Something about Maria
MARIA Staunton had intended to follow Carnacon this year from a certain distance. After the Aisling McGing Memorial Tournament last May she decided to hang up her boots. A new job as Head of the Innovation in Business Centre at the Castlebar Campus of GMIT was a demanding one and after over a decade playing senior football for Carnacon, the 26 year old decided that it was a good time to step aside.
Basketball and tennis were taken up in an attempt to fill the void but when – after Carnacon had won their seventh county title in a row – Staunton was asked to return for their All-Ireland campaign, well it was hard to say no.
“I got a few calls asking me to come back ahead of the Connacht semi-final against Corofin and I said I’d give it one more shot. It’s definitely my last shot, the legs are telling me I should retire,” she smiled last week as she spoke to The Mayo News.
“I had retired because my new job was taking precedence. There would be evenings I wouldn’t be able to make it and there is no point giving a half commitment to the football, that wouldn’t be fair on myself and it wouldn’t be fair on the rest of the team.”
The amiable Staunton captained the Mayo ladies to the league and championship double in 2000 and has been used off the Carnacon subs bench since her return. But it is obvious that she is delighted to be involved again.
“I’m trying to get fit too, that does take a bit of work. The final is coming a bit soon, I can feel myself getting old trying to get fit for it,” she chuckled. “I needed to do a lot of work when I came back. I hadn’t played football in a while so it took me a good while to get used to it. I’m glad I’ve come back though, especially at this time of year when you are gearing up for another All-Ireland club final. It would be one great last hurrah if we were to win it.”
Were they to beat Donaghmoyne of Monaghan in next Sunday’s final, it would be Carnacon’s second All-Ireland club championship. Their first win, in 2002, still holds enough memories to make this final keenly anticipated.
“To win an All-Ireland with your club makes it so special,” she explained. “You’re growing up with girls and to achieve something like that with them is brilliant. What we did in 2002 can never be taken away from us. We will always remember what we did that year. It’s a great achievement to win the club because it’s so hard to win.”
MARIA STAUNTON’S playing career began in Carnacon NS aged ten, playing with her brothers on the boys team before she began with Carnacon a year later. Her younger cousin, Cora, would soon follow her onto that team and the seed of greatness in Carnacon GAA Club were sewn around that time.
“Carnacon have always been good at underage and that has ensured the senior side has always been very strong. Jimmy (Corbett), Beatrice (Casey) and Michael (McHale) do great work, give a great commitment and that is a big reason for the success we’ve enjoyed. They are the backbone of the club. I’d have to admit that because you are used to winning, complacency can seep in. The one way we are lucky is that there are young girls coming in all the time and they are new to the scene. They are driven because of the novelty and they drive us on.”
Aged just 14, Staunton played her first adult game for Carnacon and just two years later she broke onto the Mayo ladies’ senior side. She might only be 26 now but with such an early start, she has played an awful lot of football.
“I’m 26 and it feels like an old age,” she conceded. “But there are not many girls older than that still playing. It might seem like a relatively young age, especially compared to men’s football, but I suppose other things like work come into play that make it harder to keep going. Often players at this age have been playing adult football for over a decade too.”
During that decade came some memorable successes with Mayo before Maria parted company from the rigours of inter-county life five years ago. “We made the breakthrough in 1999 when a lot of the younger girls came through,“ she recalled. “The following year we won the double. I was captain so that was very special, something I will never forget. But 1999, because it was the first time, was brilliant too.”
But on to next Sunday and Monaghan and Ulster champions, Donaghmoyne, who await in the final. They also beat Carnacon’s old foes, Ballyboden St Enda’s, in the semi-final and are very much an unknown quantity for Staunton and company.
“We don’t know anything about them, we’re going into the unknown. The word is that they don’t have any county players but that can often be a strength rather than a weakness. It means they can be together for the whole year, not interrupted by the county scene. We have to be careful not to be too relaxed just because we don’t know.”
And will this be the swansong? Staunton is almost certain, but not quite. “I’m a bit worried I mightn’t retire,” she laughed. “If the last training session is anything to go by though I won’t be rushing back! You never know I suppose. If we win it it would be a great way to go out, to retire with a bang.”