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Mullaghbawn teacher scoops Soccer Mum of the Year gong

Mullaghbawn teacher Paula Byrne was named “IFA (Irish Football Association) Soccer Mum of the Year” at a glitzy awards ceremony in Belfast City Hall on Wednesday night.

Liverpool legend John Barnes and Newry native Pat Jennings, an Arsenal and Tottenham great, were in attendance at the event which celebrates soccer’s grassroots members. 

“Fiona Rooney of Camlough Rovers nominated me for the award,” revealed Paula. “She is over Camlough Rovers and that is my club. 

“Two or so years ago, Fiona put a post on Facebook saying she was thinking of starting a Camlough Rovers under 12s girls team. I have four daughters myself and one of them is a fanatic footballer. Caoimhe was playing the boys all the time and wanted a chance to play with girls.   So when I heard of this idea, I phoned Fiona and said that I would help out in any way I could. The next thing I know, I was coaching even though I had never kicked a ball in my life.

“There was no girls only team in the area and that is why Fiona put my name forward for this award. I think that is why I received it, for setting up a girls only team in an area where there are so few girls only teams.”

The prospect of coaching young girls in a sport she had never played was a daunting one but Fiona Rooney had some words of encouragement, as Paula explained.

Paula receiving her award from Pat Jennings at the awards ceremony on Wednesday.

“I teach in Mullaghbawn School, so Fiona said ‘you’re a teacher and that’s half the battle!’ I debated about doing it or not and then one of my daughters said that I should do it and that I’d be good at it. That was the deal-breaker. 

“So I then did my IFA Level One training and passed it and now I have a squad of around 20 girls coming every week. I have now been coaching for about 18 months. 

“At the start, I was a fish out of water but I wasn’t long getting into the hang of it. I am loving it and the girls are great – they are competitive and enthusiastic. It is something I never imagined that I would enjoy doing but I absolutely love it.”

Paula’s daughters and many of the girls she coaches play both Gaelic Football and soccer. She says the benefits of playing both codes is clear to see and encouraged anyone sitting on the fence to get out and give it a go.

“A lot of the girls play Gaelic as well and you can really see the benefits of playing both sports. Their passing and reading of the ball really improve.

“For any mothers or young girls who are afraid to get out there, I say go for it. There is nothing to lose and this is never an avenue I thought I would be going down but I am really loving it.”

Paula was delighted to have secured this award but said that her real encouragement to keep going comes from a different source. 

Paula, pictured with daughter Caoimhe who inspired Paula’s involvement in soccer with Camlough Rovers.

“The awards ceremony was something else. I was sitting with legends of the game like John Barnes and Pat Jennings and I am sitting there wondering how I ended up here. It was a great experience and it is very humbling to win this award.

“It is nice to get this honour but it’s the time training the girls and my daughter Caoimhe that gives me the most joy. Afterwards, she will sometimes say the session was great and she really enjoyed it and that is all the encouragement I need.”