"Football very much became a comfort blanket for me" - My LGFA Life with Armagh's Mairéad Tennyson

My LGFA Life with Armagh’s Mairéad Tennyson

Age: 36 years young!

Club: Silverbridge

Occupation: Physiotherapist

County Debut: 2001

Notable achievements/Honours: County- Division 3 & 2, Jnr Ulster & All-Ire ’05, 3 senior Ulster titles and All-Ire ’06 R-up. Club- Div. 2 league, 2 x Jnr C’ship, 2 x Inter C’ship, MMI Interprovincial with Ulster x 1. TG4 All Star 2014.

Q: Mairéad, thanks for chatting to us. How have you found your experience of playing Ladies Football?

A: Football has 100% helped shape the person I am today. I lost my parents when I was young, I had to essentially grow up very fast. Football very much became a comfort blanket for me. I used to say football saved my life, which is a very dramatic statement. However, for me it grounded me. Sport in general gives you so many life skills such as respect, confidence, unity, discipline and team-work, to mention a few. This has helped me so much even throughout my working life. I feel very privileged to have played in some unreal Armagh squads and with unbelievable players, and still do. I think I’ve experienced nearly every emotion at this stage. The game continues to grow year in year out and the work behind the scenes at Croke Park and locally in my own county to promote the game is commendable. I can only speak about my own county but we want for nothing and the new pitch will be amazing for us and the future is very bright for younger girls coming through. Where will Ladies Football be in another five years? It’s only going to get better.

Q: What was it that sparked your interest in the sport from a young age?

A: I grew up in a council estate and, as kids, we would have been out for hours playing all sports really, but Gaelic Football especially. My Dad was a big GAA man, he played for Silverbridge and Armagh minors. I would have sat with him on the Sunday, Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh on full blast on the radio, tv on mute and curtains pulled. I used to go out to the back garden at half time and try and re-enact the scores and celebrations.

Q: When did you pull on the Armagh jersey for the first time, and how big a thrill was that?

A: Really bad – but I’ve no idea! Maybe it wasn’t a pleasant experience lol! I used to be so nervous I couldn’t eat three hours before a game. It was awful, but exciting at the same time, a complete rollercoaster. Myself and Mags McAlinden used to always go on as subs together. We looked like poles in a tent – the jerseys drowned us! I remember we played Donegal in the League in my first year and I scored a goal to win the match in injury time. I got the tag of super sub after that. That is what sticks in my mind, thinking back.

Mags McAlinden in action for Armagh in 2014

Q: What is the best thing for you about playing Ladies Football?

A: You could be having the worst day, dread training (often), but be back-flipping coming out if it! I just love the game, I’ve played a lot of other sports, but I don’t get the same buzz. I also love the sense of club/community/family feel and all that brings.

Q: Who was the biggest influence on your career?

A: My Dad (RIP) was a big influence on me. Ann Murphy (RIP), my PE teacher in primary school, introduced me to sport in general and helped mould my sporting life really. Larry Crilly, for introducing me to ladies football in Mullaghbawn, and Dolores Taggart. I couldn’t drive for years so I owe a massive thanks regards county to Aileen Matthews and Sinead Reel for all the lifts throughout the years. I’ve yet to give them a lift back!

Q: What are the main challenges that you have faced throughout your career?

A: It’s probably always been keeping that balance. I divide my life into three sections – personal life (relationship friends and family), work and then football. I’ve had a total of three breaks away from the game (county) to date since I started in 2001. My last one was in 2019, I started a Masters and had other things on, on top of full-time work. I just felt that I couldn’t give the time and I felt a bit mentally stale with football. I actually thought that was me, but it’s amazing what a step back gives you in terms of perspective. I really missed playing at county level. I just love the training and the big match day. It’s very addictive.

Q: You’ve had a long and distinguished career with Armagh, including outings at Croke Park. Against Cork in 2006, you had an excellent game but finished up on the wrong end of the result. What do you remember about that game?

A: We had played the 2005 junior Final the year before and I actually had a very poor game by my own standards, I think the occasion in some ways got the better of me. I remember saying to myself if I ever get back here that won’t happen again. I hadn’t went into ‘06 saying I’m going be in an All-Ireland final this year. We had such mentality and confidence as a team, we feared no one and literally just went out and enjoyed our football that year. On the pitch, we worked so hard for each other, it was a great squad. I think I speak for all the Armagh squad that day when I say we left it behind us. We probably missed too many opportunities in the first half, the break probably came too early for us. But look, that’s sport! And I’ve a tremendous amount of respect for that Cork team of the decade, proper footballers and genuinely down to earth girls.

Armagh representatives (from left) James Daly, Sinead Kernan, Caroline O’Hanlon, Aimee Mackin and Mairéad Tennyson on tour with the TG4 All Stars in 2016.

Q: How big an honour is it to captain your county team, as you’ve held the role?

A: It’s an honour! I didn’t expect it to be honest. I’ve captained teams, club and netball in the past, and I think as a captain in any team I’ve always tried to lead by example. I think, if I’m honest, the year I captained Armagh didn’t suit me, because I’m very much about the team but I’m a fixer and I think I spent too much time worrying about things that I had no control over. I found it stressful at times. I enjoy going to training and games, coming home and switching off, but I found it hard to do that. But I wouldn’t change it because I was very proud to be asked.

Q: Armagh have had a rollercoaster ride in recent times, getting back up to senior with victory in 2012 All-Ireland intermediate final. How would you describe the journey you’ve been on with the county team?

A: I was absent from county from 2009-2012, I came back into the squad before the quarter-final stage of the Intermediate Championship. It was a strange time for me, I had relocated home and James (Daly) invited me back in. I thought it was a chance to get a head start for the 2013 season. In hindsight, it wasn’t the right decision. I don’t count the Intermediate in my collection. It certainly isn’t a snub to an All-Ireland but I hadn’t worked for that All-Ireland or been there long enough in the year to justify my contribution. I think, in terms of Armagh’s performance, inconsistent is probably the best word to use. There is a hint in success, and successful teams are mostly consistent. So that’s probably where we need to improve if we are to compete properly. In saying that, we have an abundance of talent and good vibes around the camp. In my experience, every year is a new one and you just never know. I will continue to believe anything can happen.

Former Armagh manager James Daly 

Q: How big a goal is it to represent your county at Croke Park again?

A: realistic one but one game at a time.

Q: What are your hopes and aspirations for the rest of your career?

I’ve mellowed a lot, I think. Others may disagree! At this stage in my career, I’m just about enjoying playing football. I feel like there is plenty left in the tank. I’ve had people tell me play as long as you can and I will play until I feel it’s time to stop. I continue to push myself and will continue to push the players around me. I hope for a successful end to the 2020 season for both my club and county.

Q: Have you played other sports?

A: Yes – I only played Ladies Football from age 14. My main sports were always cross-country and netball. I’ve played a bit part in rugby, playing for Harlequins in Belfast for a season and I was on the Ulster development squad in 2014. I trialled for the 7s Olympic squad that same year. I’ve always loved soccer and I played some club and university football. There aren’t many sports that I don’t like, to be honest.

Q: Do you have a favourite photograph from your career?

A: Probably this one from the 2006 All-Ireland Final, because it was the pinnacle, even though we fell short.

Q: How have you managed to cope with the experience of lockdown and the Covid-19 Pandemic?

A: I don’t think it affected me as much as some. It was obviously a period of readjustment, but I still worked away in a different way and setting. I’m sure it was more stressful for others who maybe lost their job etc. I was due to get married this month and it didn’t happen, but it’s fine, I’m over it now and I’m sure time will fly until next year. Regarding training, I went and got some gym equipment and marked out a running track in the field by the house. I like training on my own also, so I found it ok. Having went back to training, it’s mad even though you think you are doing ok, it really doesn’t compare to group training.

Q: You play your club football with Silverbridge. What has been your experience of club football been like for you?

A: I’m a bit like the Nicolas Anelka of football – I’ve played with a few teams like John Mitchel’s (Birmingham), Cardiff, Kerry/Donegal in New York, Killeavy in Armagh (for a year as my club disbanded), Mullaghbawn and now Silverbridge. I started my club football with Mullaghbawn, where I grew up. My father was a Silverbridge man, from the neighbouring club, and he always wanted me to play for the ‘Bridge, but they didn’t have a team at the time I started playing. I really enjoyed my time with Mullaghbawn and the club and community were so good to me over the years after various achievements. I returned from playing football in New York in 2012 and my own club was disbanded again, so I went to play for Silverbridge. I found it hard for a while to fit in, but I’m there now eight years. We are a young team, although I certainly take the age bracket up! We have won some titles and the future is bright overall.

Q: What’s your Career Highlight?

A: Winning the county’s first All-Ireland in 2005. Proud moment.

Q: How confident are you that Armagh can get back to the highs of competing at the latter stages of the All-Ireland Senior Championship in the not too distant future?

A: I think looking at what’s there and available, the squad has greater depth and strength than the early stages of the year. We had a very poor League by our own standards. I think we are, understandably, like a lot of teams – outsiders – but sure that’s great, we have nothing to lose. I’m not thinking of All-Irelands – I’ll take each game at a time and give every game my full attention.

Q: What piece of advice would you offer to up and coming young players?

A: Relax and enjoy it but don’t expect it to be easy. It’s a massive step up for some young people to senior football. Players develop at different rates physically and psychologically, we need to be patient. But it really does go quickly – the years fly in so make the most of it. When you are winning, enjoy every moment and when it’s not going so good , remember things can change very quickly. I warmed a bench on and off in 2013 and ended up winning an All Star the following season. The last thing I’d say is you have to work hard and earn the right to wear your jersey.

Q: You won that TG4 All Star award in 2014. How big a moment was that for you?

A: Unbelievable, honestly. I always wanted a Senior All-Ireland medal. Never in a million years did I think that I’d be nominated for an All Star. I remember the National League Final of 2014, joking with some of the Croke Park officials saying if you need any water girls on that next All Star trip, I’m available! To put it into context, I think off hand I played a defending role in my entire career club and county about three times, if that. It was weird how it all unfolded. James basically asked me to fill in as an emergency corner back when we played Cork in the back door in 2013. It was to be our last game of the season, losing narrowly. Anyway, I started the 2013 season doing some extra shooting practice. I was told I’d be playing corner back then so I was completely bewildered to begin with. I struggled the season after the All Star. I had so much to learn, but felt I was now expected to be outstanding in every match. I just put far too much pressure on myself, it just didn’t sit right with me. It’s only after a few years, I’m like ‘Jesus that was a great achievement’ and I finally took the award downstairs about two years ago.

Mairéad is presented with her TG4 Ladies Football All-Star Award in 2014. 

Q: Who’s given you the best piece of advice during your career?

A: My Dad used to say even the Bomber Liston had bad days, to pick me up after a loss. In recent years, the advice that probably I kept in my head was: you only have a loan of your jersey, it’s not yours. So when you are in it, respect it and leave it in a better place for the next person picking it up. If everyone does that, then the team can only prosper.

Q: What hobbies do you enjoy?

I love soccer and watching Liverpool, well this year anyway! I played netball with Newry ladies earlier this year. I’ve a notion on cycling, but it will probably wear off. And I enjoy switching off and watching Netflix and socialising when I can.

Your hosting a dinner party, and you can invite 5 people. Who’s on the list and what are you rustling up your guests to eat?

A: I like to think I’m laid back, and I’m not a good cook, so I’d probably rather go for a barbecue. However, if it was a dinner party, I’d have a good cook so I’d use a tag team of Sinead Boyle and Ann Crawley. I’d have Jurgen Klopp and Jordan Henderson, I’d have to pull names from a hat thereafter. Not sure about the menu, I’ll leave that to the chef.

Q: And who’s your all-time sporting idol?

A: I’m not sure I have a true idol, as such. I remember going to watch Mayo in two of their All-Irelands and I thought Cora (Staunton) was amazing. So Cora was always my favourite footballer, of course that all goes out the window when I actually had to mark her! I also have great respect for Briege Corkery, Rena Buckley and our own Caoimhe Morgan and Caroline O’Hanlon. I think all are amazing athletes and great ambassadors for female sport.

Mayo legend Cora Staunton. 

Sign up to our email newsletter


Partners & Supporters





See all LGFAClubs