CORA Staunton will commence her 21st season playing football when Mayo take on reigning champions Cork in the National League opener tomorrow (Swinford, 2pm).
The nine-time All-Star became a household name in the 1999 All-Ireland togging out for the opening 90 seconds having snapped her collarbone a week before the final, but now the journey is nearing the end.
This winter was the first time since 1995 that she delayed her return to pre-season, not counting her absence in 2008 following a knee cruciate operation. But, it was the right decision, admits the 33-year-old veteran.
“People say, ‘ah sure you’re only young’, but it’s tough when you’re trying to keep up with a 19-year-old! Physically I needed the break, but probably more so mentally.”
As player-coach of Carnacon, Staunton has also been on the go in club terms since 1998, winning the senior Connacht final every year since, with the exception of 1996.
“I needed my head to be right to commit because it’s nearly 11 months of the year now.
“This has definitely been the hardest year to decide whether or not I’d go back, but knowing that Frank (Browne) was back made it hard to say no.”
Browne was with Mayo prior to the county’s historic ‘bust -up’, when he led them to league glory in 2007, a Connacht title, and an All-Ireland final against tomorrow’s opponents, Cork.
“If it had been a new manager, I think maybe a few players might have retired, but knowing Frank made the decision easier.
“Knowing how much effort he puts into it, that’s the main reason why I returned, and eight years on he probably has some unfinished business too.”
In Staunton, Browne has a leader, and for the second time in two decades she’ll captain her county — the first term in 2006 under Charlie Lambert.
“Some people might take being captain as extra pressure but when you’ve been around as long as I have, you don’t take notice. I’m used to being in a pressured environment in scoring terms.
“I’m a different animal on the pitch than off it, but I’m quite vocal, just ask any of the girls,” she laughs.
“Having been player-coach with Carnacon for the last five years, it comes with that.
“The role gave me a different perspective on games. The hardest part is probably when I want to get my own game right, but it’s been good.”
Staunton will lead a number of new additions to the squad, including a number of minor stars Browne has drafted in. Aileen Gilroy, who tore her cruciate a week before the provincial final last year, has returned to training, however midfield maestro Claire Egan is out for the league campaign having endured a serious knee injury in an AIL All-Ireland final with Blackrock RFC late last year.
The multi All-Star winner dislocated her knee cap, tearing all the surrounding tendons, with emergency surgery leading to pins being inserted to restore the ligament.
With former Olympic swimmer and surgeon Gary O’Toole looking after her, depending on rehab, Staunton is hoping Egan will return mid-summer.
Tomorrow however, it’s Cork first, who will now be captained by Mourneabbey’s Ciara O’Sullivan.
“The rivalry is healthy and there’s huge respect between both teams,” says Staunton.
“It’s a good time to play them at the start of the league, rather than at the end. Every team wants to beat them, and I think this is definitely the most competitive division 1 campaign in a long time.”
Elsewhere, former Dublin legend Angie McNally will begin her first outing as coach of Monaghan against her former county in DCU at 2pm, with former Mayo manager Peter Clarke is at the helm.
The duo had previously teamed up with Dublin in 2012 and have named Lyndsey Davey as captain, while Sinéad Aherne and Siobhán McGrath have opted to take time out to go travelling.
Meanwhile, Tyrone host Kerry at Gardum Park, with All-Star nominee Gemma Begley ruled out with a knee injury, while Galway take on Laois.
January 31, 2015