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Working Lunch meets IFA's Oonagh O'Reilly: 'Every child, man and woman can be part of our football family'

Margaret Canning meets the Irish Football Association sales and marketing director to talk commercial strategy

Published 01/12/2015

Oonagh O'Reilly with Margaret Canning in Miel & Moi in Belfast
Oonagh O'Reilly with Margaret Canning in Miel & Moi in Belfast

She admits to having had a 'baptism of fire' in her job as sales and marketing director of the Irish Football Association (IFA). Former ladies Gaelic football champ, Oonagh O'Reilly, went from zero Northern Ireland matches at the beginning of this year - to four in the month of March alone.

She is the first female director in the IFA as the sport and its Green and White Army enjoys some glory days following qualification for Euro 2016.

Oonagh orders eggs royale - crumpets with smoked salmon, poached egg and hollandaise sauce - while it's goats cheese crostini for me.

We're in the very girly surroundings of patisserie Miel & Moi on the Lisburn Road.

And despite being a woman in the mainly male world of football, Oonagh says she's far from fixated on gender issues in the business world.

"I'm not someone who has that on my radar because I've always played boys' sports. I played Gaelic football on a boys' team from I was no age, so it's not part of my psyche to think I might be the only woman - because I've always been the only girl.

"It's not difficult or weird for me."

Oonagh is leading the commercial strategy for the Irish FA, a role embracing everything from ticket sales to potential naming rights, football programmes and merchandising. And that latter category is one area which will be booming in the coming months as preparations for the Euros by fans and players alike step up.

Merchandising opportunities range from beer mats to key rings, hats and scarves and headbands - but the biggest piece of merchandise is the team's new National Stadium home, which she wants everyone in Northern Ireland to enjoy.

"We now have a national football stadium which is world-class, state-of-the-art and has loads of potential."

Naming rights for the stadium are high on the list, and she's going to engage in talks with any corporation with a name which will boost the chances of members of the public on both sides of the divide wanting to visit. "The Miel & Moi Stadium," she jokes.

Oonagh is keen to get everyone across the threshold. "We could have concerts there and other sporting events. We really want to maximise the opportunity around the stadium.

"Someone who's never been at the stadium before may be thinking it's easier to take their first steps into it for a concert than a football match."

She joined the IFA in January this year after six years as the business development director of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The farmer's daughter studied Agricultural Economics at Queen's, and after graduating, helped run the Explorers programme for graduates wishing to work overseas.

She then joined a training consultancy which sold leadership training programmes - and because Oonagh was having to sell the product, she undertook the training herself.

That was at the tender age of 23, when she experienced an 'epiphany' that our perceptions in the world of work are purely subjective, so shouldn't be our sole driver in the workplace.

There's a drive to make football as inclusive as possible and demolish the perceptions that the Northern Ireland football team doesn't represent everyone in the province.

"We want every child in Northern Ireland to be part of our football family and to dream of wearing the green and white jersey - and not just every child, but every man and woman, too."

Miel & Moi, Lisburn Road

Oonagh had:

Eggs Royale: £8.95

Flat white: £2.65

Margaret had:

Goats cheese crostini: £7.50

Large Americano: £2.75

Total: £21.85

Belfast Telegraph

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