by Richard Bullick
Armagh joint manager Fionnuala McAtamney has hailed the character and personal qualities of the women who will lead the Orchard challenge on the field this season.
Kelly Mallon will skipper the side in their National League campaign which begins this Sunday while official squad captain Caoimhe Morgan continues her recovery from last September’s knee surgery.
Meanwhile former Orchard captain Maebh Moriarty, who returned to the panel last season after a six-year absence, has been added to the player leadership ticket as Mallon’s NFL deputy for this first phase of the season.
“When we came in new last season we appointed Caoimhe as captain and Kelly vice-captain. They did a great job all year so we wanted to stick with that arrangement in spite of Caoimhe being unable to play at present, because she’s still at the heart of everything,” explains McAtamney.
“Caoimhe has dedicated herself to the rehab better than I’ve seen anyone ever. It’s been her choice to do it with the team and having her around gives the girls a real lift for she’s an inspirational person as well as being the ultimate professional.
“Tearing her cruciate last summer must have been a big blow and it would have been very easy to walk away after such a long and distinguished inter-county career but Caoimhe has never wavered in her desire to get back or her enthusiasm in the team environment.
“We all look forward to her being back on the field for Armagh when she’s ready but meantime we’ve complete confidence in Kelly to step forward and lead from the front. She’s an experienced, respected, popular player with all the right qualities.
“Kelly is her own woman but is actually like Caoimhe in their absolute love for the county and that willingness to do what it takes to make Armagh successful. She’s a manager’s dream in terms of her dedication to the cause, commitment, intensity and professional approach.
“When Kelly captained the team in Caoimhe’s absence at the end of last season, I’ve been told that was the first time since the 2006 All Ireland final that Armagh had a captain who hadn’t played in Croke Park that day.
“It’s fitting that should have been Kelly for she’s the outstanding figure of her generation in Armagh and has become a valued leader. The silver lining of Caoimhe’s misfortune is that Kelly has got this opportunity which can only benefit herself and Armagh going forward.
“She has said herself about being a bit shy by nature before but Kelly has been a real driver within the group, bringing out the positivity and helping engage the new additions and younger girls with humour, which creates an inclusive environment and gets the best out of them.
“Both her and Caoimhe have earned their stripes over many years but also know what it’s like to be out for prolonged periods with injury. I’ve had two torn cruciates myself and understand there’s nothing like long lay-offs to test someone’s character.
“It’s testament to the people Caoimhe and Kelly are that they always see the bigger picture and help others even when they have their own challenges. Natural leaders don’t just look out for themselves, so they definitely tick that box.”
Moriarty is another stalwart who epitomises the Orchard’s core values and adding her to the formal leadership group as Mallon’s spring understudy seemed a logical choice for the management.
“Maebh Mo has natural leadership qualities, albeit quite understated. She ‘s always had those qualities since coming into the panel at the age of 18,” says McAtamney, who was the Armagh goalkeeper back then with McCaffrey in her first spell as joint manager.
She battled back from a broken leg earlier in the year to come off the bench for Armagh in that 2006 All Ireland final and, in the first phase of her county career, was a versatile player who occupied a number of roles in the middle sector of the field.
A young vice-captain to the legendary Bronagh O’Donnell way back in 2008, Moriarty was skipper during Armagh’s nightmare 2011 season when a badly depleted panel won only one game all year.
Although blameless for Armagh’s miseries, Moriarty inevitably felt the hurt more than most and took time out, which was followed by moving to Australia for several years, so she missed more than six seasons in county colours.
Even in Oz, the Derrymacash woman was a leader, captaining the Victoria state side to their first ever Australasia Games success in October 2017 and, after moving back home, Moriarty returned to the Armagh panel at the end of last season’s National League campaign.
“We were pleased to welcome Maebh back and she has brought a lot to the party, on and off the field. She has always worked hard and, like the other leaders, has the qualities and standards you want younger girls to aspire to,” enthuses McAtamney.
“As managers, myself and Lorraine feel fortunate to be working with such complete professionals who are a credit to themselves and Armagh, who provide real leadership within the playing group and ensure the whole environment has a warm family feel while not dilluting the necessary work ethic or intensity.”
Morgan was in her first spell as Orchard captain when a teenage Mallon came into the county set-up a decade ago and, in a recent interview with the Ulster Gazette, she spoke of her admiration for Armagh’s greatest servant.
“I couldn’t ask for a better person to look up to than Caoimhe, who is so passionate about Armagh and a great influence even when she’s injured. She spoke powerfully to the team at half-time in Healy Park last August and has heavily involved right through pre-season,” said Kelly.
The admiration is mutual, with Morgan ethusiastically endorsing the woman who will be wearing the metaphorical armband in her enforced absence in this first stage of the 2019 season.
“Kelly Mallon is one of the most intelligent forwards that I have had the pleasure of playing with. She leads through her playing and can change a game for us. She has shown great resilience to come back from injury and is a real link between the younger players and the senior players.
“She conducts herself with a quiet manner but if you want straight talking, she is the one to go to. Kelly is always there for me if I need her help or opinion and I’ll support her in any way I can while she leads the team on the field.
“It’s frustrating starting the season on the sidelines but rehab has been going well and I must say the girls are really keepng me going. There’s great team spirit and it’s a happy place,” says Caoimhe ahead of what will be the 19th season since she first featured for Armagh.