Life after Cora goes on for Mayo as Leahy plots league final downfall for Dubs
Taking on the All-Ireland champions on their turf is a tricky challenge at the best of times, but for Peter Leahy's Mayo this Sunday's Lidl Ladies National Football League final will prove a doubly difficult task.
Firstly, the player widely regarded as the best ladies footballer of all time will be no more than a spectator in Parnell Park - Cora Staunton's future with the team is still uncertain since returning from her spell Down Under.
Earlier this week Leahy was criticised for an apparent lack of contact with the Mayo stalwart about returning for their summer campaign, a subject he wanted to set straight yesterday.
"There's no story there, me and Cora do contact each other," he said.
"We know where we stand. Cora is a pure and utter Mayo person. She's honouring the girls who have done the job to get to the league final. She doesn't want it to be about her, so after this weekend we'll sit down and everyone will know where we stand."
In her absence, Mayo have been getting on just fine - they ended Cork's six-in-a-row bid with a 1-20 to 3-12 semi-final victory in Birr last week. If anything, Staunton's absence has forced others to raise their game, and Leahy hopes his charges will be rewarded for that on Sunday.
"You're talking about the best player who ever played the game, but the reality is the girls who are there, the 32 who have taken part, have got us to a league final.
"They need to be honoured and patted on the back, and hopefully at the end of Sunday we'll be saying, 'you're league champions'."
But it remains an evolving process - Leahy is still ironing out the kinks in Mayo's tackling, an area that cost them dearly in a 12-point drubbing by the Dubs in the All-Ireland final last September.
"We need 15 players on the field at all times, and Dublin are way ahead of us in that department," admits Leahy.
After his side displayed a vast array of attacking threats in recent games, he's hopeful of another free-flowing performance from them on Sunday.
"I don't like to keep people in a box. You need to express yourself and these girls are expressing themselves.
"No one gets given out to for taking a shot, and as long as everyone openly expresses themselves, that's the important thing."
Dublin will take to the field as heavy favourites, though questions abound about their form after a narrow escape in the semi-final against Galway where they trailed for 60 minutes before a last-minute goal from Nicole Owens gave them a one-point victory.
For captain Sinéad Aherne, a much better performance will be needed to take their first league crown on Sunday.
"They're coming in on an upward curve and we've been off the boil a little bit," she said.
"They've been putting up some big scores. We can't afford to give Mayo a head-start as we did against Galway and chase the game. Their forwards are strong so we have to keep it very tight."
They may be on top, for now, but Aherne knows that's a difficult place to stay.
"We're just above the pack as we finished last year but that counts for nothing now. Last year is done and dusted, we know we have to raise it. We'll have to be on top of our game to win."
Aherne got to know many of the Mayo players during the All-Star trip to Bangkok in March, though admits the friendships will be put aside this weekend.
"The competitive nature takes over when players get on the pitch together," she said.
"That's not going to count for much when Sunday comes."
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