After taking Aussie Rules Football by storm, Mayo’s Cora Staunton has announced her retirement from AFLW with the GWS Giants.
Having achieved so much playing football with both Mayo and her club Carnacon, Staunton became the first Irish women to make the move Down Under, and now leaves an incredible legacy.
The 41-year-old made 50 appearances for the Sydney side, scoring 55 goals, which made her the all-time leading goalscorer for the giants, and joint all-time scorer in the league overall.
Despite a horrific double leg break that would have ended the career of most players, Cora Staunton showed incredible strength, mentally and physically, to rally and continue her incredible sporting career.
While its likely Staunton would have continued to set new records if she continued playing, the Mayo women felt now was the right time to step away from the game.
“At the end of the year we have our meetings with the clubs, and I needed a little bit of time to think about it, and I decided I wasn’t going to go again. The reason being is the club is probably moving in a little bit of a different direction.
“We had a poor enough season last year, last season we had a change in coach, we had the same coach for the five seasons before that. The club are probably in a little bit of transition, where they are bringing in a lot of youth, a little bit away from competing in finals and winning the Premiership.
“The plan was probably more medium to long term, than short term, and I didn’t see myself in the long term.”
Despite her apparent natural success in the sport, Staunton explained the hard work involved, adjusting to Aussie rules football when she arrived in 2017.
Cora Staunton admits she took some time to adjust to new settings in Australia. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Having just won another club All-Ireland title with Carnacon, Staunton travelled to Australia in 2017 not knowing what to expect from the sport. While she is incredibly proud of her goals and appearances records, the former Mayo forward admitted she took some time to adjust to new settings in Australia.
“I was sitting on the plane extremely hungover and wondering what the hell I was doing. My focus was always on Carnacon, that was something that just happened in the middle of it.
“The first while it probably took me a while to settle in and to realise what I was doing. I didn’t really set myself goals in terms of possessions or anything like that, I was just trying to get the best out of myself, that was the only goal I had.
“When I started out, I had lots and lots of improving to do. I used to do a huge amount of work in the off season, I put in so many extra sessions and time to make myself better. Your teammates respect you, and the opposition do too, then when you play.”
While the move in 2017 was a landmark moment for ladies football, it’s safe to say it wasn’t a once off. This season will se the highest amount of Irish players in the AFLW, with 39 signed up for the new season, which kicks off in May.
Last season, Irish players really left their mark in the league, with Dublin’s Sineád Goldrick and Armagh’s Blaithain Mackin helping Melbourne to victory. Blaithian’s sister Aimee has also joined Melbourne, making her the 29th player form Ireland to join the division.
It may be a headache for Ladies football, particularly for management, but according to Staunton, the opportunity of professional sport is too good to turn down.
“It’s a huge opportunity to be a professional. Growing up in Ireland as a 10-year-old, I thought I was going to play for Manchester United, I was a huge fan.
“There was never an opportunity to player women’s soccer professionally, there was never an opportunity to play anything professionally when I was growing up, unless you went to the Olympics and were Sonia O’Sullivan. To get a career out of women’s sport back then was unheard of.
“In Australia they rate the Irish very highly, they just bring something very different to the game.” Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images
“In Australia they rate the Irish very highly, they just bring something very different to the game. The way we play, we just play off the cuff, but we are very agile, and we just bring things to the game that the Aussies don’t bring to it.
Now that the Australian chapter of her life has ended, Staunton is back home in Mayo, where she is looking forward to resuming her football, while also being part of the Galway Camogie coaching set up.
Having become a regular on our screens for RTÉ, Staunton has shown to share her expertise in the game, to viewers and the next generation of players.
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For Mayo fans who may have hoped Staunton could make a similar return to what we saw from Stephen Cluxton last Sunday, Staunton dismissed any notions of a return to the Mayo side.
“I have been in 28 years of top level sport, be it with Mayo, Carnacon, or Australia, so obviously it’s a long time. I still train away for club and keeping myself fit and active, probably because it’s the only way I know how, but at the same time I know I should give both my body and my mind a little bit of a rest.
“I really enjoy the team environment, and being involved with a team. I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much with Galway Camogie, not knowing very much about camogie and not knowing any of the Galway girls. I wasn’t sure if that was something was for me, but it’s something I really like, so going down the line, that’s something I will continue.
“It’s the same with punditry. You are involved with sport and gives you that little but of sport that you don’t get from competing. “