Lennon winning her biggest battle

Thursday, 10 May 2018

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AOIFE Lennon marked her home debut for Glentoran last Wednesday with a late equalising goal to ensure her former and hopefully future Armagh gaelic colleague Aimee Mackin's brace wasn't enough for Sion Swifts to leave The Oval with maximum points.
The Glens are still seeking their first victory of the NI Women's Premiership soccer season but, just by being back on two types of football field this spring, Aoife Lennon knows she is already winning a bigger battle.
The multi-talented 25-year-old has written with touching honesty and real lucidity in an immensely moving and insightful blog about the painful personal struggles underpinning a visible successful life as a top-class sportswoman since the untimely loss as a teenager of the dad she hero-worshipped.
As well as achieving full international honours, Lennon's soccer career has included captaining Newry City Ladies throughout their meteoric rise up the ranks of football in Northern Ireland, culminating in being crowned Premiership champions at the first attempt.
Club captain of newcomers Newry from the tender age of 17, Armagh city girl Aoife combined inspirational leadership and dominance from midfield with some wonder goals, at least one of which went viral a few years ago.
She supplemented that with real comic-strip superhero exploits in Armagh gaelic in 2015 when she dipped back into the other footballing code and made a stunning impact both at club and inter-county level.
Within a couple of weeks of posting 1-10 out of a team tally of 1-12 for Armagh Harps in her first game for several seasons, Lennon was drafted into the county panel and made a significant contribution as the Orchard crew reached a second successive All Ireland semi-final.
Introduced as a sub in the qualifier against Westmeath, she registered a point that evening, but then top-scored with 1-3 as Armagh edged Donegal in a thrilling quarter-final in Clones. At club level she helped Harps to a first Senior Championship final for 17 years.
But Lennon's greatest sporting love and primary dream remained a move into cross-channel soccer so Armagh gaelic had to take a back seat again and she also opted out of international football to focus on Newry's historic UEFA Champions League campaign.
Newry was a footballing fairytale but, two autumns ago, it was announced that Aoife had signed for Dublin-based League of Ireland side Shelbourne in an ambitious move which could hopefully prove a stepping stone to the big-time in England.
However real life got in the way and instead Lennon ended up heading to New Zealand for a year as she took time out to find herself, fight the demons and ultimately embark upon a happier path of fulfilment in which sport, thankfully, has still a prime place.
The phased entries in that incredibly brave blog already referred to offers fascinating insight into the challenges Lennon has had to face and her inspiring journey towards a sustainable, balanced lifestyle.
On the surface, she was so successful, fit and healthy but there was deep personal stuff which had to be confronted eventually and, by sharing her inspiring story of renewal, Aoife may have helped plenty of people she doesn't even know work through their own challenges.
“A year ago I could hardly walk and never thought I'd play football again but thankfully now I'm back doing what I love. I don't want to look back on those years of sickness but it's positive to think of how far I've come," she told the Gazette.
“It takes courage, determination, strength and fight to keep going on those days you feel weak but I'm going to continue moving forward and not let anything stop me doing what I enjoy. You can achieve anything you want when you put your mind to it.
“Sport will always be an important part of my life but I'm now more equipped to keep everything in proper perspective," says a revitalised Lennon who has learned that if she looks after herself first and foremost, other things should fall into place.
Anyone who knows Aoife and has followed her courageously shared story with a mix of concern and admiration will be delighted to see her back in action and wish her health and happiness in the time ahead.
Initially it looked like she might just ease herself back into the sporting picture by playing gaelic locally for her club Armagh Harps but then news emerged of her signing up to play Premiership soccer for Glentoran.
Her first match was a 4-3 defeat in the Big Two clash away to champions Linfield, followed by that home debut against Sion Swifts for whom her former Newry City clubmate Mackin netted a penalty and then a left-footed strike to put the visitors 2-1 up before Lennon's late reply with a header.
The thought of the pair linking up again in the Armagh gaelic attack this summer is an appealing prospect but the Orchard hierarchy will doubtless be careful not to put pressure on an exciting talent still finding her feet again after a difficult time.
Joining Glentoran suggests Aoife feels ready to challenge herself again but combining club commitments in two sports


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