March 14, 2014 by Uncategorized

Our 5 in a million ambassador has been chosen to be a Female Football Leader for the Irish FA



404 Not Found When Fionnuala Conlon shared her reasons why she applied to be a part for the Northern Irish FA’s (NIWFA) Female Football Leader Programme (FFLP), she dreamed about helping young girls get involved in football and seeing them develop and grow in every aspect of their lives; fitness, confidence, self-esteem, happiness and general well-being.

“I wanted to help young females relax and feel comfortable playing football.” Said Fionnuala.

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The FFLP targets females aged between 16 – 24 years that have volunteered or worked at a sports club, community organisation or within their school; show great leadership potential; and, who demonstrate a commitment to volunteering at their local club for a minimum of one year in either a coaching or administrative capacity.

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“When I saw the Female Football Leader Programme I was delighted and very enthusiastic – I am happy and proud to play my part in their growth and development.

“We just had our second meeting last week (Friday 21st of February) and I am thoroughly enjoying it and I am looking forward to getting more involved with the NIWFA and promoting football for girls around the North”

Fionnuala, who grew up in the Upper Springfield area of West Belfast, has used sport to progress to a better future despite growing up in an area where official statistics indicate that many young people end up misusing drugs, committing suicide or face other social issues.

Growing up with five siblings where sport was always the focus has helped Fionnuala to progress within the subject she was born to love; sport.

“All my family played a sport growing up.” Continued Fionnuala “From a young age my daddy had all us out on the pitch in the caravan site in Newcastle and the whole family played for hours.

“I was also quite good at playing, so when we played with the boys I could give as good as I got so I think the boys respected me and enjoyed playing matches with us.”

The 20-year-old used all her spare time playing or training in several sports, although it was always football which was the biggest interest for her.

It was not always easy for the centre back, who is known as a tough defender amongst contemporise, to play the sport she loved, as there was not much local girls teams in West Belfast.


This never stopped her from continuing to play the sports that she loved, in fact it had the opposite effect and helped shape the person she is today.

“I believe football has given me the drive and confidence to be where I am today.” She enthused.

“It can be so easy for people to go off the rails, or go down a path that won’t be good for them. But by having a positive role model young people can be better-equipped to make positive decisions and changes in their life.”

Through the sports development charity Active Communities Network who have an office in the Upper Springfield Area, she made contacts with local youth workers, who introduced her to several courses, including the FA Level 1 Football Coaching Course and she is now working towards her UEFA B Licence.

While still in secondary school, Fionnuala thought about setting up a ladies football team along with her friends in the area something that was never done before and the desire to make this dream a reality drove her on. She approached a number of people involved in football to help her out – finally she got the help needed to form her football team called St.James Swifts and Blackieville Ladies FC.

At the age of 16 she was a very active member of the team and helped all small aspects of running the club, given that she was still very young, she was attending meetings, undertaking training such as child protection as well as organising fundraising events, training and games for the team.

“Unfortunately Blackieville Ladies FC went under due to a lack of funding.” Explained Fionnuala “This was a great shame as wehad progressed up the leagues and done very well in the cup competitions.

“The team was very successful until it folded and our team spirit and dedication was second to none. I made several good friends in this team and it was such a pity we lost our funding.”

However, this did not discourage Fionnuala, Cumann Spoirt an Phobail (CSP) formed a ladies team, which she joined and is now captaining.

As opportunities continued to come her way, Fionnuala began coaching her own junior football team after she successfully gaining her football coaching badges (Level 1 and Level 2) and by this stage it was clear what career path she wanted to take, as even her studies centred on sport and exercise.

“I love working in the community and working with young adults and children, so I have completed my NOCN Level 1 in Youth Work with Suicide Intervention Skills, Child Protection and First Aid.

“The courses I have completed have led me to believe in myself more and I think I have grown as a person through doing them – a lot of people have commented on how comfortable I appear, and that I’ve ‘come out of myself’ and I believe this is all down to doing these courses.”

The opportunities in the club did not just open the door to the football world, but also introduced her to volunteering work in her local community and through Active Communities Network she got involved with the Rio Ferdinand Foundation (RFF).

IMG_3732Fionnuala is now an ambassador for the Foundation and is a focus point to help bring the organisation to life through her own experiences.

“Growing up I loved football and played it every day, but I have always said I didn’t want to be a pro player, mainly because I don’t think I would like to leave my home, family and Belfast.

“I feel so privileged to be asked to be a RFF Ambassador; it’s a big opportunity to be asked to represent Belfast and my local area.

“I wouldn’t be coaching my team now, working with Active Communities Network and being the Rio Ferdinand Ambassador if it wasn’t for playing football, I believe football has given me the drive and confidence to be where I am today.”

Fionnuala currently works for Active Communities Network as an intern together with coaching and managing a U17 girls team in Belfast and her plans for the future are clear – she wants to continue giving back to the community and help youngsters, particularly females, into football.