There’s great rejoicing in Armagh gaelic circles that Dromintee dynamo Aoife McCoy is heading to ladies gaelic’s oscars night in Dublin this Saturday after finally receiving the first All Star nomination of her heroic Orchard career.
Brought into the county’s senior squad this time nine years ago by her club colleague James Daly, the diminutive McCoy immediately established herself as a starting forward for Armagh and has been an influential figure in the orange jersey ever since.
Apart from one summer spent in the United States and a handful of fixtures missed through injury, McCoy has been a constant presence in the Armagh team and is on course to bring up her century of Orchard appearances during the forthcoming National League campaign.
She won the interpro title with Ulster under her former Armagh manager Daly just before heading to America in 2016 and picked up a club championship medal the other side of the Atlantic that summer for good measure.
County Player of the Year in both 2015 and 2017, McCoy made the inaugural Irish News Ulster All Stars line-up in 2020 and likewise was in the first Gaelic Life Ulster Club All Stars selection four years earlier.
That honour reflected McCoy’s contribution in helping Shane O’Neills claim the Ulster Intermediate Club Championship when guesting for the Camlough club in 2016 due to her beloved Dromintee not being able to field an adult ladies side.
As a teenager, McCoy had enjoyed considerable success with her local club at the start of last decade, being part of a formidable Minor team which did the domestic double as well as winning an Armagh Intermediate title at adult level and playing in the 2012 county final.
She won another Armagh Intermediate medal in 2018 under her former county colleague Katie Daly’s captaincy after a dramatic final against Forkhill which went to extra-time before the clubs joined up to field an amalgamated team under the name of Dromahill thereafter.
McCoy won the McGuinness Plumbing League Division Two title and new Buttercrane Senior Shield with Dromahill this season along with a third consecutive Ulster Senior Championship success in county colours.
Although unlucky to miss out on another Ulster All Star unlike seven Orchard colleagues, being shortlisted at long last for the national All Stars is a huge highlight in McCoy’s career and has been warmly welcomed by her many admirers in Armagh gaelic circles.
“Aoife’s from my own club so maybe I’m a bit biased but I think she should have got an All Star nomination before now as she’s been a top county player for a number of years. She’s the first female from Dromintee and this is richly deserved recognition,” says James Daly.
“She always listened to what she was told and has been a great pro all her career. Aoife has trained hard, done her off-season stuff, watches her food and so forth. Although small, she has become really strong and can ride the hits much better than when she started.
“She’s a real attacking threat and a fantastic carrier who opponents won’t stop with a hand tackle. Aoife sent me a nice message when she got her nomination and I couldn’t be prouder of her. She has a great family behind her and everyone’s delighted for her.”
As someone clearly rated by a succession of Armagh managers, with those two County Player of the Year and other accolades under her belt including making the NFL Team of Division Two in 2018, it might seem strange to describe McCoy as an unsung hero.
However, it often feels that way, what with the lack of an All Star nomination up until now and even a couple of examples of her scoring hat-tricks of goals for Armagh teams but not picking up the Player of the Match award.
She lost out to McConville when Armagh Minors won the 2011 All Ireland B final in spite of scoring 3-3 in the game and likewise with Aimee Mackin after rattling the Tyrone net three times in an All Ireland group game in Breffni Park at Halloween 2020.
The LGFA decided not to award traditional All Stars for that pandemic-disrupted season so there was no shortlist published, a decision which arguably cost McCoy and her county captain Mallon nominations on the back of a memorable Orchard campaign.
The usual shortlist format returned last autumn but McCoy missed out again – she laughs at the suggestion that being proposed to by boyfriend Karl Hawkins shortly afterwards didn’t fully make up for the disappointment – but the call has finally come this time round.
Unlucky not to have been nominated herself for the first time after her heroics in this year’s Ulster final, Orchard captain Mallon has been fulsome in her praise for McCoy, saying: “I feel incredibly lucky to play alongside Aoife, am absolutely delighted for her and extremely proud.
“Aoife has been one of Armagh’s most consistent performers for as long as she has been playing for the county team and yet she is, in my opinion, one of the most under-rated players in Ireland.
“This is, surprisingly, her first All Star nomination, which is long overdue and so richly deserved. She’s a very intelligent player, a great reader of the game and the epitome of a team player,” reflects Mallon.
McCoy older sister Sinead, even smaller but a formidable defender, was forced to retire from gaelic football aged just 24 after a third cruciate rupture and no doubt Aoife is grateful that her own career hasn’t been blighted by major injury issues.
Breaking her ankle in an early league game during her first year as a student at Queen’s meant missing the historic O’Connor Cup success of 2013 but she had the distinction of captaining the university in her final season before graduating with First Class Honours.
She has one of the best entourages around with her proud parents and fiancée faithfully following her around the country both before and since coronavirus restrictions put a spanner in the works, often accompanied by Sinead and other family members.
Although it was apparent to those in Dromintee, McCoy’s talent largely went under Armagh’s radar in her early teens and it took all of local man Daly’s powers of persuasion to tempt her along when he was Minors manager.
Now living in Lisburn and working as Principal Software Engineer for Liberty IT, McCoy has come a long way in life and football over the intervening years and can tread the red carpet at the Bonnington Hotel on Saturday night with a justifiable sense of pride.
The meaning of Cinderella in an online thesaurus this writer consulted was given as ‘a person or thing that is undeservedly neglected or ignored’. Thankfully McCoy will finally lose that Cinderella label once she’s been to ladies gaelic’s Dublin ball this weekend.