All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Championships: 4.
All-Ireland Ladies Football National League: 3
All-Ireland Ladies Football Club Championships: 3
GAA All-Stars: 7
Ladies Football Golden Boot Award: 3. (2007.2008 (joint), 2009)
Vodafone Ladies Footballer of the Year 2000.
Irish Tatler Sportswoman of the Year 2003.
The Star Ladies Footballer of the Year 2000.
Western People Mayo Sports Awards Ladies Footballer of the Year: 5
Irish Sports Council/ Irish Times Sportswoman of the Month: 2.
‘I’m not sure we will ever get the same recognition as men’, sighs Cora Staunton. ‘I think it’s the same in all sports, except athletics. When women play football or camogie or soccer, there’s never the same fan base that men’s sports have. So we don’t have the same money. That’s why our players are always fund-raising on the roadsides so they can buy tracksuits and so on. I’m the only player I know of who’s actually been given stuff to wear by a sponsor’.[i]
With seven All-Stars to her name, Cora is undoubtedly the greatest ladies footballer of the modern age. The Mayo sharp-shooter has played for her county since the age of fourteen, during which time she has brought home four All-Ireland medals, three National League titles and two more for her club, Carnacon. Between junior, senior, club and county championships, the 28-year-old has played in 25 All-Ireland finals. She remains one of the most dominant players in the game and looks set to keep at it for many years to come.
Cora descends from an Anglo-Norman family who settled in Ireland in the wake of Strongbow’s tumultuous invasion of 1169 AD. Like many an invader, the de Stauntons gradually Hibernicized, forming a clan after the Irish fashion. One branch obtained extensive possessions in, Carra, Co. Mayo, the barony in which Castlebar town is situated.[ii]
Cora’s ancestors lived directly south of Castlebar in Srah, near Tourmakeady. They farmed along the northern shores of Lough Mask, with the Partry Mountains running to their west.[iii] In the late 19th century, her great-grandparents, Michael and Margaret Staunton, upped sticks and moved north-east across Lough Carra to a farm between the ruins of Castlecarra, a mighty 13th century Staunton tower house, and Ballintubber Abbey.
Cora’s grandfather, James Staunton, was born in Castlecarra in 1903, the eighth of ten children. James, a boy when his father died, later married Mary Heneghan, daughter of Walter and Bridget Heneghan, a farming couple who moved to Castlecarra after the First World War, having spent some time in the USA.[iv]
Fast-forward to 1981 and the Stauntons of Castlecarra were celebrating the birth of a girl, Cora. She grew up on the family farm where she was one of eight children, four boys and four girls. Her father Michael maintained a herd of dairy cattle so there was always milking to be done. That said, laughs Cora, ‘I was the second youngest so I was maybe a bit more spoilt and I got out of it’.
The family suffered a considerable tragedy in 1998 with the death from cancer of Cora’s mother, Mary. Cora, then sixteen years old, remembers her with considerable affection. ‘She was quite strict but very house-proud and a very loving and caring mother. She and my father worked extremely hard to provide for the eight of us.’ Mary, who worked as a catering assistant in Mayo General Hospital when her children had left school, had been raised by a family nearby. It was only after her demise that the Stauntons discovered she had been adopted. ‘I don’t think she wanted to find out who her parents were so we will leave it be’, says Cora.
‘I always had a football in my hand for as long as I remember’, she says. ‘That’s all I did when I was young, kicking it, at school, in the garden, everywhere’. At the age of seven, she went to Carnacon National School where she leapt at the chance to compete in sports of every kind. ‘Basketball, soccer, rounders, racketball, handball, anything I could play. I was known as a Tomboy because I was the only girl who played all the boys games’.
Cora’s older siblings went to secondary school in the town of Balla. ‘I broke the mould’, she says. ‘I went to Ballinrobe Community School because it had girl’s football and the school in Balla didn’t have such things as girls competitions!’ Her new school lay at the southern end of Lough Carra and was already well-known as a nursery for Gaelic footballers, men and ladies alike.
For Cora, it was hugely exciting to find herself in a school with other girls who played sport at such a high level. She quickly made her presence felt at the school and, at the start of the 1999 season, she was one of seven [check] Ballinrobe girls who were selected for the county team. She excelled from the outset, playing a pivotal role on a team that went on to win Mayo’s first ever All-Ireland with a historic victory over reigning champions Waterford.
Cora broke her collar bone in an accidental collision with a team mate while training a week before the final so she was unable to compete in the game. However, the Mayo management decided to bring her onto the pitch for the first 90 seconds so she could be accorded the honour of having played in an All-Ireland final. Mayo’s goalkeeper Denise Horan regarded this as ‘perhaps the single greatest symbol of unity’ for the team. ‘No one questioned how sacrificing a sub so early on might impact on the final outcome. Things like that were secondary.’
Mayo won the title. And as it happened, Cora lined out for the county again the following year when they won a second All-Ireland. The women of Co. Laoise got the better of them in 2001, but Mayo returned to win back-to-back All-Ireland titles in 2002 and 2003. Cora was on the team every time, just as she was when Mayo were beaten by Cork in the 2007 final. She was also the sports top scorer in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
When not playing for her county, Cora is busy both coaching and playing for her local club, Carnacon. Indeed, with Cora at the helm, Carnacon have won the Ladies All Ireland Club Championships twice in the last four years.[v]
‘I keep myself in shape and stay fit all year round’, she says. ‘There’s only a two week break between the seasons so I’m in training all the time. You just don’t have a social life for nine or ten months of the year which is hard. Or if you do socialize, you suffer for it when the season begins. There’s plenty of time for socializing when you’re 30-plus.’
Cora likes to have a ball in her hand all the time, ‘like I did when I was young’. She works out in a gym three days a week and goes for a short-distance jog almost every day.[vi]
Part of Cora’s extraordinary drive stems from her own unflinching self-critique. After many a game, while the crowds are still cheering her mighty kicks, she will be mulling on what went wrong with those that she missed.
Gifted she may be, but the Mayo star has not been immune from injury. There is hardly a bone or ligament in her body which has not received some class of a knock, strain, rip or sprain.[vii] ‘I’ve been playing with Mayo since I was 14 so that takes its toll’, she says. ‘I can safely say that, by the time I’m 40, I’ll definitely have arthritis and all that. You don’t think about it when you’re younger. You say, oh I’m fine, I’ll keep going. But now I’m older, I think God, am I going to be crippled?’
She says she is philosophical about coming to terms with this rather daunting destiny, reasoning that ‘you just deal with it’. ‘I sometimes wonder how long I can keep going, but it doesn’t deter me. I might suffer in ten years time, but I will play on because you don’t know how anything will be in ten years.’[viii]
In recent years, Ladies Football has gone international and the GAA organize a bi-annual expedition in which two “dream-teams”, comprising the sports’ top 30 players, embark on an All-Stars Tour to promote the game abroad. These tours have seen Cora perform on pitches from Singapore to Dubai to San Francisco where, in the spring of 2010, she bagged 2-5 for the 2008 All Stars to help them defeat their 2009 counterparts.[ix]
Cora now works with Mayo as a primary Health Care coordinator, helping the travelling community understand the importance of health and fitness.[x] As well as coaching and playing football, she plays soccer and handball. She won a senior cup medal playing soccer for Mayo soccer and, in 2009, paired up with Roscommon's Deirdre Donohue to win the Ladies 60x30 Handball Showdown.[xi]
[i] ‘Look at Dublin where the men are looking for €800,000 a year and the women might be looking for €20,000!’, she observes. The sport gets excellent coverage in Mayo papers. They get no pay and no expenses from the County Board and, aside from a certain amount if gear, its all about fund-raising on to raise money for tracksuits and so on.
[ii] Of the 67 Staunton babies born in Ireland in 1890, 28 came from Co. Mayo and most of them hailed from Carra. According to the General Valuation of Rateable Property in Ireland, which was compiled as a basis for the levying of local taxation through 1855 and 1856, the name was particularly numerous in Carra (at the very centre of the county, around Castlebar town) where 37% of all Mayo Staunton landholders lived. The approximate numbers of Staunton landholders in County Mayo are given here, barony by barony: Carra 47; Burrishoole 25; Gallen 15; Kilmaine 12; Clanmorris 11; Costello 7; Murrisk 6 and Tirawley 3.
[iii] James Staunton was 7-years-old at the time of the 1911 census. He lived in house 23 in the townland of Derrindaffderg residing with his widowed mother Margaret (45) and siblings Thomas, Norah, Bridget, Michal, Ellen, John, Margaret, Annie and Winfred, aged between 28 and 5.
[iv] ‘My dad’s mother parents were Walther Heneghan and Bridget Henaghan. They would have been in their mid-late 20's in 1911. The Heneghans came from Tourmakeady but also moved to Castlecarra (that’s where my home house is now) in 1919.’
[v] In November 2008, she kicked 11 points to help Carnacon capture their second consecutive VHI Healthcare All-Ireland Senior Ladies Club Football Championship title. In 2009, she captained the team in their ultimately unsuccessful [how did they get on?] hunt for a hat-trick.
[vi] ‘Training has become much more specialised’, she says. ‘Most top managers don’t agree on long distance running. It’s all short and small intricate things and they say training should only last for an hour and a half max.’
[vii] ‘I broke my two jaws in four different places about nine years ago and even now I can feel it. I had an operation on my knee. A lot of sports people don’t come back from that. But it’s got a lot more hi tech in the last few years. You have to take 6 months off. It was tough to come back from that. I had that two years ago. I hurt it five years ago and I was just playing on with it. I shouldn’t have been really. Then I came to a halt and I had to get it done. I was lucky enough that my surgeon was Ray Moran in the Santry Sports Surgery clinic is world renowned. He looks after Padraig Harrington and the Irish rugby team as well.’
[viii] She says that the most of the drugs that would help her avoid arthritis are banned. ‘Drug tests mean you can’t take lots of things that might help you. Its all about diets and random drugs tests these days.’
[ix] ‘I haven’t travelled far [on my own] yet because of football. You don’t have time. If you want to play, you stay. Its hard enough to go because the season is so long’.
[x] ‘I started it in Nov 2008. I was in college, then worked with GAA training and then I did a postgrad in health promotion.’ She travels a good bit around the county. ‘I never have to travel more than half an hour. Its all very central to me, where I live, work, train’.
[xi] She enjoyed playing soccer at college but, as a footballer, she warns that, while ‘you can just about mix Gaelic and soccer, you have to be careful mixing other sports or it will affect your game’. ‘I would love to have tried Women’s Boxing but it was never there in my time, you know.’