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We must grasp big opportunity for Northern Ireland football to flourish

By Steven Beacom

Gerry Mallon fell in love with football in 1977. He was just a kid watching Liverpool in the European Cup final. Six years later he attended his first Northern Ireland match. Remembers it well... a win against Turkey at Windsor Park.

He would have loved to have been a footballer. Wasn't good enough, but fast forward to the present day and now he finds himself in one of the most important and influential positions in the game.

Last month the Belfast man became chairman of the Irish FA Board, heading up a body of people who oversee and advise on the future of football in Northern Ireland.

Mallon has big plans. His passion for the sport demands it and his career to date suggests he will succeed in seeing them through.

This is his first interview since becoming IFA chairman. We are sitting inside his large office on the fifth floor of the Danske Bank building in the centre of Belfast, overlooking the City Hall.

Mallon is the Chief Executive of Danske Bank UK. Has been for seven years. He calls it the best corporate job in Northern Ireland.

Before taking his present post the former Rathmore Grammar School pupil gained a first class honours degree at Cambridge and worked for strategy consultants in London prior to moving home where he joined the Bank of Ireland in Belfast and then the Northern Bank.

He has worked with Prime Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, local politicians and civil servants. And now he is a big player in the IFA.

He says: "I didn't have the ability to put on the green jersey, but being able to put on the IFA's green and blue stripey tie is, I suppose, my equivalent. I can't be capped on the pitch, but maybe I can in the boardroom."

Determined to make a difference, Mallon went through a recruitment process to join the IFA Board after his chairmanship of Ulster University came to an end.

He was already involved in local football through Danske Bank's sponsorship of the Irish FA Premiership.

"I could see that there was probably a need to strengthen the IFA Board in terms of commercial skills so there was a role I could play to add some value to the organisation," he says.

Once on the Board the natural progression was for the husband to Una and father of four - Jude (14), Grace (12), Aoife (10) and Sarah (7) - to become chairman when the vacancy came about after Leslie Caul's term ended.

With a new Windsor Park on the way and new hope surrounding the Northern Ireland team, who are on the verge of Euro 2016 finals qualification, this is an exciting time for the IFA. Mallon has his own vision for the future.

"This is our opportunity to build momentum and I'm determined that we make the most of it," he says.

"In 1986 I was doing my O-Levels when Northern Ireland were playing in the World Cup. My son will be doing his GCSEs hopefully when we are playing in France in Euro 2016.

"I don't want him to have to wait for his son to be doing his GCSEs before Northern Ireland are playing in a major tournament again. It can't be a once in 30 years experience.

"We need to have Northern Ireland at a level where we have the full participation of the greatest number of people possible in football funnelling through to developing elite players with long term careers who go on and play for an international team that we can continually be proud of.

"Putting professional structures in place to leverage that potential is what I want to see. When we did a survey we found that 71% of people believe this country would be united by Northern Ireland qualifying for a tournament.

"I believe we could do with a bit of unity and optimism, but I don't want it to be a one off with our football team."

Belfast Telegraph


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