Kelly Mallon brings a different meaning to the term ‘Dual player’.

When the Armagh Senior Ladies Football captain isn’t acting as a playmaker on the GAA field, she can be found on the back roads of Madden, perfecting the road bowling skills that have led her to eight All-Ireland senior ladies titles.

The 29 year old’s most recent All-Ireland road bowling title, picked up on home soil last August, meant she became the most decorated champion in the sport’s history, overtaking all-time record holder Gretta Cormican who has seven All-Ireland titles.

 

Mallon’s introduction to road bowls came at a young age, she cites her father, uncle and grandfather as having a major influence on her career and now, Mallon’s success is inspiring another generation of young bowlers.

“There has been a fair increase in and around the Madden area. Probably because I am playing football, camogie and road bowls, so a lot of the young girls are seeing that and are doing the same. Last year Madden won the female under 18, the female intermediate and I won the senior, so we had three or four All-Ireland champions in one year”.

“Its great and it will take another while before someone can match my record which is very nice, but at the same time it’s so encouraging to see young girls taking it up and pushing it on.”

 

As well as the eight All-Ireland titles, Mallon has secured nine Ulster senior ladies titles in a row, and has also been a first choice up front for Armagh Ladies Football for 10 seasons now. A respected stalwart of the game, Mallon is also a well established camogie player, skippering her home club Madden to their first county title for more than three decades in 2014. But with the Lidl National Football League in full swing, Mallon’s priorities currently lie with the Armagh Senior Gaelic Football Squad.

Named as vice-captain last season, Mallon has taken over the mantle as captain since Caoimhe Morgan ruptured her ACL, and with five wins from five secured so far in Division 2 and a semi-final to look forward to, it’s an exciting time to be at the helm of the Orchard County.

“I am actually really enjoying it. Everything is going as we wanted it to go from the start of the year, this is what we set out to do and everyone is really happy in camp, sometimes you can have some negativity but everyone seems to be really positive and that’s one of our core values.”

 

The Armagh Harps star admits there was a lot of soul searching after last year’s Ulster final. Donegal racked up an astonishing 9-21 on their way to the inter-provincial title, but when the Orchard Outfit were handed another opportunity to face Donegal in the All-Ireland Quarter-finals seven weeks later, they vowed to restore pride to the jersey.

“There was a few questions asked after the Ulster final. We asked ourselves what is it we really want to achieve and is this how we are going to be remembered? I think that was the biggest thing. We knew that wasn’t us so we had one or two options; we could feel sorry for ourselves and go out like that in the next game, or pull ourselves together and play the way that we can play.”

 

While a redemptive victory failed to transpire with Donegal securing a two point victory, Armagh turned in a much improved performance, and with the squad continuing to mature, it’s the type of performance Mallon is confident the team can produce more consistently in 2019.

“I think we are a better rounded and more balanced team this year. We have a wee bit more depth now. Surprisingly there is actually six or seven starters from last season that haven’t come back to the panel but you wouldn’t think that watching us play”

“The younger girls aren’t as young any more, them girls are starting to mature and show some leadership qualities as well. We questioned if they want it enough at the start of the year and they have more then answered it. In training they are pushing the more senior girls on and we have a lot of faith in the younger girls coming through now.”

 

From the outside looking in, Mallon has it all; the most decorated female champion in road bowling history, and of course, an innate ability with either a hurley or a football, but in 2016, Mallon picked up an Achilles injury that interestingly led to a stint between the posts, but ultimately resulted in Mallon sitting out much of the following two seasons.

“It was actually back in 2016 in the inter-pros that I picked up the injury, just from going from playing to sitting down continuously and so much volume in one day.”

“It was probably something that could have been sorted in a couple of weeks but I didn’t listen to the signs and tried to play on, then it just got to the stage where I was in the middle of a training session and I actually just broke down, I just thought I actually can’t play through this pain any more. So after that I ended up playing in goals for a couple of games in 2016.” Injury meant Mallon’s only Armagh appearances in 2017 was a late cameo in goals against Westmeath in the qualifiers, before being elevated to starting keeper against Kerry at Kilkenny’s Nolan Park.

Thankfully, Mallon has firmly taken her place back on the half-forward line and appreciates the game more than ever. “Every day that you’re on the pitch is a good day and I have definitely learned that the hard way. I am just really enjoying my football at the minute, obviously as captain and things are going really well for Armagh so it’s all positive at the moment.”

On Sunday, in a rare occurrence, Mallon will share centre stage with her cousin Niall Grimley, while sisters Aimee and Blaithin Mackin, and Megan Sheridan, will also get the opportunity to line up alongside their brothers at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh, in what will be the counties second ever double header between the men’s and women’s football squads. “It’s brilliant and it would be so much better if they would try and facilitate our families to be able to go and watch both more often, so it’s great for our families to be able to see both games this weekend and hopefully more often in the future.”

Kelly in conversation with Lisa Crowley for wgpa.ie.

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