by Declan Rooney
Mayo ladies football manager Peter Leahy says he is determined to lead his side into their All-Ireland qualifier opener against Cavan despite the loss of several of his squad in recent days.
Ten of the squad - including record scorer Cora Staunton - and selector Michael McHale left the Mayo squad late last week but Leahy and the remaining players are set to take on Cavan in Clones this Saturday.
Mayo - who were runners up in last year's All-Ireland final - saw their championship season get off to a losing start with defeat to Galway in the Connacht senior final, and they were then paired with Cavan and Dublin in their pool, with two teams set to go forward to the quarter-finals.
Yesterday's Mayo News reported that the players have left the squad due to 'player welfare' issues, while it also said that the Mayo GAA Board has confirmed their departure.
Leahy previously managed the Westmeath ladies side to the intermediate All-Ireland before he took charge of Mayo ahead of this season, and he insisted his focus remains on the clash with Cavan.
"I am preparing for a championship match on Saturday and as soon as that is over I will give you the facts," said Leahy, who was also involved as a coach under last year's manager Frank Browne.
"But for now I must concentrate on the players who are looking forward to their championship match against Cavan this Saturday."
Among the high profile departures from the squad is captain Sarah Tierney, while vice-captain Fiona McHale has joined her father selector McHale in the walk-out with all of the Carnacon contingent in the squad.
When contacted yesterday (TUES) captain Tierney declined the opportunity to speak on behalf of the team.
Mayo had shown some real form under Leahy in the early part of the year and reached the Lidl league final only to lose out to Dublin in a repeat of last summer's All-Ireland final.
The return of Staunton to the squad following her stint playing Australian Rules was seen as a huge boost as they sought to claim a first All-Ireland since 2003, and seeing as she has already signed a contract to return to Australia after this season, she could well end her Mayo career on a sour note. Staunton was parachuted straight into the team for the Galway game, where she scored six points.
Speaking immediately after the Connacht final defeat at MacHale Park, Leahy explained his belief that Mayo would recover from the loss and launch an extended championship run, and that Staunton was just one of a number of top players at his disposal.
"This time last year we got beaten by 12 points and went on to play in an All-Ireland final. These girls are resilient and they will learn from it," he said.
"Some people might say she (Staunton) has had an impact since she came back. The reality is she is a top quality player and we have got top quality players all around her. She has one member of a very good forward line."