Cora Staunton Q&A: ‘I love working with the Travelling community’

Cora Staunton is widely-regarded as one of the finest players in the history of Ladies Football. But off the pitch, the Mayo star is incredibly active in her local community, and working with members of the Travelling community. This evening, the Carnacon superstar lines out for Mayo in the TG4 All-Ireland semi-final against champions Cork (4.45pm, Cavan).
Cora Staunton Q&A: ‘I love working with the Travelling community’

Q: Seems you’re pretty busy at the moment?

A: Everything’s work and football. I take unpaid leave to do the Sky work (Staunton is a Sky Sports Living for Sport Athlete mentor), whatever I want myself, it could be one or two days a week.

Q: And you’re working with members of the Travelling community?

A: A lot of it is health promotion work. We have Traveller women working for us, 11 of them. They go out into the community with health information and they’re trained up about cancer screening, heart disease, and other topics. They’re trained on a topic for four sessions, two-four hours at the time, and then we’ll devise something Traveller-friendly, a leaflet or fact-sheet, which can be delivered to communities. There are 370 Traveller families in Mayo and the 11 women will go and visit them.

Q: Do they encounter any resistance when visiting these families?

A: It’s very open and peer-related — Traveller to Traveller. They’re received very well and the Traveller families are always looking for different types of information. They might come back and say they want information on ADHD or mental health or the free pre-school year, whatever they require.

Q: How do you find the women you work with?

A: We have a database of all of the Traveller families in the county. The women with us came in initially on a four-year part-time training programme and from that, we employ them. We have two projects in Mayo — one in Ballina and one in Castlebar — and there are 36 of these projects throughout the country.

Q: Who employs you?

A: We’re funded by the HSE and I work with the Mayo Traveller Support Group.

Q: How long have you been doing that and what sparked your interest in such work?

A: About eight years now. After gaining a Masters in health promotion, I would have gone on work experience with the health promotion unit in Castlebar, and attended meetings with the travelling community and the Mayo traveller support group. But I also do a lot of work on sports forums and getting disadvantaged communities, not just travellers, physically active. There are four different forums — Castlebar, Ballyhaunis, Ballinrobe and Ballina. It’s an inter-agency approach involving ourselves, the Mayo Sports Partnership and a couple of others.

Q: Do you find your work rewarding?

A: I love working with the Travelling community. I like it from the point of view that you’re anonymous to an extent, you’re only Cora. They ask about football the odd time but they won’t talk about it too much. And I learn a lot from them and see their struggles. My life’s very simple and easy compared to their lives.

Q: They face regular criticism and prejudice?

A: There’s also a lot of domestic violence and that’s a hard one to deal with and talk about. I struggle with a lot of that but they still take care of their kids and everything else that’s going on. A lot of them can suffer mental health issues but for them to come into work for a short space of time, they love it.

Q: Your job is a nice release for you too, away from football?

A: It is, it’s different. Maybe down the line I’d like to be involved in sport but I was coaching a lot with the Mayo County Board before going back to college, and I found it too much. I was working in sport and playing it. This is totally different. Some of them will know you have a match coming up but that’s as far as it goes, no in-depth analysis. On a Monday morning, I might have won or lost but they won’t speak about it too much, which I like.

Q: This might sound like an unfair question but are you playing every game now as if it could be your last?

A: It’s not an unfair question. Do I think like that? No, not at all. I’m never going to know when my last game is. It could have been Donegal or it could be a training match, I could get injured. I’m trying to enjoy every game as much I can. If I thought like that, I’d put a lot of extra pressure on myself. I’m trying to enjoy football maybe more than four or five years ago, or even two years ago, and trying to make myself better with every training session.

Q: Where do you think your form is?

A: I’d be happy enough with my form. I’m given different roles every time and the role is a little bit different this year compared to other years. That’s a good thing as well and I’m learning a lot more since our coach Peter (Leahy) came in. People will say other forwards have stepped up to the plate finally but you’re trying to bring them along and also trying to improve game to game. You can’t be the same player as five years ago and obviously, I’m getting older and the body is slowing down. It might be now that I’m becoming more of a clever or cuter footballer. But I’d be happy with my form. It was well-documented before the Connacht final that I had issues with my back and hadn’t trained for a while. And that’s not me. I have to be training all the time.

Thankfully since the Connacht final, I haven’t missed any training. And I need that. I don’t know if it’s more for my head or my body — it’s probably my head. I can’t be missing training. I need to train with club and county all the time, five or six days a week. The back injury was frustrating. I’d take a session off and try to go back for the next one, which was probably the wrong thing and the injury was getting worse. I had no mobility, I couldn’t move and I’m normally one that doesn’t get injured too often. But with my back, that wasn’t happening. There were challenge matches and I couldn’t move at all on the pitch. That was frustrating but thankfully, since that Connacht final, I’ve taken part in all of the training, which is great.

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