AFTER DELIBERATING OVER whether to extend her inter-county football career into a 23rd year, Cora Staunton will relay her decision to Mayo management in a meeting on Thursday evening.

The four-time All-Ireland winner has spent the last number of weeks considering her future and will now announce her plans for 2017 ahead of Mayo’s opening league game against Galway on Sunday.

Mayo manager Frank Browne last week said he was hopeful Staunton would recommit to the panel but speaking in Dublin yesterday, the 35-year-old suggested it might be the right time to step away after over two decades at senior level.

“I suppose there are a few of us now at the age where we’re a long time around,” she told The42.

“It’s well-documented that if I play this year it will be 23 years playing senior football.  I’m not getting any younger and certainly the body isn’t getting any younger.

“We were with our club until the end of November so I’ve only really had December off. It has been a hard decision I’ve come to and I will be relaying that to the management over the next few days.

“Obviously the league starts on Sunday so I don’t want to be hanging on or the person who comes back in April or May and just plays championship. If I’m back, I’ll be back on Sunday for Galway and if I’m not back, that will be it. I don’t want a really big retirement story, if I retire I will be gone and that’ll be it. That’s the way it will go.

“It will be very hard to walk away from sport anyway having done it for as long as I am. It’s going to be a huge culture shock to walk away and not be involved. I’ve been training since I was seven or eight and with Mayo since I was 13 so it’s a long time but I’ll talk to management and who knows, you’ll have to wait until you see me on the team-sheet on Sunday or not.”

Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

Staunton, one of the most-decorated ladies footballers of all-time, has been weighing up her options with fellow stalwarts Martha Carter and goalkeeper Yvonne Byrne. If one of them hangs up the boots, the others will follow and vice versa.

“It was down to me and the two girls,” she continued. “I’ve been playing with them for a long time and like last year the three of us have met up and decided together. It’s not that we’re putting any pressure on each other but it’s just that we know if I play, the other two will play and if one of them doesn’t play, the two of us won’t play.

“It’s solely down to time in your life now. Does your body have another 10 or 11 months training that you’ll have to go through?

“Listening to some of the girls who have been training the last couple of weeks there’s a lot of young, fresh girls in as well. You have to be able to compete with that again, I don’t want to end my career as a bit-part player. I want to end it at the top of the game and performing well. I’ll have to see if I’m able for that and with work am I able for both as well.

“The decision was mulled over for quite some time, longer than any other year and I’m 35 now, I’m not getting any younger. You see from the men’s and women’s football, it’s a young person’s game and I’ll want to go out and give it 10 months but am I able to give it that 10 months?

“I suppose every year is getting harder physically. I have to be in very good shape, I probably have to be in even better shape than some of the younger ones because their natural ability will get them through. I don’t want to overstay my welcome.”

While Staunton has certainly hinted that she will head off into the sunset, there is part of her that is still motivated by the way Mayo’s championship campaign ended last year.

Sinéad Aherne’s free in the dying minutes of the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final brought the curtain down on Mayo’s tilt for the Brendan Martin Cup in the most dramatic fashion and you get the sense that there is unfinished business there for Staunton.

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

She has already won every honour in the game, including 11 All-Star awards, but, just like 12 months ago, there is a hunger to get Mayo back to Croke Park.

The Westerners last reigned supreme in 2003 and how Staunton would dearly love to help her side get back to the top and dethrone Cork — but there are obviously doubts reverberating in her head.

“It’s very difficult to walk away after the way we ended last year and us being so close,” the forward added.

“We’ve been so close, if we had been further away it would probably be easier to step away but that we were so close last year, probably should have beaten Dublin last year and they came close to Cork. We know we’re not that far away.

“I suppose it’s just wanting to get back to Croke Park and that chance to win the All-Ireland. When you come to 35, people say your time is up so there’s that added bit of pressure.

“The motivation is still there and that’s probably because we haven’t achieved that. If we had won another All-Ireland and won what we want maybe the motivation wouldn’t be as high anymore but it’s still there, it’s just whether the body can hold up and compete at the highest level for 10 months.

“There’s obviously huge expectation for you to get to a level every time, expected to be scoring this and that every match. Can you get to that? And if you don’t, you’re not playing well.”

Staunton’s form has never really been an issue. She has remained one of the most prolific forwards in the game and her value, even at the age of 35, is still unquestionable.

Losing a player of her calibre would be a huge blow to Mayo ahead of the new season and if the time has come for her to call it a day, it would certainly be the end of an era.

“It’s going to be hugely different,” Staunton said, when asked if she would go and support the team on Sunday if her decision is to retire.

“It’s very hard to say but I do think I’ll find it difficult whether I’ll be able to go and watch a couple of matches and stand and shout on the sideline for Mayo, I don’t know. I’ll try it but I don’t know what way I’ll be.

Staunton at the Sky Academy Inspiration Day on Tuesday.

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I’ve taken one league off in 22 years because I tore my cruciate but every other year I’ve started the slog in January so I think I will find it difficult. I’ll go and support and how difficult I find it I don’t know until the time.

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“It takes time to get used to being not part of the team, having that craic in the dressing room. That’s the most difficult thing you’re going to be missing. You’re going to have to fill the gap with something.”

Whatever the outcome of Thursday’s meeting, Staunton can look back on an exceptional career.

“I don’t really look back on what I’ve achieved. When you do sit down and reflect, it’s huge but every year I go out now I look at the year ahead and not the past. At the end of the day it’s about getting your All-Ireland medals and I’ve been lucky enough to win a few with club and county and I’ve lost many as well.

“I can’t complain, my career has been very good and it has been mainly injury free and I’ve got to play in most of the big games I wanted to play in and got to travel the world and meet loads of people. I’ve no complaints, it has been an exceptional career and you’ll know in a few days time if it’s extended for another 10 or 11 months.”

We await with interest.

Cora Staunton was speaking at the Sky Sports Academy Inspiration Day at the new National Indoor Arena in Abbotstown yesterday. Sky Sports Living for Sport, in partnership with the Youth Sport Trust is part of Sky Academy which works with young people from primary school right through to the start of their career, using a shared passion for TV, creativity and sport, to build skills and experience.

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