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Game Changer Awards: Armagh captain Kelly Mallon on how being an elite athlete requires a permanent lifestyle choice

Multi-talented Mallon reveals what drives her on in the quest for success

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Sharing the wealth: Armagh skipper Kelly Mallon wants to create as many leaders as possible around her

Sharing the wealth: Armagh skipper Kelly Mallon wants to create as many leaders as possible around her

©INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

Kelly Mallon is in support of the LGFA amalgamating with the GAA

Kelly Mallon is in support of the LGFA amalgamating with the GAA

©INPHO/John McVitty

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Sharing the wealth: Armagh skipper Kelly Mallon wants to create as many leaders as possible around her

Over the last two years, Kelly Mallon has captained the Armagh ladies’ Gaelic footballers to back-to-back Ulster Senior Championship wins, put in a player-of-the-match performance in her own club’s first county title win in 22 years, and added a record ninth All-Ireland senior road bowls title to her trophy cabinet.

It’s no surprise, then, that the multi-talented sportswoman has been shortlisted for the Belfast Telegraph Game Changer Awards, in association with Electric Ireland, and she explains that although it’s tough becoming and maintaining one’s status as an elite athlete, it’s a “lifestyle” she wouldn’t change for the world.

“Any athlete has goal-setting, so it’s a big part of sport,” she said, when asked if she ever stops to think about her insanely long list of ever-growing achievements.

“I just take it a day at a time and try to focus on the processes as opposed to the outcomes. It’s a lifestyle, it’s not something you can do for four or five months and then go into a party girl lifestyle.

“That is your lifestyle for forever really, until you’re finished. But I suppose I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it.”

She was also the skipper for her camogie club, Maddens, but told the Belfast Telegraph she doesn’t think she’ll be back with the camogs this season as she really “wants to push on with Armagh”, with Gaelic football undoubtedly the favourite of her many sports and hobbies.

And the 32-year-old isn’t shy when it comes to reiterating how much dedication and perseverance is needed when it comes to being Ulster’s current most successful ladies’ team.

“I couldn’t even put a finger on how many hours I spend on sports to be honest,” she laughed.

“Even throughout my working hours (as a community development officer for ABC Council), I am talking to our manager and chatting to some of the girls, it doesn’t stop. In terms of training, our girls are doing about six sessions a week, so they’ve really only one rest day.

“You’re talking three pitch sessions and two or three gym sessions. It is a big commitment and on top of that, myself and some other girls have additional rehab exercises to do daily.

“I’m injured at the minute, sort of coming back into it. I’m doing rehab every day and some girls are doing mobility stuff every morning. A rough estimate of what everyone is doing on average would be at least 12 hours a week and that’s not even including clubs.”

She added that she doesn’t feel the pressure that may come to some others with being captain, and “really loves it”, joking that she might be “too laid back in some circumstances”.

“My captaincy style is just to try and create as many leaders as possible,” she said.

“Someone sent me something one time about Kobe Bryant the basketball player, and he was just speaking about how lonely leadership can be sometimes, but I find it’s not lonely at all if you surround yourself with other leaders.

“Any of the girls I’ve played alongside have really driven that on and if you look at the Armagh team, there are plenty of leaders there from jersey No.1 through to 31.

“I care very much about the set-up and it means a lot to me to be in that role. Outside of training or away from the pitch, I do a lot of work in terms of checking in with girls and making sure that we have all the boxes ticked.”

Mallon has three siblings, and is in the middle of her two brothers age-wise. They grew up in a housing estate and she said their life was just always playing Gaelic football together outside.

“My dad couldn’t get us in at night whereas now I know it’s maybe different, whereby you maybe can’t get children outside. My parents were really supportive when I was younger. Even if they’d tried to take a football off me, it wouldn’t have gone down well,” laughed the Armagh Harps club woman.

Recently, delegates at the Ladies’ Gaelic Football Association (LGFA) Congress voted in favour of integrating with the GAA and Camogie Association “with the aim of becoming a partnership of equals”.

Mallon is fully in support of integrating the three organisations, which would see men and women’s Gaelic football, hurling and camogie all under the same umbrella.

With Armagh being the first ever ladies’ Gaelic team on the entire island of Ireland to have their own training facilities, she acknowledged their privilege, but believes integration of all associations will encourage more equality overall.

“I think we are very lucky in Armagh and I know that other counties are a lot worse off when it comes to inter-county set-ups. The men obviously get a significant amount more and that’s more through sponsorship than anything,” she said.

“I’m all for integration. I think that it would be so much easier to work around fixtures and it would be great particularly for those who are dual players.

“Even within inter-county, the Camogie Association and the LGFA sometimes don’t work together on their fixtures. So just wee things like that will be so beneficial.

“You’re not going to have any issues with pitches or clashes — you might even have more double-headers because the same people are assigning the matches. I think it’s the only way forward to be honest.

“I remember the 2014 Ulster final. We were playing before Armagh men and it was unbelievable. Winning that Ulster title with such a massive crowd in Clones was just something I’ll remember forever. I think they need to do a wee bit more work on that.

“We do have a relatively good crowd following us but it would be great to have double-headers to really pack the stadiums out.”

Armagh continued their winning streak in Division 2B of this season’s national league by beating Monaghan 0-13 to 0-6 on Sunday. They will next face Laois in the semi-final and while Mallon affirmed the squad “take it one game at a time”, she believes they can “beat anyone in Ireland on our day”.

After their All-Ireland dream was ended by a quarter-final defeat by Meath, who went on to win the entire Championship last year, she is sure that the Orchard County have the potential to push on and finally win the coveted Brendan Martin Cup.

“I think we’ve always known our potential. For me, we’ve always known that we’ve been competitive whether that be against Dublin, Cork or whoever is in the way,” she added.

“I fully believe in the girls, I think they fully believe in themselves.”

With Electric Ireland’s Game Changers NI campaign last year discussing how 50% of girls drop out of sports participation by the age of 13, Mallon encouraged all young females thinking about stopping to persevere with it for the psychological and friendship benefits, as well as the obvious fitness pros.

“If you enjoy a sport, absolutely stick at it. I’ve had some of the best days of my life playing sports and I’ve made friends for life through it,” she said.

“I would also say that if you’re feeling low, or work or other factors in your life are getting on top of you, and you go into a team environment and have a really tough session, there’s such a buzz from that when you come off the pitch.

“And your team-mates can really pick you up, so there’s such a positive mental health aspect to it as well.

“My advice would be if you’re feeling it’s not right at the minute, stick at it, things will come good again and just enjoy it. They’re the best days of your life.”


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