"Female sportspeople need female role models"
Anna Geary and Cora Staunton know what it takes to reach the top.
They couldn't have gotten there though if it wasn't for the trailblazers that went before them and broke down barriers and perceptions.
Perceptions. That was the big one. When people like Sonia O'Sullivan went and excelled, that's what inspired Cora Staunton to believe that she could go and do the same. That's what helps a young Mayo girl start out on an unprecedented 24 seasons in inter-county football and she's still going with the club.
Female role models helped her believe she could. Why shouldn't another woman go and inspire the next generation? Why shouldn't a woman go and break records? Why shouldn't Cora Staunton?
"When we were growing up, there probably wasn’t too many female sports stars out there," Cora Staunton spoke as an Athlete Mentor with Sky Sports Living For Sport back in 2016.
"Definitely the one I looked up to was Sonia O’Sullivan. I’ve met Sonia on many occasions and she’s a powerful woman. If I had someone like Sonia O’Sullivan coming to my school when I was younger, I’d be in awe.
"You could see, when we were out in Finglas (as part of the Sky Academy programme), when Katie Taylor came in and all the students – especially the girls – they were just in awe. They were inspired, it was like ‘oh God, and they were over talking to her and you could hear them say, ‘you’re my idol.’
"It’s great that they have someone like that to look up to. Obviously, as female sportspeople, you want to have female role models. Yes, you can have male role models as well, but I think it’s hugely important for female role models to help grow the sport, whatever it is.
"From a football point of view, my role models would’ve been all male though - Maurice Fitzgerald being the biggest of them. Even now, looking back on old programmes watching him, he’s just unbelievable. Still involved with his club, St. Mary’s, and I don’t know what age he is.
"He was just a marvelous footballer, wonderful to watch. He beat Mayo alone in ’97 in an All-Ireland final. He was definitely, from a football point of view, someone I looked up to and Sonia would be that from a female role model point of view. And she still would be."
It's no different for Anna Geary.
When she watched female athletes strive for perfection, demanding more of themselves and maybe even going against what common perceptions would've told her, it struck a chord with the Cork legend. It was alright to be what they would've once called different. It was alright to compete, want, need. It was alright to give it your all to be the best. Just for the sake of sport. Just for the sake of winning.
That's why the Williams sisters [Venus and Serena] were her idols.
"People like that, they were always out there but, I suppose, with the medium, you never got to see any of them that much so anyone you did see, any female you saw excelling and expecting more of herself, that is what I always looked up to," Geary told SportsJOE.
"That’s what I liked about the Williams sisters. They demanded this exceptional standard of themselves. They were probably more aggressive in their personalities than maybe the likes of Sonia [O'Sullivan] and that wasn’t something you were really used to seeing. Stereotypically, people have this idea that women are meant to be more gentle and graceful, and nicer, and I loved the fact that she [Serena] doesn’t care about any of that. She’s a sportsperson and she wants to be at the top of her game."
"How she played was very forward and she had a superiority air about her nearly, but she backed it up by what she did on the court. I loved the idea that she kind of put her money where her mouth was.
"She’s used the struggles that she’s had to overcome to get to greater places. Every sportsperson has failures and every sportsperson has problems in their careers but, ultimately, if you ask any of them and I know from looking back on my own, it’s those failures that probably helped make me into a better sportsperson and a better person.
"The amount of people who say, ‘Katie Taylor’s my hero.’ But then you ask them if they box and it’s like, ‘no…’
"The sport is irrelevant. It’s what Katie stands for."