As is nearly always the case when a Mayo ladies football team is involved in a final of note, the build-up centred on Cora Staunton. On this occasion, it wasn’t so much the threat she posed on the edge of the square, rather the fact that this All-Ireland senior club final would be her last game before heading to Australia. There she’ll spend the next four months as a professional Aussie Rules player with the Greater Western Sydney Giants.
Upon her return, she’ll fall back in with a club which yesterday celebrated its sixth All-Ireland triumph since 2002. Staunton was front and centre for all six.
As for her inter-county career, the 35-year old is still unsure. That’s a call, she says, to be made next April.
It has been a “whirlwind” 10 weeks since Mayo’s All- Ireland final appearance on September 24 and while that afternoon didn’t go to plan, this result from Parnell Park means there won’t be a more content woman on board her Sydney bound flight tomorrow.
“It’ll only be when I’m on the flight and I have time on my own that I’ll be able to reflect on the last couple of weeks. It is huge to go with a club All-Ireland in my back pocket, a lovely send-off,” she remarked.
“It is a very physical game I’m going out to play. I’ll be straight into pre-season when I land on Thursday. There’ll be eight weeks of that which will be tough. I hope my body holds up as I’ve been struggling with niggles lately. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Certainly, the attention she received from the Mourneabbey defence should stand her in good stead as she swaps the O’Neill’s for the oval ball. The very first ball she broke onto yesterday resulted in her being illegally challenged. Then again, she was no angel herself, penalised by referee Maggie Farrelly on numerous occasions.
Indeed, there was a nice bit of bite to this ladies football club decider. Carnacon defender Doireann Hughes was the first of four players sin-binned during the closing 17 minutes. Three of those yellow cards were shown to Carnacon players, the Mayo club finishing with 13 on the field.
By that juncture, they were hemmed in by the four-in-a-row Munster champions and just about holding on. They were outscored by 1-5 to 0-2 during the closing 16 minutes. What sustained them was their 12-minute burst directly after half-time.
Ahead by 0-7 to 0-4 at the interval, Cora (0-3, 0-2) and Martha Carter (0-2) their main contributors, Carnacon cut loose upon the resumption. Cora, Fiona McHale, and Aoife Brennan quickly doubled their advantage.
A Doireann O’Sullivan free briefly interrupted the surge. Cora pointed in the ensuing play, this followed by another point from Brennan. The aforementioned O’Sullivan, who rattled the post with a first-half goal chance, dropped an effort short and the play finished with Cora splitting the posts at the other end. 0-13 to 0-5 now the difference.
The sin-binning of Doireann Hughes for a foul on Ciara O’Sullivan proved the catalyst for the Mourneabbey revival. Sisters Róisín and Ciara O’Sullivan, along with Ellie Jack, kicked points and when Bríd O’Sullivan found the net after a lovely interchange with Laura Fitzgerald, the deficit was down to a goal (0-14 to 1-8) with 12 minutes left.
Fitzgerald had an excellent opportunity to bag a second goal, goalkeeper Michelle Higgins proving equal to the shot.
So where Carnacon fell to the ground in elation at the sound of the hooter, Mourneabbey collapsed in despair. Three All-Ireland final defeats in four years will be hard to stomach. They’re young, though. Of the starting team, just four are aged 27 or older. The eldest is 29. Carnacon, on the other hand, had seven starters north of 30.
“As a young child growing up, you harbour hopes of doing well with your club, but you don’t expect to win as much as we have,” Staunton continued. “It has been four years since we won our last All-Ireland. Maybe, we thought our time had gone.” Anything but.
C Staunton (0-7, 0-3f); M Carter, A Brennan, A Dowling (0-2 each); F McHale, E Cosgrave (0-1).
D O’Sullivan (0-5, 0-4f); B O’Sullivan (1-1); R O’Sullivan, E Jack, C O’Sullivan, L Fitzgerald (0-1 each).
M Higgins; C Egan, M Corbett, S McGing; M Carter, D Hughes, S Larkin; F McHale, E Flannery; M McGing, A Dowling, L Dowling; A Brennan, C Staunton, E Cosgrave.
A McHale for Larkin (54 inj).
M O’Sullivan; K Coakley, CA Stack, E Coakley; A O’Sullivan, R O’Sullivan, N O’Sullivan; E Meaney, M O’Callaghan; E Jack, C O’Sullivan, B O’Sullivan; E Harrington, D O’Sullivan, L Fitzgerald.
A Buckley for K Coakley (HT); C Lawlee for N O’Sullivan (49).
M Farrelly (Cavan).