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All-rounder Aimee Mackin is living her sporting dreams

By Declan Bogue

Published 16/04/2016

Having a ball: Armagh ladies footballer Aimee Mackin with children from Gaelscoil Cholaiste Mhuire at Croke Park
Having a ball: Armagh ladies footballer Aimee Mackin with children from Gaelscoil Cholaiste Mhuire at Croke Park
Having a ball: Armagh ladies footballer Aimee Mackin in action with Northern Ireland ladies soccer team

Seattle Reign player Megan Rapinoe has been a vocal figure during the recent lobbying by the US Women's soccer team.

While the salaries on offer in North American Women's Soccer can be paltry, Rapinoe is familiar with the potential earnings in the sport.

In January 2013, she signed for Olympique Lyonnais for six months, during which she was reportedly paid £9,900 per month.

The top-earning women's soccer player is Marta Vieira of Brazil, who earned £283,000 in 2014 playing in Sweden.

Aimee Mackin of Shane O'Neill's Camlough, Newry City ladies, Northern Ireland ladies and Armagh ladies is aware these opportunities exist. Her Northern Ireland team-mate Laura Rafferty has a full-time contract with Chelsea Ladies.

But there is a but. Aimee says: "It's hard to know. At the same time, I would be a bit of a home bird. I don't know. I will just take it as it comes. I am enjoying my Gaelic at the minute."

And well she might, as Armagh ladies' team face their biggest ever game this weekend against Cork. The result of their rescheduled clash could send them on their way to the league semi-finals, quite an accomplishment in Ronan Clarke's first year in charge.

The fact that it is indeed the Ronan Clarke, of 2002 All-Ireland winning and Young Player of the Year fame, managing the team, has not gone unnoticed. The ladies' game has a shiny face on it at present and the profile is growing.

The plight of some players and double standards compared to how the men are treated were highlighted by Mayo's Sarah Rowe earlier this year, following on from the sexism row after the Ulster Poc Fada of last summer, but Mackin insists GAA involvement has been good to her.

"I have played soccer as well and it's totally professional. But the Gaelic is growing that way," the 19-year-old (below) says.

"You have the likes of food after training and food after matches now in that way. Something simple like that.

"We were playing Cork there and we got everything for the weekend. It's going that way. We get set up with physios if we ever need a massage."

Talk soon switches to that ultra-realistic television advert by LIDL for the ladies' National League.

"You would never have thought there would have been an ad featuring ladies' football," Mackin marvels. "But it is great for the sport and just to boost the profile and hopefully get a lot of support out."

It was through her GAA accomplishments that she secured a scholarship to study Health, Physical Activity and Sport at Queen's. She represents the University and attends strength and conditioning sessions with resident expert Mike McGurn twice a week.

"For an amateur sport, you get a lot of benefits from it," she chips in.

She was at Croke Park during the week to launch the Kelloggs Cúl camps, the GAA's summer schemes which get children onto the pitch sampling all the different codes alongside Cork camogie captain Aisling Thompson, Mayo footballer Aidan O'Shea and Kilkenny hurler TJ Reid.

That was where it all began for her and younger sister Blaithin, 17, who has featured in all of Armagh's games in this helter-skelter season. It was never going to be any different for their family of six, with their father Mickey a keen club coach and current Chairman of Shane O'Neill's.

Nowadays, highly respected figures such as team-mate Caroline O'Hanlon have huge praise for her. O'Hanlon labelled her a "phenomenal talent" back in February.

To hear O'Hanlon, the doctor, Gaelic footballer and international netball player, say something like that, well…

"She was a role model for me growing up. She was always one of those people we looked up to," Mackin enthuses.

"Just playing with her, she is an exceptional player and the way she goes about her life is admirable. She works as a doctor, I don't know how she does it because she would come home from training and then straight to work and the next day the same. It is hard.

"But she deserves everything she has won; the All-Star awards, the Player of the Year, because she has so much dedication and so much commitment.

"I was only 17 when I started and she was always helping me along in big games, keeping me calm, not to get overwhelmed by the supporters and all of that."

It hasn't entirely been a charmed life. For a while the Armagh ladies' team were heartbroken when long-serving manager James Daly lost his wife Ann after an eight-year battle with cancer.

James' daughter Katie is the Armagh goalkeeper. Ann was part of the ladies' county board. All in it together.

"It was hard for all of us, especially James and Katie, but we were there to support them the whole way. It was nearly a relief for him to get out to training, just to get out from the house," Mackin recalls.

In 2014, they were in Division Three. Daly left them last year after reaching the top flight and being beaten in the All-Ireland semi-final against the awesome Cork. He left solid foundations for Clarke.

"Within the county, he is a big figure. Everyone knows him from what he did with Armagh," says Mackin, who was only five years of age when Clarke was that teenage bull-like presence on the edge of the square as Armagh won their sole Sam Maguire.

"Even getting the likes of sponsorship, he is a good figure to have in there and he is very professional in how he goes about things. He brings a new approach to it.

"It's a great thing for him, and there is a lot for him to take in."

Armagh have survived comfortably in the league, defeating Dublin, Kerry, Monaghan and Tyrone, while losing games against Galway and Mayo.

After their game against Cork last weekend was called off due to the weather warnings and flooded pitches, they now have a game in hand. They sit level with Galway, Dublin and Kerry and a draw against the Rebellettes, or even avoiding heavy defeat, will have them in the league semi-finals the following weekend.

She can't wait for that ball to be thrown in.

"Any time you play Cork it is one of the biggest-ever games, they are that big. Ten All-Irelands in the last 11 years, there is no defining how good they are and they are the team to beat," she adds.

"It's just going to be on the day. It will take a lot of hard work, they are a physically strong team. We will look forward to it."

As her Twitter bio says, 'Don't dream your life, live your dream!!'

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