Cora Staunton’s dreams of a glorious inter-county swansong are very much alive after her 1-9 haul helped to sink Cork in Saturday’s TG4 All-Ireland Ladies SFC semi-final at Kingspan Breffni Park.
In her 23rd season as a Mayo senior, 35-year-old Staunton has the chance to capture a fifth All-Ireland medal when Frank Browne’s charges face Dublin in the September 24 decider.
Cork’s seven-in-a-row dreams were ended by Connacht runners-up Mayo, who have stitched together an impressive run through the back door since losing to Galway in early July.
Cork’s remarkable recent period of dominance had seen them capture 11 of the last 12 All-Ireland senior crowns – but Mayo managed to beat them in a senior championship tie for the first time since 2004.
And in another quirk of fate, Browne was also in charge of Mayo when they last contested a final ten years ago, but Cork were victorious on that occasion.
The Mayo men’s and ladies’ teams now have senior deciders to look forward to – and both lost to Galway in the provincial championship this year.
Staunton won senior titles in 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2003 but she also suffered final heartbreak in 2001 and 2007.
And the Carnacon superstar reflected: “There’s no worse place to be than in Croke Park when you lose and we’ll drill that into the younger girls. People ask why I’m still playing at 35 when you’ve won your medals but I’ve a lot of very good friends on that team that never got a chance to play in Croke Park on final day and experience that.
“That’s why myself and Crazy (goalkeeper Yvonne Byrne) stayed on for another year or two, to get to that.
“We’ll be going in as underdogs, and rightly so, as Dublin have been the form team all year and are in their fourth final in a row.
“But maybe it’s a label we’re better with.
“We’ve been following the men all year and it’s great to see how they come back year in, year out. They’re a great inspiration to us.”
For Mayo, this was a sweet win after they suffered a heartbreaking one-point semi-final defeat against Dublin at the same venue a year ago. And Browne said: “I remember here 52, 53 weeks ago and that hurt us. Sinéad Aherne had broken our hearts and that hurt us hard. They were sat in that dressing room and it was like a tomb in there. We promised ourselves we’d come back but it’s not worth a damn unless we finish the job.”
Staunton collected 1-6 in the first half, and Cork’s Orla Finn notched seven points, as Mayo led by 1-7 to 0-8 at the break.
Goal chances came and went at both ends, with the respective goalkeepers Byrne and Martina O’Brien pulling off some fine saves.
The second half was a roller-coaster, Cork moving two points clear before Mayo hit them with two quick-fire goals.
Mayo also lost Fiona Doherty to the sin-bin but showed admirable character as Aileen Gilroy netted before her dismissal, while Amy Dowling palmed home a Sarah Rowe effort that dropped short with her first touch after coming on. In a frantic finale, Áine O’Sullivan skied an effort off the upright when a goal looked on, while Byrne saved an Eimear Scally penalty when a goal would have put Cork a point clear.
Cork boss Ephie Fitzgerald also decided to substitute 2016 Player of the Year Bríd Stack, who’d been struggling with a hamstring injury, down the home straight.
And Fitzgerald explained: “We didn’t know what the result of the game was going to be but Bríd hasn’t trained properly for weeks.
“We didn’t want her aggravating it for the rest of the year for her. But that’s it – Cora (Stack’s direct opponent for much of the game) had a great game. We have no complaints really, we had our opportunities and we wish Mayo all the best for the final.”
Fitzgerald also revealed that Scally picked up an ankle injury shortly before throw-in, which hampered her progress. The in-form attacker was substituted in the first half but came back on with nine minutes remaining, before her penalty was stopped by Byrne in the 57th minute. This was Cork’s first defeat in the All-Ireland series since losing a 2010 quarter-final against Tyrone.
C Staunton (1-9, 2f), A Gilroy & A Dowling (1-0 each), N Kelly & C Whyte (0-1 each).
O Finn (0-13, 11f), Á O’Sullivan (0-2), R Phelan, C O’Sullivan & B O’Sullivan (0-1 each).
Y Byrne; O Conlon, S Tierney, M Carter; M Corbett, R Kearns, F Doherty; A Gilroy, F McHale; D Hughes, N Kelly, C Whyte; S Rowe, C Staunton, G Kelly.
A Dowling for Kearns (44).
M O’Brien; E Spillane, B Stack, R Phelan; A Hutchings, E Meaney, S Kelly; N Cotter, M Duggan; C O’Sullivan, D O’Sullivan, B O’Sullivan; Á O’Sullivan, E Scally, O Finn.
L Coppinger for Scally (25), M Ambrose for Meaney (37), O Farmer for Cotter (46), Scally for Á O’Sullivan (51), L Coholan for Stack (52).
N McCormack (Laois).