By Daire Walsh
Last Tuesday week, September 19, proved to be an historic day for the Louisburgh club in west Mayo.
In her third year on the panel, having progressed steadily through their underage ranks, Mayo senior star Ciara Needham was honoured for her consistent performances in the 2023 inter-county season with a TG4 All Star nomination.
One of four Mayo defenders to be shortlisted amongst an overall group of 45 players – 2022 winner Danielle Caldwell, Clodagh McManamon and team captain Kathryn Sullivan are the others – Needham was also joined by green and red forward Sinéad Cafferky.
As well as being thrilled from a personal point of view, she also recognises the significance of being her club’s first female footballer to be nominated for an All Star. A small outfit located on the southwest corner of Clew Bay within the Connacht county, Louisburgh were understandably over the moon when news came through that Needham was rewarded for her role in helping Mayo to qualify for a third consecutive TG4 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship semi-final.
“It was a bit of a shock, to be honest, but it’s a really good honour to have. Just really honoured and just delighted with the news, and looking forward to the night,” Needham said of her nomination.
“It’s a huge privilege for my club and for my family, but definitely for my club. That’s where it all started off as a five or six-year-old with the underage. From the club’s perspective, it’s a huge honour. Just really proud.
“Our coaches and managers, I have to thank them as well. If it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the honour of being nominated for an All Star. It is thanks to them, and the team and the girls. It’s great.”
While Needham is the first LGFA All Star nominee from Louisburgh, she may not be the last. Since breaking into the set-up in 2021 – during the recently-departed Michael Moyles’ first season in charge of the side – she has been joined on the Mayo senior panel by her twin sister, Tara.
Like Ciara, she was a regular fixture on the inter-county scene for much of 2023, scoring 1-7 across nine appearances in Division One of the Lidl National Football League, the Connacht senior championship and the All-Ireland series. Interestingly, the Needhams also played against each other earlier this year.
Taking place at the University of Galway Connacht GAA Air Dome in their native Mayo on March 11, Ciara was part of a University of Limerick side that lost out to a DCU team featuring her sibling in the Yoplait O’Connor Cup decider. Although there could only be one winner in the Needham family on the day, Ciara and Tara ended up occupying the number nine and 10 jerseys respectively on the Yoplait HEC All Star team.
“That was a fairly unique experience. It’s rare that you play against your sibling, but that is what college is all about, the O’Connor Cup. Hopefully we’ll get that experience again next year. Whoever will come out on top of that, we have to see,” the UL business student remarked.
When it comes to seeking guidance about tackling the demands of inter-county football, the Needham sisters are fortunate to have two Louisburgh natives to call upon. Before making their own mark at the senior grade with Mayo, their cousin and club colleague, Emma Needham, lined out for the green and red – most notably appearing as a substitute in their agonising one-point defeat to provincial rivals Galway in a TG4 All-Ireland SFC semi-final in 2019.
A member of the Mayo panels who reached Sam Maguire Cup showpieces in 2004 and 2006 – he also went on to play for Wicklow – Louisburgh’s Austin O’Malley was part of the county's ladies management team in the past year. Despite also being in charge of the Cuala men’s side in the Dublin Senior One Football Championship (they suffered a narrow quarter-final exit to St Jude’s last weekend), he was always available to give Needham and her Mayo colleagues any pointers that they needed.
“Austy is just class. He’s just a brilliant person to go to for advice. Performance, life, anything. You could go to Austy for anything. It’s a nice little bonus for the club. You can always give Austy a call, he’s always there.
“He’ll pick up the phone and take the time. He’ll talk to you about anything. It could be on the pitch and it could be outside football. A massive player and a great person, to be honest.
“Emma is my first cousin. She would have been teaching me the ropes as well as you came up through the underage ranks. She’s someone myself and Tara always looked up to. She was someone we looked up to from the club playing for Mayo.
“To have her as our cousin, she was nearly a sister, to be honest. She played in UL as well and she played O’Connor Cup. She always gives great advice. If we have any questions, she’s always there to answer them for us.”
Whilst she has been working her way back from a hamstring injury in recent weeks, Needham is expected to play a big part in Louisburgh’s latest bid for promotion from the Mayo LGFA intermediate football championship.
After following up an earlier success over Davitts with a thrilling 4-17 to 4-14 win away to Kilmoremoy last Sunday, Louisburgh host MacHale Rovers tomorrow (throw-in 11am) in a game that will decide who tops Group B in the IFC. Having lost out to Castlebar Mitchels and Charlestown in the past two second-tier showcases, Needham – who also lines out with her sister Elaine at club level – is aiming to go a step further in 2023.
“It would be great to get up to the senior level in our club. We were there a couple of years ago and we got relegated. That has been our main goal, trying to get back up for the past couple of years. We’ve been in the county final for the past two years as well,” Needham added.
“Unfortunately, we came up short in the two of those. You can say third time's a charm, third time lucky. We don’t want to jinx anything now, but we just take it game-by-game. Hopefully we can get back up to that level this season."Tweet