There was no-one more surprised than Blaithin Mackin when she was announced as the centre half back in the 2020 AIG Ladies Gaelic Football Team of the Year, but that only speaks volumes of how unassuming the 22-year-old Armagh footballer is.

Mackin had an outstanding campaign in her new role at half-back under manager Ronan Murphy as the Orchard ladies won the Ulster championship title and pushed Dublin all the way in an exciting All-Ireland championship semi-final. She was a worthy award winner, even if it still hasn’t sunk in for the young footballer.

Blaithin Mackin has high hopes for Armagh in '21. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
Blaithin Mackin has high hopes for Armagh in '21. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

“When my name was announced I was in complete shock, never in a million years did I expect it because the calibre of players is so high, there are just some amazing footballers in the ladies’ game,” Mackin said.

“I really would not have thought I was up with those players, but it is nice that somebody thinks I am. It was a big shock and obviously my family was delighted, and I was just sitting there and didn’t know what to do and then there was tears of joy of course.”

Fast, powerful, with silky skills and an eye for goal, Blaithin has grown into a key player for the Orchard team. The younger sister of Player of Year Aimee, the awards were a memorable occasion for the Mackin family and wider Camlough community.

“I was proud of Aimee and I was delighted for her and you couldn’t say she wasn’t deserved of it because she was more than deserving, especially after the year she had,” Blaithin said.

The Covid pandemic has left an unpredictable GAA season ahead but given how well Blaithin and her Orchard team-mates reacted after the last lockdown, the Shane O’Neill’s star is confident on building on last year’s successes.

“Training has gotten easier for me this year because Aimee does the runs with me compared to last year, “said Blaithin.

All-Star Blaithin Mackin at Camlough Lake. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
All-Star Blaithin Mackin at Camlough Lake. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

“We were on different programs last year, with Aimee’s injury. This year I am definitely enjoying the company in the runs rather that have to talk to myself to get through it. Even doing the gyms session with her has been a boost.

“I wouldn’t have been great at the gyms sessions but now Aimee has got me paying more attention to the strength side of things. Beforehand I didn’t do it much, I would have focused on the skills and running side of things in training and I love that. And it can only help my game, when you see how Aimee came out of that injury and all she could do was gym work, I knew I had to do more gym work and of course I have time due to lockdown.”

Blaithin is studying a master’s degree and it is online, which Mackin doesn’t mind because it fits into her lockdown lifestyle as it gives her more time to train. The Camlough woman stays in touch with her team-mates and believes it was the first lockdown last year that allowed so many footballers to become full-time athletes, with training twice a day not unusual. She believes the club season should come first and looking forward to playing with Shane O’Neill’s but Mackin also has high hopes for Armagh in 2021.

“My aim would be to get out of division two and into division one where we would be playing the best teams every week,” said Blaithin.

“Hopefully, we can win another Ulster title and then push on and go further in the All-Ireland championship and reach the final. We can’t look too far ahead and once the season starts; we will take it one game at a time but before the season starts, I like to aim to go further that we did last year.”

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