'They are two dreams I have had since I was a child' - My LGFA Life with Mayo's Niamh Kelly

My LGFA Life with Mayo’s Niamh Kelly

Age: 25

Club: Moy Davitts

Occupation: Primary School Teacher,

County debut: 2012

Notable achievements: Club County Finalist and captain with Moy Davitts, 2020, Current member of the West Coast Eagles AFLW team in Australia, Captained Mayo Ladies Senior Team in 2019, TG4 Goal of the Year, 2019, TG4 All Star Nominee 2019 & 2016, O’Connor Cup All-Ireland Winner & Vice captain with DCU College, 2018, HEC College All-Star Award, 2018, LGFA Team of the League, 2018, Western People Ladies Gaelic Football Sports Star Award 2018, Connacht Telegraph September Young Player of the Month, 2018, All-Ireland College League Winners, 2017/2018, Lidl National League Division 1 Finalist 2018, Giles Cup All-Ireland Title with St Patrick’s College, 2016, Donaghy Cup All-Ireland Winner, Captain & Player of the Match, 2015

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

A: Football has always been a huge part of my life growing up, and I am grateful for the opportunities it has given me. As a child, I was always playing football in the back garden, so I knew it no other way! I was 6 when I joined my local club Moy Davitts with the boys U8 team. I played in national school, secondary school, and college. I went to Chicago in 2017 for a few weeks and I was lucky to be able to play with a football club over there too (Aisling Gaels), where I made some great memories with girls from all over. Gaelic is always on forefront of my mind! I have made some of my best memories and great friends through playing football with my club, county and college. I have learned and gained valuable life lessons from being involved in sport, that are transferable to my everyday life. I have learned what hard work, resilience, and determination look like both on and off the field. Football has been such an enjoyable and fulfilling experience for me so far, and I look forward to making many more memories in my sporting career.

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

Sister act: Grace (left) and Niamh Kelly. 

A: GAA was always a huge part of our household, so I suppose it sparked from there. As soon as I would come home from school, I would have a football in my hand and out playing in the back garden with Grace, Sean and my two uncles and cousins who live beside us, if they were around. Our uncles taught us so much about Gaelic growing up and were equally as competitive as we were, especially when they were on opposing teams! As the youngest of the family, I was always so competitive and determined to be as good as my older brother and sister, Sean and Grace! Needless to say, I mainly got shoved about the place! Whenever we weren’t playing football, we would be watching GAA on the television. Sean would know the score of every match and who scored what in every game! So, we were always kept in tune with sport and always aspired to be like the footballers on TV! In Primary school, there was a big emphasis on football. We were always encouraged to play as many sports as we could from Mam and Dad and our teachers! I was 6 when I arrived down to my local club Moy Davitts, and Grace and I togged out with the boys U8 team. We had no U8 or U10 ladies’ teams at the time, but we didn’t care as long as we were playing!! As we got older, we were delighted to play with the girls.

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

A: The first time I pulled on the Mayo jersey was with the U12 Mayo team when I was 10 years old. I remember feeling so nervous, but so excited and proud to have the Mayo jersey on my back. Every time I put on the Mayo jersey is a privilege and it is something I will never take for granted.

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

A: There are so many great things that have come from playing football. I have made life-long friendships and memories from being involved in football with my club, county, college and in Chicago. I love being part of a team sport, where everyone has their own role on the field, yet you’re all striving for the same thing. If someone doesn’t pull their weight we won’t perform to our best, so there is a trust element to team sports that’s so important and it is what strengthens friendships and generates that sense of togetherness among us. I also love the thrill and excitement on match day. That feeling of championship football just can’t be replicated!

Q: Who was the biggest influence on your career?

A: One of my teachers in Bohola National school, Danny Charlton, had a big influence on my sporting career as I was growing up. He always encouraged us to get out and practice and he made training so fun and competitive! We were lucky to have a lot of success in Gaelic and soccer while in school which made it that bit more enjoyable! I remember when he asked me to play on the school team when I was in 3rd class, I was so thrilled because I wanted to play with Grace! Haha!

Mam and Dad would have to be two of my biggest influences also! They must have every road in Ireland driven at this stage bringing us to matches all over the country when we were young! I’d say they were delighted when the time came where we got a call up to the seniors and Yvonne Byrne started bringing us to training! They have always supported me right the way through my playing career. They came out to Australia last year to see us playing AFLW with West Coast Eagles and were keen to see what our environment was like. They have been great. They have shown me what hard work and respect looks like in everyday life, and whether he knows it or not, Dad has taught me not to take myself or life too seriously!

Q: What are the main challenges that you have faced in your career so far?

A: I am lucky enough that I haven’t had too many challenges in my career so far. But I suppose as a footballer, there are a few challenges that we all encounter along the way! The biggest challenges for me would be losing big games by small margins and getting injuries during the height of championship and having to miss out on training when you don’t want to. But these little setbacks make us stronger and teach us to build resilience, adapt to situations and look at a situation from a different perspective. I have learned the importance of keeping a positive mindset and giving myself positive affirmations and self-talk during the harder times.

Q: You’re renowned as a pacey and direct forward with a keen eye for a score, and possessing a huge work ethic. What do you consider as the biggest strengths of your game?

A: I suppose my biggest strengths would be speed and work ethic. We all have our own personal and differing strengths which contribute to the team.

Q: What do you do for a living/college, and how do you manage the work or college-life-sport balance?

A: I am a qualified Primary school teacher. I am currently subbing in schools in Mayo before I return to Australia for the AFLW season after the Gaelic championship is over this winter. There are a lot of restrictions in schools which can be stressful at times, but I look forward to going training in the evenings and at the weekends – it’s a great release. As I’m working in Mayo this year, I am finding the work-life-sport balance that little bit easier as there is less travelling involved. Last year, I was teaching and living in Dublin, so I found it that bit trickier to manage my time with travelling up and down from Dublin to make training and getting up for work the next morning on little sleep. However, this year I have the luxury of having that bit more time to relax around work and sport, which is great. I have been studying an online course in Sport Psychology over the last few months which has been interesting, and applicable for me to utilise in my sporting career. I do miss the social aspect of meeting the girls outside of football, but I think everyone is the same during these times! Zoom calls and facetimes will be in full flow again!

Q: You’ve had the proud experience of captaining the Mayo inter-county team. How big an honour has that been for you?

Pictured with referee Seamus Mulvihill and Galway captain Tracey Leonard ahead of the 2019 TG4 All-Ireland Senior Semi-Final. 

A: It was a great honour to captain Mayo. I was and still am extremely grateful for the experience. It was a brilliant learning curve for me. Although I was captain, all the girls were/are leaders in their own way on the field, and they all bring different attributes/qualities to the team. Sinead Cafferky is our captain this year – and she is a fantastic leader!

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

A: I hope to keep progressing and doing as well as I can in my sporting career with both Mayo and West Coast Eagles. I would love to win an All-Ireland with Mayo and a county title with my club Moy Davitts. They are two dreams I have had since I was a child. But I hope to keep focusing on raising my personal performance and standards and doing all the little things well that are in my control to better my performance and that of the team.

Q: Have you played other sports?

A: As a child, I played everything that was going – Gaelic, soccer, basketball, Irish dancing! And last year I had the opportunity to play AFLW in Australia.

I played a lot of soccer and basketball up until I was about 16. As a child, I played as much soccer as I did Gaelic in school and with my club. We were lucky enough to get a lot of underage success in both soccer and Gaelic and won a few All-Ireland titles with the school, club, and county. I played soccer with Ireland for a year at U15 level which was unbelievable. But playing two sports at a high level was just too demanding and I had to choose between one or the other as trainings and matches were constantly clashing. So, once I got a call up into the senior Mayo team at 15, that was my decision made! I was thrilled and I choose to focus solely on Gaelic.

Last year, I had the experience of moving out to Australia for 6 months along with 17 other Irish girls to play in the AFLW season. I, along with Grace joined West Coast Eagles in Perth and had a memorable experience playing in a professional environment and picking up the rules of a new sport. We will be returning after the football season is over this year for another season, all going well! I would never have got the opportunity to play AFLW if it wasn’t for Gaelic Football. It has given me so many opportunities that I am forever grateful for.

Q: Do you have a favourite photograph from your career? Why does this photo mean so much to you?

A: This photo was taken in the All Ireland final in 2017 in Croke Park v Dublin. I look sort of focused and composed on the ball, taking a shot. It was a memorable day for me because it was my first All-Ireland final in Croke Park with the Mayo Seniors. There was over 46,000 people at the game and the atmosphere was brilliant. We lost that day to Dublin, but it is my goal to get back there again and compete in another All-Ireland final with Mayo.

Q: You play your club football with Moy Davitts. How have you found that experience and what is it about club football that’s so special?

A: I have really enjoyed playing with my club Moy Davitts. I think this year above any other year, was extremely enjoyable, especially as we didn’t think football would go ahead, and then to get the time to focus solely on club football with the girls was brilliant. I felt I could dedicate all my time and energy on club which we never get the opportunity to do. We reached the county final this year but lost to a very good Carnacon side. There’s something about club football that is very special. You’re playing for your community and with girls that you are friends with for years.

Q: You’re facing down an opposition defender. How do you rate your chances of getting inside and unleashing a shot on goal?

A: A lot of it comes down to mindset and that spilt second decision-making. I would look to see if someone is coming off my shoulder, if not, 100% commit and just go for it!! It’s important not to second guess myself. If you think too much about it, the chance could be gone!

Q: What’s your career highlight?

A: One of my biggest highlights in my career would have to be reaching the All Ireland final in 2017 in Croke Park with a record-breaking attendance at the time of nearly 47,000 people. The crowds of people from home that travelled up to support us that day was incredible and the excitement leading up to the game was brilliant. Beating a very strong Cork side in the Semi Final, knowing we were through to the All-Ireland final was a memorable day.

Winning the O’Connor Cup College All Ireland final with DCU in 2018 was a great moment too!

In action for DCU against Dublin and UCD’s Martha Byrne in 2018. 

Q: How confident are you that Mayo can make a big impact in the 2020 TG4 All-Ireland Senior Championship?

A:. I think every team will be at a different level of intensity coming into championship this year especially with the year we have had and with championship being that little bit shorter. It’s going to be competitive, but we are going to be ready and rearing to go for our two championship games in November. We’ll focus on one game at a time and see what happens after that.

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

A: Work rate, belief and enjoyment would be my advice to up and coming young players.

‘Hard work beats talent if talent doesn’t work hard’. Work hard and always give it your best. Focus on everything that is within your control and work hard at it. And most importantly, enjoy it! When you’re enjoying football, you’ll play better! The years in football go by quick so make the most of it! Be present, believe in yourself and cherish the time with your teammates.

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

A: My uncle always used to say to me ‘Keep practicing, because practice makes perfect!’. Not that my skills will ever be perfect haha, but he stressed the importance of practicing. I remember taking shots at my uncle’s house for hours one day with my cousin. They had an electricity pole that stood behind their goal posts right in the line with the black spot/middle of the goal, and he would say ‘try hit that’. I spent hours with my cousin trying to hit the pole 10 times in a row each! It gave me a focus and I often remember that when I go to take a shot in games.

Q: What hobbies do you enjoy?

A: Doing something active and outdoors – going for a walk/hike/cycle somewhere scenic. I enjoy going out for brunch or coffee with friends or trying out new recipes to cook or bake! I also love listening to podcasts, reading a good book, and having the odd dip in the sea!

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

A: Very hard to just pick 5 but I would probably choose (very random)…

Oprah Winfrey, Serena Williams, Jennifer Lopez, Grace & Darragh.

The dinner would have to be a chicken dish of some sort!! And a chocolate-based dessert of course!

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

A: Chris and Marcella Heffernan – two absolute legends!! They trained us at U16 level with Mayo and their training sessions were tough! Grace and I looked up to them when we were younger! They are lovely people, have great attitudes and very talented footballers!


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