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GAA Ladies' chiefs raising bar: Niamh Mallon

By Declan Bogue

As a sign of changing times, Down camogie player Niamh Mallon has explained how she won a scholarship to study Sports Science in Jordanstown through her involvement in the Women's Gaelic Player's Association.

At the end of February, 12 applicants were granted third-level bursaries to help dedicate themselves to their sport as they pursue an academic career.

She admits she would not have been aware of it without the help of the Women's GPA.

The Portaferry player explained: "Every county panel is invited and asked to become a member. Once you do that, you will be kept updated by the couple of reps in your county. They keep you up to date with what is going on, whether that is applications for scholarships, jobs or any issues at all.

"There was a scholarship application that came out just before Christmas. I filled it out and got word last month that I was successful."

She admits that it has been an enormous help.

"It has been a big help, particularly for students who don't have a job. Trying to hold down a job is nearly impossible if you are playing county camogie."

Under Ryan O'Neill in his first year in charge of Down camogs, Mallon insists that the benefits of the Women's GPA are being felt strongly within the Mourne County. While in the past they would have trained at Castlewellan without access to a toilet, they are now based at St Patrick's Grammar school in Downpatrick where they train on a fully-floodlit 3G pitch and have changing rooms and showers. Food after training is also a recent addition.

"Things are moving on massively due to the help of the Women's GPA. They are pushing standards and raising the bar all the time and demanding more off county boards and other organisations," she said.

"Things are improving, there is no doubt about that, and I think they will continue to improve, particularly with the Women's GPA's backing. Girls will no longer stand for being second-class citizens."

What is clear is how much the WGPA have relied on the GPA for help, the relationship being mutually beneficial.

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