Twenty years can be a long time in football (just ask any Manchester United fan), but Armagh City Ladies have made that milestone whilst many of their contemporaries have fallen to the wayside.
Just by chance, this momentous anniversary has come in the same year Northern Ireland Women are to make their debut appearance in a major tournament, Euro 2022.
Women’s football has surely come a long way in the last 20 years and we at Armagh I had the pleasure of catching up with some of the team’s longest serving players along with a former coach.
First to speak to us was Club Chairperson Lyndsay Henning, who has been part of the furniture at Holm Park for the past 15 years.
“I was 15 years of age playing senior football. It wasn’t the set up it is now. We didn’t have that youth pathway coming through…so you were playing girls who were 30 maybe 35,” said Lyndsay.
In the past few years, Lyndsay said the biggest development has been on bridging the gap between junior and senior football, providing the pathway which was previously not available.
Armagh City Ladies now have groups at under-nine, under-11, under-13 and under-15.
She also revealed that plans are already afoot to celebrate the 20 years, with a return for some of the former players a definite possibility.
Away from the football field, Lyndsay works as a physio at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, and jokes that often the club is more stressful than her actual job.
She explained how she and many of her teammates felt the loss of a release when their season was unable to start in 2020.
“It was difficult to keep everyone together and everyone in communication,” she said. “We did the same things that other people did , your Zoom meetings, quizzes and fitness classes.”
We also spoke with Brian McEnteggart, who spent seven years coaching the Armagh City Ladies team, after a stint as the assistant.
“At the start it was really about building a team,” he said. “When I first took over really we had six players and we could have needed 40 plus to get through that season.
“At the same time you got through it, for the next season you got stronger, you got more established, you trained harder, you trained better and you reaped the rewards.”
Another strong presence in the side is club captain Megan Bothwell, who has been playing for Armagh City Ladies for the past 15 years.
Looking ahead to the 20 year celebrations, she said: “I think some of the girls thought they would never be back but you can always get the boots polished off again!”
Laura Magowan, club secretary and player, has been part of the set-up at Armagh for the past eight or nine years, having played for other teams in Northern Ireland.
“The club I started with didn’t have a youth team, they had no youth set up whatsoever,” she explained. “It is important to have a youth set-up for the future of the club. That’s why Armagh have done so well over the last 20 years.
“Newry, Loughgall, Glenavon, Lurgan, Dromore who I used to play for, they are all gone….Youth is vital, that is what you do it for. You are laying the groundwork for someone else to come take your place. I’m hoping to retire soon so I am happy to see a youth player try to take my place.”