SPARKLING GEMS IN ORCHARD CROWN
Great gaelic footballing buddies Lauren McConville and Aoife McCoy have paid warm tributes to each other ahead of this Saturday’s ladies All Stars night, when they will be among a quartet of hopefuls from Armagh at the Dublin banquet.
Prolific forward Aimee Mackin is set to become the first woman in Armagh history to pick up a fourth award, Crossmaglen’s McConville has been shortlisted for a second successive season while McCoy and goalkeeper Anna Carr are in the frame for the first time.
This is seen as overdue recognition at national level for Dromintee’s McCoy, who has been crowned Armagh Player of the Year twice in her excellent career to date and should reach her century of Orchard appearances in the coming months.
Among those who have expressed delight for the modest McCoy are her county captain Kelly Mallon and Aoife’s contemporary McConville, who has become only the fifth Armagh woman to be nominated more than once for the sport’s most coveted acclodades.
The dynamic duo have come as a package throughout their Orchard careers since being brought into the county set-up together this time nine years ago, a pair of diminutive menaces who have tormented many opponents for most of a decade at this stage.
Both began as wing forwards for Armagh but McConville’s two All Star nominations have come since converting to centre half back last year and McCoy, like Orchard team-mate Mackin, has been shortlisted as one of the full forwards for 2022.
“I’m so delighted that Aoife is finally getting the recognition she deserves, although she has always been an All Star in my eyes. Aoife is a driving force in the Armagh forward line and is well known for her pace.
“I’m all too familiar with just how fast she is, having had the bad luck of marking her at training. I also have to commend her for her selflessness and work-rate,” says an admiring McConville.
“We’re lucky to share many great memories throughout our time at Armagh, including winning a few Ulster Championship medals and National League (divisional) titles down through the years.
“We also had the opportunity to spend a summer in New York together playing football, albeit for different teams. I could tell a few stories but I don’t believe they would be fit for publishing,” laughs Lauren, who will turn 28 just after Christmas.
“I’m delighted that Lauren has got a nomination too this year and being at the All Stars together will be nice. We both started playing for Armagh at the same time and she’s been a great friend of mine ever since,” enthuses the 28-year-old McCoy.
“She’s the type of person who could play in any position and she has proven that with her change to defence recently, even though I do miss her in the forward line! She’s fearless on the pitch, a total workhorse and really strong on the ball while in possession.
“I’ve loads of good memories from playing with Lauren over the years but I’d probably say winning our first Ulster title together in 2014, when Armagh were real outsiders, and then the most recent one this past season, in dramatic circumstances, stand out as very special.”
Great role models and incredibly dedicated to the Orchard cause, McConville and McCoy have been first choice starters for Armagh ever since making their debut the same day and are the leading contenders to inherit the captaincy from Mallon when the time comes.
Unlucky not to have been nominated herself for the first time after her heroics in the Ulster final, the formidable 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’s Dromintee clubmate James Daly was the Armagh manager who gave the little twin terrors their chance in the county’s senior side after they had starred in his Minor team which won the All Ireland B Championship in 2011.
“Aoife scored a hat-trick of goals in that Minor final and Lauren got Player of the Match so it was evident they were destined for stardom but it was another couple of seasons before I got them into the senior county panel,” recalls Daly.
“Unfortunately for Aoife, she broke her ankle early on in her first year at Queen’s and Lauren was very focused on her studies. But both of them committed ahead of the 2014 season, went straight into the starting team and never looked back.
“They played wing forward roles, with Lauren on one side and Aoife on the other. They were two little rockets and we had a special season, winning NFL Division Three and then the Ulster Senior Championship as a surprise package on our way to the All Ireland semis.
“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.
“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.
“Obviously Lauren comes from an outstanding gaelic football family but she’s up there as a superstar in her own right. She’s a smashing girl and was always an absolute pleasure to manage whether with the county or at Queen’s or Ulster in the interpros.
“There was some persuasion needed to get her to Armagh because Lauren likes to think things through and only commit if she can give 100 percent. I was delighted to get her on board because I knew her qualities and that, if she came, she’d be all-in.
“Lauren’s a quality footballer with power, pace and scoring threat, but talent alone won’t cut it at the highest level so her success comes down to ticking all those other boxes too in terms of ambition, competitiveness, doing the gym work and leaving no stone unturned.
“Right from the start with Armagh, I knew how good Lauren was and what she would give you. She always went and did what was asked, and is a real team player and very respectful but always great craic too around the environment and lifted everybody.
“She was a forward in her early years with Armagh and has recently changed to the backs but you could play Lauren anywhere – well, maybe she’d be a bit short in height to put in goals! – and she’d make sure she did a good job for the team,” declares Daly.
Missing two seasons while in Australia means McConville is considerably behind McCoy in Armagh appearances but the former Crossmaglen captain has played for her county 77 times at adult level without ever being injured or dropped.
A recent Ulster All Star recipient, McConville may miss out on an award at national level like her cousin Rian O’Neill did a few weeks ago as Armagh’s All Ireland quarter-final exit could leave Aimee Mackin as the only Orchard representative in the ceremonial line-up.