mayo superstar has been smashing records throughout her ladies football career but the prospect of trying her hand at Aussie Rules was too good to ignore.

While news emerged in the last week or so that Staunton was linked with a switch Down Under, this development has been mooted for some months now.

Close friends and Mayo management were aware of her intentions but Staunton's plans were kept under wraps, with everything focused on trying to win a fifth All-Ireland medal.

Staunton and her colleagues were left devastated by a TG4 All-Ireland semi-final defeat against Dublin last year, just a single point separating the sides at full-time.

Staunton, Yvonne Byrne and Martha Carter, the Three Musketeers, thought long and hard about their futures before deciding to give it one more go.

It was Brendan Martin or bust and under the stewardship of Frank Browne, who's since departed, their lives revolved around the quest which ultimately came up short again in the final against Dublin.

Now, things have changed. While Staunton has declared that she'll make a call on her inter-county future next March, she'll only come back if conditions are right.

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A new Mayo manager will be in place by then but Byrne and Carter may be gone. If they are, Staunton won't be back. With those very close friends, it's very much all in or no in.

The counter-argument is that Staunton may come back from Australia an even better player.

Her game in recent times has seen her remain rather static at times, waiting for the ball to come her way before exploding into life.

Much of this is down to Staunton's knowledge of her own body. Her legs don't get her around like they once did and so she's a cuter player.

But Staunton knows she'll have to move on Australian fields. Stand still, and you run the risk of a much higher level of the kind of close attention she's become accustomed to in recent years.

On her day, Staunton's unstoppable, a footballing freak of nature. A maker and taker of scores, a Mayo totem, the forward the others feed off. Sarah Rowe, her county team-mate, was another name in the recent discussion.

Rowe, who's represented the Republic of Ireland ladies soccer team, missed the draft this time but she's verbally agreed to a switch for the early months of 2019.

Two clubs are hot on the heels of her signature, and she's due to deliver an answer soon.

The condensed nature of the Aussie Rules season makes the short sojourn so attractive.

There are plans afoot, however, to extend it, and that would leave potential Irish hopefuls with a more stark choice.

Staying for longer would see them eating into the latter stages of the Lidl League campaign, with the prospect of championship looming large on the horizon.

This move will surely inspire others to follow across other codes and it is a timely shot in the arm for women's sport in this country in the aftermath of the IRFU's decision to row back and make the Ireland women's coach a part-time role, and not full-time as it was during Tom Tierney's reign.

It will probably also encourage young girls playing more than one code to stick with ladies football when it comes to making a decision on what sport to concentrate on.

Behind closed doors, Ladies Gaelic Football Association officials are unconcerned by Staunton's decision.

The time-lines don't interfere with Carnacon's ongoing club campaign and, in truth, LGFA officials are primarily concerned with their own game.

Sure, they'll monitor Staunton's progress with interest and they'll wish her the very best in her endeavours but players come, and players go.

That's the nature of sport. Staunton's given 23 seasons to the senior Mayo inter-county team, an incredible innings.

And nobody can begrudge her the opportunity to earn a few bob and tick the professional box.

Back in 2013, Staunton bagged seven tries on her rugby debut for Castlebar.

It's another oval ball sport she loves but the nature of women's rugby in this country dictates that when it comes to club fare, there's no choice. You can't play club rugby and club football - and Staunton was never going to turn her back on Carnacon.

Here, she has the best of both worlds. Have a go in Australia, and have another crack with Mayo if she so fancies.

She'll pocket a minimum of $9,000 for the time she's there but the 'marquee' nature of her move could see Staunton pick up as much as $25,000.

She'll earn whatever she gets and other top ladies footballers based in this country will eye a potential opening.

It's more likely, however, that more will follow in the footsteps of Cavan's Laura Corrigan, domiciled in Australia and picked up by Melbourne.

The relationship between ladies football and the AFL in Australia is healthy - and should ensure for more crossover between the two codes.

But, for now, Staunton, as she's always done, has broken the mould.

Irish Independent

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