Dublin’s turn to seek end to fi­nal mis­ery

Staunton’s scores hold the key to Mayo glory

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - DER­MOT CROWE

IF only to see Cora Staunton parad­ing her ex­ten­sive range of gifts, you might con­sider at­tend­ing the All-Ire­land se­nior ladies fi­nal be­tween Dublin and Mayo to­day. This af­ter­noon’s con­test marks Staunton’s and Mayo’s first fi­nal ap­pear­ance since 2007. The Na­tional League fi­nal win over Dublin in April was Mayo’s only Croke Park ap­pear­ance in the last nine years.

Staunton is the per­fect em­bod­i­ment of the ladies game in her ca­pac­ity to en­ter­tain and en­rap­ture au­di­ences, but also in re­mind­ing us how much she has been un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated by the pub­lic at large.

Much of the broader pub­lic ac­quain­tance with Staunton and the game she plays is fleet­ing. But re­cent trends show a spike in at­ten­dances. Last year’s gath­er­ing for the All-Ire­land fi­nals set a new record, ris­ing to al­most 35,000, and to­day’s could breach the 40,000 mark, with Dublin striv­ing to end a three-year fi­nal los­ing streak. In­creased tele­vi­sion ex­po­sure and an ex­pand­ing role for the ladies game in clubs through­out the coun­try are growth fac­tors start­ing to trans­late into a deeper cu­rios­ity and a widen­ing sup­port base.

To­day’s se­nior show­piece comes a week af­ter an ab­sorb­ing All-Ire­land men’s fi­nal be­tween Dublin and Mayo. The sharp dis­ap­point­ment which has spread through Mayo in re­cent days can’t have es­caped the ladies fly­ing the flag now. But they have their own am­bi­tions and goals and they do not carry the bur­den of a famine as ex­ten­sive as their county men. Dublin too, though buoyed by the suc­cess of a week ago, won’t find it adding a point to the score­board once the game gets un­der way at 4.0.

Mayo and Dublin ladies have met at the sum­mit only once be­fore, when Mayo last tri­umphed in 2003 and rounded off a fourth win in five years. For Staunton, who will be 36 be­fore the end of the year and is in her 23rd sea­son, this rep­re­sents a late res­ur­rec­tion. Since last win­ning the se­nior cham­pi­onship 14 years ago, Mayo have had one fi­nal ap­pear­ance, in 2007. Lean pick­ings, but they pulled off the re­sult of the year in the semi-fi­nal when top­pling Cork.

Cork have dom­i­nated in a way only pre­vi­ously man­aged by Kerry when they won their nine in a row in the 1980s and ‘90s. Cork couldn’t match that un­bri­dled se­quence but they still man­aged a re­mark­able 11 wins out of the last 12, the one blip com­ing in 2010 when they failed to make the fi­nal. That was the year that Dublin en­joyed their sole suc­cess, win­ning com­fort­ably against Ty­rone — who are back in Croke Park to­day in the in­ter­me­di­ate fi­nal.

Dublin will not be un­happy to see the back of Cork, for a while at least, although there would ob­vi­ously be no sweeter win for these girls who have suf­fered at their hands with de­feats in the last three fi­nals, by mar­gins of one point, twice, and two.

Mayo went through a pe­riod of tur­bu­lence since last ap­pear­ing, at its worst when the county with­drew from the cham­pi­onship in 2010. The with­drawal was tem­po­rary and fol­lowed the res­ig­na­tion of Pat Costello as man­ager af­ter dif­fer­ences be­tween him and the play­ers. They re-en­tered the cham­pi­onship the same year but the county has taken time to find the kind of sta­bil­ity needed to re­vive it­self as a force.

Last year Mayo reached the All-Ire­land semi-fi­nals and signed off with a highly cred­itable one-point loss to Dublin in Br­effni Park. They stormed back from be­ing eight points down to level the match but went un­der to a free from Sinéad Ah­erne with the last kick. The league ti­tle that fol­lowed last April ap­peared to con­sol­i­date that form. The heavy de­feat to Gal­way in the Con­nacht fi­nal then shook con­fi­dence but they have worked their way back and de­feat­ing Cork has re­paired much of the dam­age. Claire Egan, the for­mer Mayo All-Ire­land medal win­ner and a club team-mate of Staunton’s at Car­na­con, laments the darker pe­riod when re­la­tions be­tween play­ers, man­age­ment and the county board be­came frayed. They went through a phase of reg­u­lar man­age­ment up­heaval. “There were a lot of changes at ad­min­is­tra­tion level,” re­calls Egan. “There was a lot of pol­i­tick­ing. Play­ers want to play. The group from ’99 (year of their first All-Ire­land se­nior ti­tle win) on­wards that I en­joyed tremen­dous suc­cess with was very driven as well. There was a good setup and stan­dard, the train­ing with (then man­ager) Fin­bar Egan was in­cred­i­ble and he had huge stan­dards and we were ac­cus­tomed to that.

“It was hugely frus­trat­ing in Mayo af­ter what we had ex­pe­ri­enced to go back and be scram­bling around for a man­ager a cou­ple of months be­fore the cham­pi­onship. Play­ers ask­ing for proper train­ing fa­cil­i­ties. Ba­sic stuff. Play­ers want to turn up and play; they want a set train­ing venue and they want to train hard and get things done.”

But to­day of­fers the chance of a new chap­ter un­fold­ing with the age pro­file, a few vet­er­ans like Staunton and Yvonne Byrne aside, very much on the lower end of the scale. They face a Dublin team, un­der Mick Bo­han, that is de­ter­mined to atone for the bit­ter ex­pe­ri­ence of los­ing the last three fi­nals. Egan says that Mayo have to park the Cork win, which no longer has any rel­e­vance.

With Staunton there, they have every chance. At times she has three play­ers in her space, try­ing to cur­tail her in­flu­ence. “Her scor­ing ra­tios are in­cred­i­ble,” says Egan, “and she is en­joy­ing it. She takes a lot of ham­mer­ings in games, and that is a fact, be­ing dou­ble-teamed and so on. I have played with her, and seen a lot of du­bi­ous tack­ling go­ing on. And I hope she gets proper pro­tec­tion.”

Staunton rep­re­sents the sin­gle great­est threat of an­other All-Ire­land fi­nal day heart­break for Dublin. How they strive to sti­fle her will be fas­ci­nat­ing.

Pho­tos: Ram­sey Cardy

Dublin’s Sinead Ah­erne and Mayo’s Sarah Tier­ney.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.