Rising star Caitlin Malone comes of age
Friday, October 4th, 2013
Community, Sport, What's On
After playing a prominent part in March’s historic O’Connor Cup success for Queen’s and enjoying her best season so far for Armagh it isn’t surprising that Caitlin Malone is in no hurry for 2013 to end.
She started last October with a cameo appearance at Croke Park as Armagh won the All Ireland Intermediate decider but the emerging midfielder’s stock has risen considerably in the intervening 12 months.
Although around the senior county panel since the tender age of 16 way back in 2008, the Carrickcruppen player acknowledges that this has been a big breakthrough year for her personally as well as one which has brought fresh hope for her club and county.
Armagh may have been beaten by an agonising single point in each of their three biggest games this year but only losing last month’s qualifier to All Ireland champions Cork by the minimum margin augurs well for the future.
Before then though she’s looking forward to new Armagh senior champions Carrickcruppen’s provincial campaign and has high hopes that the Camlough club can fare well against the cream of Ulster sides starting with Sunday’s quarter-final against Newtownbutler.
As one of three frontline county players along with the experienced pair of captain Caroline O’Hanlon and deputy Marian McGuinness, much will be expected of Malone but rather than being burdened by pressure she sees what happened with Queen’s this spring as a positive parallel.
“We were underdogs last term in the O’Connor Cup but backed ourselves as a good team and refused to be intimidated by history or reputations of other teams,” she reflects.
“I believe we’ve also a great group here of players and management at Carrickcruppen so although we won’t look beyond Newtownbutler we’re going into this provincial competition with serious intent and aren’t setting limits on our ambitions.
“We were delighted to win the Armagh final but that’s not enough now after another few weeks’ work – we want more,” insists the ostensibly laid-back but quietly determined Malone. O’Hanlon would doubtless approve of that attitude. Just what the doctor ordered really.
Indeed, it’s little wonder that Malone makes the right impression on and off the field considering she has had the perfect role model at close quarters right from her early years at Carrickcruppen.
O’Hanlon was the original naturally fit, tall medical student playing midfield for ‘Cruppen and the promising Malone has followed the trail blazed by her universally respected club captain on both counts.
The modest Malone would be the last to directly compare herself with one of the game’s greats but is grateful for the excellent example provided by the double All Star, “who is a wonderful role model and someone I really look up to.
“Caroline is a superb player and an absolute star of ladies football but what has made as much impression on me is how gracious she is as a person and how she can balance everything so well. She’s inspirational in every regard and it’s a privilege learning from her,” says Caitlin.
Respectful, polite and unassuming, Malone like O’Hanlon enhances Carrickcruppen’s reputation as a nice club and she’s shaping up well in complementing her hero’s efforts on the pitch too with dominant displays for her club, county and university teams this year.
Talented enough to have been involved with Armagh from an exceptionally young age, Malone has taken time to fully establish herself but 2013 has undoubtedly been her biggest year yet.
After six seasons it may sound strange to talk about a breakthrough but the player herself acknowledges this has been something of a watershed season in which the 21-year-old has really come of age.
Such has been Catilin’s level of performance since the start of the year, it’s easy to forget that she just came off the bench in last October’s All Ireland Intermediate final at headquarters.
She undoubtedly drew confidence from being a very influential figure as Queen’s won the O’Connor Cup for the first time ever in March and benefited from the opportunity to regularly partner her mentor in the Armagh midfield during the National League.
Scorer of the goal which secured extra-time for Queen’s in the O’Connor semi-final, Malone’s high-calibre contribution was rewarded with a Colleges All Star and her university skipper Sinead McCleary’s move to full forward for Armagh gave her a welcome opportunity.
The reshuffle resulting from Mags McAlinden’s return from injury meant McCleary reverting to midfield and the Carrickcruppen player being deployed in the half and full forward lines against Tyrone and Cork in the Ulster and All Ireland Championship.
Although maybe most at home in the middle of the field, Malone did well in both games as third division Armagh only lost to top flight teams by an agonising single point on each occasion and she has no intention of trying to dictate terms about preferred positions.
“I’ve always loved playing for Armagh, anywhere the management think I can do a job. It’s all about working hard, having the necessary commitment and never taking inter-county football for granted.”
Starting so young can sometimes spoil players if they expect everything to happen overnight but the mild-mannered Malone has displayed pragmatic patience in biding her time.
“When I first came in at 16 it was brilliant being around at all, learning from all those top players I had grown up watching with admiration. There was a real intensity to training with no allowance made for your youth. You were expected to work hard and do what it took to measure up.
“Initially I was there to get experience and I’ve had good opportunities through the years since, but you must understand that it’s a competitive environment and appreciate that Armagh have been so strong around the middle of the field for so long.
“You must make the most of chances when you get them and it’s admirable how some very young girls have stepped up in the past couple of seasons. The talent’s there and it’s positive for Armagh’s future.”
Meantime Malone is looking forward to a new winter with Queen’s and most immediately Carrickcruppen’s clash with Fermanagh champions Newtownbutler, when the Camlough girls will have home advantage.
After their rounded, assured display in the Armagh Senior Championship final against outgoing champions Clann Eireann, ‘Cruppen are in a positive frame of mind as they embark upon this provincial challenge.
“Winning was everything in the county final but we can certainly take confidence from what was a more composed, professional performance than the previous couple of years when we came close but ultimately lost out.
“We went in happy enough at half-time but the management pin-pointed things that could be improved upon, which kept us grounded and under no illusions that there was more to do. It was a great team effort and that reflects the fantastic spirit at Carrickcruppen.
“Lorraine (McCaffrey) and Fionnuala (McAtamney) are absolutely amazing managers, who had us prepared for every eventuality. It’s the most organised we’ve every felt going into a game and you draw belief from that.
“We were structured, clinical and knew the back-up plans perfectly in the event of losing someone to the sin-bin, which happened in the first half.
“The players trust them implicitly and they’ve very good on the psychology side of things too. This provincial campaign is something of a step into the unknown in terms of the opposition but we’ll continue concentrating on ourselves first and foremost,” she insisted.
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