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24th Feb 2021

Marvellous Mackin turned cruciate nightmare into her platform to stardom

Niall McIntyre

You’ve done your cruciate.

Could you think of four more jarring words for a GAA player to hear? The mind wanders. Nine months they say. You might come back but will you come back as good, as strong, as fast, as confident? Will you come back at all?

Think Ciaran Kilkenny. Every time a cruciate injury is mentioned, the mind springs to the Castleknock dynamo who tore his ACL aged 20. Around that time, the all-rounder was looking for a third end to burn the candle from but even more important than the rest, the setback offered an education.

“Since I got injured, the gym work has been pivotal in helping to strengthen the quads, the hamstrings, all around there, and try to manage the body and the workload. We did testing before we got injured, and when we came back, some of the scores were a lot better. You’re in the gym for four or five months so you get to specify a lot of parts of your body so you do come back stronger,” he said in a striking Irish Times interview in 2014.

Meet Aimee Mackin.

It was in July 2019 when the dreaded words hit the Shane O’Neill’s club-woman like a bullet from a gun. Come 2020, Mackin was the bullet and the Armagh ladies football team were the gun, turning the championship upside down with their bolt from the blue.

Though initially flummoxed by the news, Mackin was soon composed and a year on, she was her county’s gift to ladies football, not so much easing back as torturing those who had to try and mark her.

“You just have to get on with it, there’s nothing going to change at that point,” she said of her initial reaction to the 2019 blow, ahead of the AIG Goal of the Year competition and TG4 All-Stars.

“The first few days are obviously difficult because I didn’t know what was going to happen. I’ve never experienced something like that injury wise. But I think when the coronavirus situation came about it put things into perspective that my injury compared to what everyone else had going on in the world, people are definitely in more difficult situations. So I sort of used that as well…”

Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Before long, she was in the zone and the best was being made of a bad situation. The right foot, the upper body strength, the lower body. The full package.

“In hindsight it definitely did help me. You just had to take it as it came and educate yourself on what you needed to improve on. I know I had to work on the knee itself but I wanted to improve my overall game so that when I came back I was going to be ready…”

Gym-work has become such a huge part of elite sport nowadays and if a player can master the movements, the lunges and the various exercises, it will bode well not only in avoiding injuries but in creating a more athletic player.

“The right foot was one of those things! In general more upper body strength as well and then as I got onto the pitch I worked on my right side and just learning from mistakes I made in previous years, on the tactical side of it. Just developing my game and pushing myself physically to be in the best shape…”

How’s 5-17 (4-12 from play) in three championship games for shape? Armagh’s run was stalled by a brilliant Dublin side in the semi-finals but little was lost in defeat, particularly so by Mackin, who is nominated, and tipped for the Ladies Footballer of the Year award this Saturday night.

“The ultimate is probably the team awards but obviously it’s a huge honour to be nominated for Player of the Year alongside Sinead (Goldrick) and Carla (Rowe). It’s a real honour to be nominated alongside those kind of players…”

Armagh will be back for more next year and Orchard County folk will be delighted to know that this talented, Northern Irish international soccer player is in it for her county, with head and heart.

“I suppose you wonder what way it could have worked out for you,” she says of her soccer career.

“I don’t say I regret anything because the Gaelic has been my number one sport. You look back and think ‘It could have been…’ but it’s not something I think too much about because I’m enjoying what I’m doing now and I’m focussing 100 per cent on playing for my club and my county.”

“Maybe when I get the chance to think about it, I might but at the minute, no, it’s completely Gaelic. I’ll see in the future…”

At the moment, that’s soccer’s loss.

For now, in this locked down world, it’s ticking over with her three siblings – Blaithin, Connaire and Ciaran -each of whom plays senior inter-county football for Armagh.

“We’re all at home, we’re all keeping each other on our toes – plenty of training to be done. We’re playing two-a-side games against each other.

“We were just saying it was good to have siblings to push you on. Me and Blaithin in particular, we’re doing most of our training together so it makes it that wee bit easier. We’re probably a wee bit competitive in a good way. We’re not too much… we stick up for each other as well when we need to but yeah, it definitely keeps pushing us along.”

For Aimee Mackin, the best is yet to come.

23 February 2021; AIG Insurance is delighted to partner with TG4 and the LGFA to help showcase the Teams of the 2020 All-Ireland Ladies Football Championships and the AIG Goal of the Year competition. Armagh star and nominee for the Players’ Player of the Year award, Aimee Mackin is photographed at Camlough Lake ahead of the event. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile