Personal heartache hasn’t stopped coach Gilmore being an inspiration to her players
For a decade Mollie Gilmore has been inspiring and improving young female footballers — even during her own dark times.
In her role as coach at Linfield FC Ladies Academy hundreds of girls have come under her tutelage at the south-Belfast club since 2016, while prior to that she had been coaching Bangor ladies.
Just 12 months ago, amidst the pandemic, Mollie suffered a personal tragedy with her husband Peter, who also coaches at Linfield.
The couple sadly lost their baby boy Michael in February 2021. The 13-week-old took ill and passed away peacefully in the paediatric intensive care unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children.
Mollie has been nominated — and shortlisted — for the Belfast Telegraph Game Changer Awards, in association with Electric Ireland, because despite her own unimaginable heartache, she has continued her valiant volunteering work as Head of Girls in an Academy which has over 120 members.
“For a stage I was out nearly seven days a week and then when I fell pregnant, we cut it back a wee bit, because I couldn’t do it all,” she said.
“With my son being born, being in hospital and then passing away, I still did everything in the background and helped everybody, but I wasn’t out as much. Now I realise, it’s just good to get out to watch and support the girls and help the coaches, rather than just focusing on the one team.
“Now I can help all the teams and kids, but it’s actually less demanding in terms of pressure on myself, because obviously it was a tough year for me and my family.”
The 27-year-old added that she has taken more time to organise charity events for the NI Children’s Hospice and Tiny Life, which has funded much-needed equipment for the NHS.
“We’ve done three charity events now all in and raised over £15,000 altogether,” Mollie continued.
“At times, you just didn’t want to leave the house and don’t get me wrong, there are times that you question yourself: ‘Why am I doing this?’
“You always get your hard days, but then you get your good days where you know these kids and the club need you. Realistically, if I wasn’t there, I don’t think there would be an Academy for the girls. It wouldn’t be fair on them.
“Now that I’m going through what I am going through, it’s either, ‘well sit down and feel sorry for yourself, lying in bed, or get up and go help others’. I can help other kids, families, the community and charities and do what I can, and I would rather be that person.”
She knows that she “does a lot for the girls”, but is adamant that they do “so much” for her as well.
“They supported me through it. At the end of the day, he was my son, my family, and I’m proud that I was his mum, so it’s something I do share and I’m very open about,” said Mollie.
“I think it makes the girls comfortable because they can talk about it and they don’t have to feel awkward or weird or shy around me.
“I’m very strong in terms of when I am at football. I wouldn’t break down in front of them and I let them ask me anything they want to.
“It’s something they might have to face and maybe not to the extent that I went through, but if they can see me go through having a baby and dealing with all that, hopefully they’ll understand more and be thankful for all the work I’ve put in.
“I’ve made lifelong friends out of football and a lot of parents tell me that they see me being strong and it helps them if they’re going through hard times, because they know what I’ve had to go through.”
The Donaghadee native has always been a football fanatic, starting out at her local club, Abbey Villa FC and going on to represent the likes of Glentoran and Linfield, as well as Northern Ireland in the Rose Bowl.
She began coaching around the age of 17 at Bangor, where she was playing at the time. They started an Academy and Mollie soon realised she had a knack for teaching others.
“I think as you get older and you see a child doing well or having a smile on their face, it gives you a wee buzz yourself,” she laughed.
“I like making sure the girls get as many opportunities as possible. I didn’t have a team to go to. The boys wouldn’t let me in for years and there just wasn’t a lot for girls back then.
“The more girls are playing football, the more important it is to have them playing with their own age groups and sections so that everybody gets a fair chance.
“Even now, I’ve gone into the Bangor Academy to still help coach and I’ve gone into Glenlola Collegiate Girls School to try to get girls teams up and running. I think it’s important, because why should the boys get a team but the girls don’t?”
Mollie did note that while participation in women’s football has increased and interest has improved greatly with the success of the Northern Ireland team — who have made history by qualifying for this year’s European Championship finals — she hopes that more females become interested in the coaching side of the game too.
“It is difficult because we have mainly male coaches and then there’s me,” she said.
“No matter what, even if I’m only taking a team for two weeks, girls just immediately take to me and look up to me. I think it’s hard on the other coaches, but it just goes to show what a female role model is for the girls.
“I don’t want to sound big-headed by saying that, but it’s just the influence other females have on other girls. I don’t think males can relate to young girls as much.”
While absolutely delighted and “surprised” to hear that she has been shortlisted for the Game Changer awards, recognition and accolades aren’t the reasons Mollie is so passionate about what she does.
Instead, she said she is just happy to see young girls getting opportunities to use sport to their advantage.
“They can make a career out of this, it’s not just a hobby anymore for girls,” she said. “Ones that maybe aren’t as successful in that way, it’s just about keeping them in sport and enjoying the game, rather than giving up and just not playing anymore.”
With a smile and a laugh, particularly when asked how busy it can be to lead so many young girls in a footballing Academy of Linfield’s size, Mollie concluded: “Even though it’s a voluntary role and it’s hard, you get your reward out of it — otherwise you wouldn’t do it.”