By Niall Gartland
THERE’S no room for error for the Armagh ladies as they ready themselves for next weekend’s Division Two final against Laois at Croke Park.
Last year they fell short on a fiercely disappointing day out against Kerry in the league decider, and there were no prizes for second place.
In the ladies game, only the league champions are awarded with a promotion berth so this really is a game of considerable importance for a side that have arguably underperformed in Division Two in recent years.
The last time Armagh graced the top flight was in the early days of Aimee Mackin’s playing career (2017 to be precise) and she’s supremely motivated to make amends for the bitter disappointment of last year’s Croke Park defeat to Kerry.
Mackin, who won the 2020 Ladies Footballer of the Year award, said: “Last year we were hugely disappointed to fall short in the league final. There was a lot at stake, it’s different than the men’s game in the sense that you have to win it.
“At the same time you have to relish these opportunities. When we’re retired we don’t want to look back and think ‘I was too uptight or nervous heading into that match.”
“It’s not every day you get to play a league final at Croke Park, it’s the best pitch and the best stadium and it’s great to have the opportunity.
“We just approached the league one game at a time and thankfully ended up on the right side of the results so far. We’re happy with our performances and we’re looking fw to the final now and we’ll give it our best shot”
The Armagh ladies couldn’t have done much better at this juncture of the season. They won all seven of their group stage matches, but it wasn’t entirely plain-sailing when they met their Division Two final opponents Laois. On that day the usually free-flowing Armagh side had to grind out a 0-10 to 0-5 victory so Mackin is conscious that it could be another dogged contest.
“The media might give us the favourites tag but we don’t look into that. When we played Laois a few weeks back it was a really tough battle. They’re a senior championship team, they won last year’s All-Ireland Intermediate Championship.
“Our league match was point-for-point for a large part of the game so we’re expecting another really tough game. Obviously we’re going well, we’ve won all seven of our games to date so we have a bit of momentum and we’re looking forward to it.”
Helping Armagh’s cause is the presence of Aimee’s talented sister Blaithin who is carving out a career for herself in the Women’s Australian Rules game. She’s in Ireland for now and played a full role in their thus far successful league campaign.
“She’s playing away for us at the minute. She came home before Christmas and played a full league campaign so it’s great to have her back. She’s done very well in Australia so we’re glad to have her back.”
Aimee, one of the best sharpshooters in ladies football, has already gone on the record to waive away the potential of an AFL career. No doubt she has the talent but she’s a bit of a homebird.
“I am a bit of a homebird. We’re a close-knit family. I enjoyed my time out there when I visited, Blaithin had a class season with them and made some special memories but my focus is just on Armagh at the minute.”
Aimee’s brothers Ciaran and Connaire are part of the Armagh’s men team so they’re pretty much the definition of a footballing family. Asked to compare their training commitments with her own, she said: “We do pretty much the same amount of work. We don’t really see each other in the house during the week as we’re all out, so I think we do near enough the same between gym sessions and pitch sessions.”
One of Mackin’s best traits as a footballer is her consistency. She says she works hard on her game without getting completely bogged down in the minutiae.
“There’s always things I can improve on. I suppose it’s mostly about putting in the hard work on the training pitch, and once I’ve done that, I’m confident enough heading into a match that I can play the way I’m capable, especially because of the talented players around me.
“I do look at individual performances and where I can improve but it’s mostly on a game-by-game basis. If I have a good game that’s brilliant but it isn’t long before I turn my attention to the next one.”