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The importance of Armagh ladies' new home and 'strictly Gaelic' amid AFLW interest

Aimee Mackin is one of the country’s top ladies football talents.

Aimee Mackin on the ball for Armagh.
Aimee Mackin on the ball for Armagh.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

AIMEE MACKIN IS unquestionably one of ladies football’s top stars.

The Armagh ace is a joy to watch; an out-and-out shooter with a wand of a left foot.

She terrorises defences week on week, her highlights reel and trophy cabinet alike ever-burgeoning. Mackin has no shortage of individual accolades to her name, the 2021 Footballer of the Year award and three All-Stars — albeit one was a Team of the Year inclusion amidst the pandemic — among the top gongs.

It’s mad to think that her first time playing in Croke Park was this year.

The multi-talented 25-year-old has garnered plenty of interest from Australia through the Irish exodus to the AFLW, but maintains she has none herself.

“I’m just happy enough with what I’m at at the minute,” she explained at last month’s TG4 All-Ireland championship launch.

“No interest for me yet. I don’t know if it’s talked about, I don’t really listen to what happens outside. I just focus on what I want to do – and that’s playing for Armagh, that’s all I’m looking forward to.

“Things are going quite well. Obviously losing the league final was a disappointment but to come back and win Ulster was massive for us.”

The one thing on her mind right now is the All-Ireland series. Mackin is also a talented soccer player and has balanced both sports in the past, playing as a striker or left winger with Sion Swifts in the North’s top league.

But the Shane O’Neill’s clubwoman’s full focus is firmly on one code now.

“Strictly Gaelic these days,” she nods. “I played both. Before I did my cruciate, I was doing the two, but I didn’t come back and do the two.

“I do enjoy the soccer, we watch a lot of it as well. We’re Liverpool supporters, so mixed emotions over the last few weeks.”

Mackin is Armagh through and through. Along with her siblings Blaithin, Connaire and Ciaran, who all represent their county at senior level. Teak-tough Blaithin is also sought-after in Oz. “Playing with your sister is just something special. It’s a proud moment,” the older of the pair smiles at one point.

tg4-ladies-football-championship-launch-2022 Mackin (front row, far right) at the 2022 TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Championships launch. Source: Eóin Noonan/SPORTSFILE

She works as a classroom assistant in St Paul’s Secondary School in Bessbrook. “It suits,” Mackin concedes. “It’s good because football’s that professional now, when you’re not training, you’re thinking about your training, you’re preparing yourself even on non-training days. It doesn’t let up.”

Hence why another recent development in Armagh ladies football is so important.

The Orchard county’s women’s team have their own training base at McKeever Park, Killean. They’re the first county Ireland to have a facility dedicated solely to ladies football and to own their own pitch outright, with Waterford due to follow suit.

As the facilities debacles rumble on, Mackin and co. are happy out with their situation.

“It’s brilliant,” she notes. “We got lights in it, they’re just temporary. It’s great for us that we could have used it in the winter. The last few years before that, it was hard. You’re relying on clubs.

“We don’t have a Centre of Excellence in Armagh so there was nowhere else to go only but clubs. I know sometimes it’s hard on the clubs. We’re involved in our own club heavily and it’s hard for them to get their own teams fitted in, never mind county teams.

“Obviously county’s full on, so if you need it once a week, you need it three or four times a week. It’s great for us, it’s a base for us. Apart from your own family, the next people you spend so much time with is your county team. It’s great for us even after training, just to hang around for a while and we’re not too far away. It’s not too far away from us, lucky enough, it’s only 15 minutes up the road. It’s a great spot.”

Development is still in motion, with much more to come, but they have all they need for now in the pitch, changing rooms which will be upgraded from cabins to a building in time, and a chill-out area.

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It’s all come to fruition though fundraising and grants, with a big push underway to Let’s Light Killean at the moment:

“Sinead Reel has done massive work,” Mackin notes. “Only for people behind the team, you don’t get these things. Obviously, as county players, you don’t have a lot of time so you need these people in the background doing all the harder work. Then when you take the field, you have to do the hard work for them.”

Their next opportunity to do that is a big one: their All-Ireland championship opener against holders Meath on Sunday,

The Royals got up and running with a comprehensive win over Monaghan over the weekend, but Armagh will be looking to take the wind out of their sails after their gut-wrenching defeat in last year’s quarter-final.

“Inside in our own camp we always just look to the next game,” Mackin says. “Obviously we were beat by Meath last year who went on to win it. I think Meath were just on a roll and they weren’t going to be stopped.

“Going into it, we knew how good they would be but yeah, they fully deserved it last year against us, went on and still haven’t stopped this year. They’re still going.

“They’ve raised the standards definitely, of the athleticism of the game. People talk about defensive systems but if you’re scoring what they’re scoring, you’re not totally defensive either. They do get forward. Listen, they’ll be there this year again, we’ll take each game as it comes.”

“Any one on any day can beat anyone, that’s what makes it exciting,” she adds. “I suppose for the neutrals, it’s more exciting. In your own camp, it mightn’t be as much! Listen, we’re looking forward to it now.”

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Emma Duffy

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