MARLEYS HAVE FAMILY BACKING
New Lissummon captain Niamh Marley has revealed that Armagh ladies gaelic’s leading set of siblings sought their family’s blessing before going back to football.
Team sport, in the form of gaelic games and cricket, returned locally at the weekend for the first time since the coronavirus shutdown in mid-March and 28-year-old Armagh star Marley is understandably delighted to be back in action.
Under NI Executive, GAA and LGFA guidelines, club pitches opened again on June 24 with contact training permitted from five days later and friendly games getting the green light to take place from July 11 before the resumption of competitive matches last Friday.
Marley’s Lissummon side first faced Down club Saval in a challenge game last Monday evening, with Niamh and her three sisters Caoimhe (Morgan), Sarah and Catherine all lining out.
They then hammered Mullaghbawn 10-17 to 1-7 away in their opening Division Two league game on Saturday night, with Catherine hitting 3-5, Sarah scoring 2-6 and captain Niamh weighing in with a couple of goals.
The fab four, who were all in the Armagh starting team for last July’s famous upset of Cork with Caoimhe as captain, are Lissummon’s highest profile players but Niamh says that there was some soul-searching ahead of returning to the sport they love a few weeks ago given that the threat of Covid-19 is still out there.
“We’re mad about gaelic football, we’ve known nothing else all our lives and these past few months have been strange without it, but family means everything to us and will always come first,” insists the third daughter of former Armagh footballer, Noel Marley.
“Three of us still live with our parents and, since the pandemic came along, keeping them safe has been our top priority because they’re in their sixties, so in what we know is, statistically, a more vulnerable age group.
“My youngest sister Catherine is a physiotherapist working in Craigavon Hospital and, like numerous other workers in frontline healthcare settings who are exposed to greater risk than the average person, she moved out of the family home to protect mum and dad.
“Sarah is a solicitor so she was able to work from home and, as a supply teacher, I’ve effectively had no job since this started, so along with our parents, we more or less kept to the house for the first few weeks apart from going for a run round the local roads.
“Obviously things have kept progressing since with restrictions being eased as the infection rate has fallen, but to go from avoiding shops not too long ago to being back in a team environment with others is a significant step.
“So we had a discussion with Mummy and Daddy, making clear we wouldn’t go back if they were worried, but they were content enough and all credit to our club Lissummon for running things strictly and ensuring all protocols are adhered to in a way which creates confidence.
“We are required to complete paperwork, come ready in our gear, get temperature tested before training, use sanitiser and only the manager handles the cones, but the drills haven’t changed as such.
“When we played Saval, we felt like inhospitable hosts because we couldn’t have our changing rooms open or chat properly after the game like you normally would with a team from another county. They left immediately the final whistle went.
“That’s how it is at present though, the precautions are necessary, and it’s important everybody behaves responsibly because so many have family members who could be affected and their well-being is, literally, in each other’s hands.
“I’m the most competitive person you’ll meet, I always want to win with Lissummon and Armagh and that’s still the case, but we’re just grateful to be back playing this season which at one stage seemed unlikely.
“Having gone through the long lockdown, we’re all eager to play football but the most important thing is staying safe, following all the protocols and trying to avoid injury issues caused by going too hard too quickly after the big gap.”
That said, the new club captain will want to lead Lissummon to a repeat of their Intermediate title triumph five years ago and, inside today’s Ulster Gazette, Niamh recalls that unforgettable 2015 final, when she was Player of the Match, for our Nostalgia Games series.
“It was a match made memorable by our miracle comeback from 10 points down early in the second half and an amazing atmosphere under the floodlights in Silverbridge. Lissummon has a special place in my heart and I know how much the win meant to our club.
“After a few seasons struggling in the Senior Championship, our request for regrading was successful over the winter so we’re back in Intermediate for the first time since 2015 and naturally we’d love to go all the way again if we can.
“However, we aren’t looking beyond our quarter-final against Mullaghbawn, who were runners up last year and they’ll be determined to go one better this time. When the draw was made, that tie stood out, but there are other contenders too.
“Clan na Gael, who won (the) Junior (Championship) last season are emerging as a real force for the future, Ballyhegan have the potential too, with young talent and more experienced players, and Mullabrack reached the semis last year so will want to push on.”
In recent years, Lissummon have consciously chosen non-county players as captain but, with Armagh’s leading lights available to their clubs throughout this condensed campaign, Niamh has been given what she describes as a ‘huge honour’.
“I haven’t actually captained a side since Armagh Under 21s in 2013 and it will be strange giving orders to my big sisters Sarah and especially Caoimhe,” jokes the midfield powerhouse, who will undoubtedly lead from the front for Lissummon.
Lissummon’s prospects will be greatly enhanced by the decision of former county captain Caoimhe Morgan, who famously marked Armagh ace Aimee Mackin in that 2015 final while 12 weeks pregnant, to come out of retirement and help their Championship push.
“Caoimhe expects such high standards of herself and we’re delighted she has opted to play, plus it’s nice from a family perspective. We all lead such busy lives, so training Monday, Wednesday and Saturday is a chance for us sisters to spend time together.
“We’ve an excellent new manager, Gene O’Callaghan, who has previously worked with men’s teams and the Armagh GAA Academy, and training is phenomenal with him on board. We’re averaging 22-23 players, which is good numbers for a small, rural club,” enthuses Niamh.