A remarkable sports woman and influential star

A remarkable sports woman and influential star Cora Staunton
Game Changer

by Cora Staunton with Mary White (Transworld Ireland, €28.00)

While Cora Staunton is well-known for her skill and prowess on GAA playing-fields, little is known about her life beyond football or her private persona. That deficit is rectified in this frank autobiography.

Cora recalls her early years as she was raised in a small farm at Carnacon, near Castlebar, Co Mayo. After her secondary education she enrolled at the Institute of Technology in Athlone and qualified as a social worker. Later she completed a Masters in Health Promotion at NUI Galway and secured an appointment as a health coordinator with the Mayo Travellers Support Group.

Cora was a tomboy; with some difficulty her mother persuaded her to wear a dress for her First Communion. Later she insisted on presenting herself in a trouser-suit for her Confirmation.

As a little girl she was addicted (her own words) to playing football and played on mixed teams with her brothers in underage leagues. She revelled in lining out for her home parish team and teams in the various institutions she attended.

Cora describes her playing career as having more “lows than highs”. Among the lows were a number of bereavements. A childhood friend in fourth class was drowned; she lost her mother at the age of 16, and a close friend and teammate on the Mayo team died following a car crash. And there were extensive injuries too.

However, for her the most depressing of the ‘lows’ was the acrimony between her, her teammates and most of their managers (they had seven in nine years). This was compounded by their difficult relationship with the Mayo County Board which generated much adverse publicity.

Notwithstanding Cora’s claim, she had quite a few ‘highs’ to savour. With her Mayo teammates she won four All-Ireland Senior medals and they were runners-up on two occasions. Her home team, Carnacon, won the Mayo County Championship practically every year and the All-Ireland Club Championship six times. She was an All-Star on 11 occasions and enjoyed All-Star trips to Hong Kong and San Francisco. And there was the camaraderie and friendship of teammates and many others besides.

With her playing career coming to an end in Ireland Cora signed on to play Australian rules football. She gives a fascinating account of the club’s premises, her new teammates, the team’s training schedules, and so.

Aussie rules, it seems, is based on structures which Cora explains in great detail. Having already at home signed contracts with Lucozade and Puma, she was unfazed by the professionalism of the Australian game. However, rather curiously, she indicates her opposition to the GAA moving into professionalism.

Cora’s memoir contains two items which indicate that Ladies Gaelic Football will never be a mere mirror-image of the men’s game.

She recalls how because of her competitive spirit she was furious when the manager at a crucial period in a match replaced a leading player with a very average player, even though she realised that he had made this intervention because the latter had recently lost her mother.

Subsequently Cora was a beneficiary of this attitude of concern. Having made a significant contribution to Mayo making the All-Ireland final in 1999, Cora broke her collar-bone and was not fit to play in it. However, the management included her in the team for the final, had her parade before the throw-in and spend a few minutes on the pitch before being replaced.

A special bouquet is due to Cora for her autobiography which cannot but be a significant fillip to the development of Ladies Gaelic Football.