Magnificent Cora Staunton breaks Kerry hearts as Mayo storm back

Mayo 1-16 Kerry 2-12: When Cora Staunton took possession from Sarah Rowe in the seventh minute of stoppage time in Saturday’s gripping Lidl Ladies NFL Division 1 semi-final, Frank Browne was in no doubt about the outcome.

Browne trusts Staunton implicitly, but the feeling is mutual. He’s a big reason why she decided to stick around for a 22nd season and there’s a neat symmetry surrounding the League final clash with Cork on Saturday week.

Nine years ago, Mayo faced Cork in a semi-final and smashed their 31-game unbeaten streak. Now, it’s Mayo hoping to deny Cork the four-in-a-row before thoughts turn to summer.

Browne doesn’t need reminding either that while Mayo won the League nine years ago, their All-Ireland final conquerors were Cork.

But with Staunton scoring heavily again this year, and young forwards around her now capable of coming up with the goods, anything’s possible for Mayo.

Seven points down at half-time against Kerry in Birr on Saturday, Mayo came roaring back, and when Staunton kicked her 11th point, a stunning effort, it was the first time all afternoon that her side had led.

Browne smiled: “We were training during the week and from that position she was kicking every single one of them. I just knew when she got the ball in that position that it was only going one place.”

And yet Mayo were in trouble at half-time, big trouble, 1-4 to 2-8 down and looking like suffering another big game defeat against Kerry, their 2015 All-Ireland quarter-final conquerors. With the brilliant Sarah Houlihan and Laura Rogers tearing it up for Kerry, the Kingdom were moving well but Mayo had a strong breeze at their backs in the second half and clawed their way back.

Browne added: “All we said in the dressing room at half-time was ‘let’s just go out and win our individual battles and the 50-50 balls’. We did that, we got two or three really good interceptions and people stepped up. We always hear about ‘the Cora show’ but Niamh Kelly, Sarah Rowe, Sarah Mulvihill all stepped up as well. I got a bit purple there at one stage but isn’t it a great advertisement for Ladies football?”

It certainly was and right from the start, too, as Rogers and Kelly traded goals within the opening three minutes. Later in the half, Anna Galvin netted for Kerry and with Clodagh McManamon sin-binned, Mayo were in trouble.

There were more yellow cards to come — one for Kerry’s Kate O’Sullivan in the second half and two for Rachel Kearns, which meant red for the Mayo defender. Amid the mayhem, Staunton kept her cool to convert seven second half frees that helped reel Kerry in, before she finished them with that late point.

Scorers for Mayo:

C Staunton 0-11 (9f), N Kelly 1-0, S Rowe & S Mulvihill 0-2 each, F McHale 0-1.

Scorers for Kerry:

S Houlihan 0-9 (4f), L Rogers 1-2, A Galvin 1-0, A Brosnan 0-1.

MAYO:

Y Byrne; O Conlon, S Tierney, D Hughes; R Kearns, M Carter, L Ryder; C McManamon, A Gilroy; C Hegarty, F McHale, S Mulvihill; S Rowe, C Staunton, N Kelly.

Subs:

N O’Malley for Ryder (21), G Kelly for Conlon (27), C Egan for Gilroy (47), D Caldwell for Hegarty (60+2).

KERRY:

E Murphy; A O’Connell, C Kelly, K O’Sullivan; A Leonard, D Hallissey, C Murphy; E Lynch, L Scanlon; C Buckley, A Brosnan, B Breen; S Houlihan, A Galvin, L Rogers.

Subs:

L Ní Mhuircheartaigh for Buckley (48), M O’Connell for Brosnan (52), P Dennehy for Galvin (58).

Referee:

C McManus (Meath).


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