By Daragh Small
Sisters Niamh and Grace Kelly have scored 2-3 between them in Mayo’s opening two Lidl National Football League ties, but as the year progresses the potential is there for their influence to be even stronger.
The younger sibling, Niamh, has been entrusted with the captain’s armband in a season of further transition for the four-time TG4 All-Ireland Senior champions.
Mayo’s Division 1 opener finished in a positive 2-11 to 0-12 win over Tipperary at Swinford, but last time out they were caught by reigning TG4 Ulster champions Donegal.
23-year-old Moy Davitts clubwoman Kelly is aware that all of the results won’t fall in Mayo’s favour in 2019, but she expects to see further growth from the squad.
“The league is really testing ground for us because we have a lot of young girls in this year. “We didn’t really know what we were like until we went out playing,” said Kelly.
Last year Mayo reached a Lidl NFL Division 1 final before Dublin secured a comfortable 3-15 to 1-10 victory at Parnell Park.
Niamh and Grace Kelly were both on the scoresheet that day, as they were in Mayo’s Connacht final defeat to Galway on 24 June.
But no one could have foreseen the upheaval that followed when a dozen squad members left the panel before the new round robin phase.
It shook the county to its core but the remaining panel members got together and performed heroics to beat Cavan 3-23 to 4-13 in Clones.
“It was difficult for us. We have to put it behind us now and focus on the year ahead. If we want to do well we have to keep working hard and keep the heads down,” said Kelly.
“But we were leading into the Cavan game and we had to rebuild ourselves and get focused on that game. It was a big championship game. But whatever 15 lined up worked hard and we were lucky to get the result.
“I wanted to play football and improve my own game and the team. I wanted to play for my county and I was just happy to be there. It was tough to lose some big names but you have to keep going. I always wanted to do Mayo proud.
“Everyone worked hard that day against Cavan. It was a very emotional week for us. It was really important that we won that game, and for that to happen before, it was quite hard.
“When you got into the pitch it’s funny because you forget about it. It’s like at a training session, whoever is on the pitch is going to work hard. I forgot about it when I got onto the pitch.
“I was trying to do my own job and get on with it and try and win the game. But it probably was one of the hardest games I have played in.”
Niamh Kelly still scored 0-5 even despite the distractions while her sister Grace top-scored with 2-6 that day.
Niamh is the youngest of three siblings, including brother Sean, and their love for football was honed as children playing in the garden at home.
The two sisters joined Moy Davitts where they played U-6 to U-14 with the boys before they swapped over the girls teams.
Niamh was a massive fan of Man United as a child and her love for soccer eventually ended up with her representing her country at U-15 level.
But she decided to stick with Gaelic football where she joined up with the Mayo seniors one year after her older sister.
Now they backbone the Mayo attack, the stakes have never been higher for the primary school teacher who works in Sandymount, Dublin.
“We have quite a young team this year. We have good girls there that can teach the new girls a few things about playing senior,” said Kelly.
“They have a great attitude and are willing to work hard, when you have that it’s half the battle.
“We have a few leaders on the team, everyone is very good to the young girls coming in and they bring this energy. You learn things from the new girls coming in as well.
“We will just have to make sure they are looked after and made feel welcome. There are other girls that are doing that as well.
“The Connacht final is the aim for now. Galway are super. It’s always going to be a battle against them. “The league is probably a stepping stone to the championship really. That is the big game, the Connacht final against Galway.”