Belfast Telegraph

Why Lisa Fallon will never have to go scouting for a job

By Declan Bogue

Chances are you don't remember much about 'The Manageress', 12 episodes spread over a two-series Channel Four programme that ran in 1989 and 1990.

Starring Cherie Lunghi as Gabrielle Benson, the manager of an unnamed second division football club, it explored many of the issues around professional football including racism, corruption and performance-enhancing drugs.

Sophisticated ahead of its time, a young Lisa Fallon would wait for it to come on, finger poised over the record button on the video player.

"I remember looking at it and I was playing on boys' teams at the time. But I knew I was getting to an age where I wouldn't be allowed to play on them anymore," she recalls.

"That programme gave me hope because it was the first time I was able to have a visual perception (of a woman in football), even though it was a fictional programme."

You might not have heard the name, but Fallon has been working with Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill for some time now as an opposition analyst.

She does the same for Cork City, being more embedded within John Caulfield's camp.

And then there's Kerry. Reigning All-Ireland Gaelic football champions, she is, in her own words, a "sounding board" for Eamonn Fitzmaurice, not to mention her role as a Director of junior football club Castleknock Celtic, with her multiple responsibilities and coaching roles.

And she also coaches Pegasus FC, the football club of graduates of UCD.

Before all this was her work as a radio presenter with Today FM and 104FM. It was, she explains, a means to an end.

"If I was to be a football reporter, that's a way I could get to work close to the game. That became it," she says.

The devotion was passed down from her grandfather, Tony Fallon. He coached Palmerstown Rangers in junior football and four-year-old Lisa followed him up and down the sidelines.

With her uncles Anthony at centre-half and John leading the line up front, they snaffled a Frank Mitten Cup, the first honour in their history.

And she hero-worshipped granddad. She said: "He was my best friend; my granddad, my brother, everything all rolled into one. I was really close to him and he gave me football."

So much so that she would rub shoulders with Teddy Sheringham, Clint Hill, Ronny Johnsen and Tom Huddlestone while studying for her Uefa A coaching license.

As a child, she taped every game on television, estimating she has almost 1,000 VHS cassettes at home. Not to mention the World Cup reference books, anything she could do to learn. Only it wasn't really learning. It was fun.

That kind of grounding meant that she was never intimidated by football.

"I expected a tough dressing room, that was the standard I had grown up with," said Lisa. "If I was in a dressing room that wasn't particularly strong, I didn't like it. I liked a strong dressing room and a strong manager."

One of the first dressing rooms she was part of came via her period studying Sports Science at Canterbury University.

She played for Sittingbourne, then moved onto Gillingham, before signing with Southampton ladies.

She eventually got into radio, but it seemed pre-ordained from when she was a child.

In September 1989, 2FM were aboard the Jackie's Army bandwagon and the presenters of 'The Breakfast Club', Peter Collins and Theresa Lowe, were offering young aspiring sports fans the chance of doing their own report on the forthcoming Republic of Ireland and West Germany game. The winner could read it on air.

Boys only, mind you. The girls could review a book.

So Lisa called in and asked if she could do a match report. They said, yeah, sure.

She won, got to read it on air and was invited to do the same for the next match, which just happened to be October 1989, when Northern Ireland were beaten 3-0 by the Republic in a 1990 World Cup qualifier.

The only Northern Ireland player in her report who emerged with any credit from that limp performance was one Michael O'Neill. He had a laugh when Fallon showed it to him years later once they started working with each other.

Let's bring you up to speed. O'Neill was manager of Shamrocks Rovers and preparing for a match against Flora Tallin of Estonia, which they won.

"I asked him about their roles," she explains.

"I asked how their players were used to having the ball in the League of Ireland but not so much in European football.

"I then said, 'You have a very short turnaround, maybe three days to prepare them for this game, so how do you get your players' mindsets right for the amount of work that they will have to do off the ball, as opposed to with it and their discipline in their roles without the ball?'"

Once the interview was completed, he asked where the questions came from. Had she a background in coaching?

They had a few conversations and when Shamrock Rovers needed a female coach for their National League team, O'Neill recommended her.

"He gave me little projects to do in terms of research. That's how he maybe picked up my eye for detail and my eye for analysis," she pondered.

It was uncannily similar to how she ended up working with Kerry boss Fitzmaurice.

She asked him a few pointed questions about his formation and changes after a Championship game. He jokingly asked if she had a mole in the dressing room.

You want to know how and why the change in Northern Ireland's fortunes has come about? She offers you an anecdote from the 2013 All-Ireland football semi-final.

In the final minute, Kerry and Dublin were neck and neck. Then, Dublin's Michael Darragh Macauley fell over but in doing so managed to get a palm to the ball and pushed it into the path of Kevin McManamon. He lobbed Brendan Kealy and the game was won.

Fallon breaks it down: "That touch of the ball was the difference. That was the game-changer, that was the margin. Those margins exist in every single game.

"If you can sway margins in your favour as much as you can, you give yourself a better chance of winning the game."

Referring to O'Neill, she continues: "Michael is meticulous in his preparation. He is very thorough, he is into detail and he knows how to get a team to win big games. He proved that at Shamrock Rovers - the first League of Ireland team to qualify for the group stages of the Europa League.

"He demands very high standards. You know that any work you send to him has to be of a really high standard."

As well as the scouting report, injury updates and other nuggets, she makes motivational videos that O'Neill then shows the squad.

"Each video is tailored to the game. It has to be relevant to the mood in the camp, the message that Michael wants the video to portray, so every video is unique," she reveals.

We could detail her working week, but it takes 10 minutes to go through her weekly activity. Suffice to say that time-management is a skill she has elevated to an art-form.

It's her favourite part of the job that reels you in though.

"You analyse a team, and you say, 'this is a weakness, this is how we can affect them'. The first question I ask after the game is, 'How did we score?' and if we score as a result of the analysis of the opposition, that's just gold.

"But no-one knows. That's my moment. That's like my goal, when you see it working. That's your 'Yes' moment."

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