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Football coach and expert analyst, Lisa Fallon, talks about achieving potential, the constant pursuit of excellence, rising above gender bias and learning every day on the job.

I was really close to my grandad. He was a hard-working guy, giving most of his life to the water works at Dublin Corporation. He coached a junior football team. I followed him up and down the side-lines for a lot of my childhood.

He gave me the sense that I could achieve anything, provided that I worked hard and had an honesty about how I go about things. His last words to me were, “I spent 40 years in a job I hated but I worked hard and had a good life. If you get an opportunity to do something you love, then go for it.” If you have someone there that believes in you, it means everything.

Be the person, that tells someone that they “can”. That’s who I want to be.

Lisa Fallon will feature in a stellar line up of speakers at the Leaders Lounge online event on 3rd November 2020. To get your tickets visit.

The ambition to work in sport was the only ambition I ever had when I was a kid. I remember when I was 12, I heard on the radio that they were inviting kids to ring in and do a review. They said, “if you’re a girl you can do a book review, if you’re a boy you can do a match review.” That was in September 1989. I rang in and said, “I’m a girl but can I do a match review?”  The match was the Republic of Ireland V West Germany, remembered as Liam Brady’s last appearance and for a goal by one of my heroes, Frank Stapleton.

Back then, I had loads of VHS recordings of Ireland games. I’d watch the way they played and how they would set up. I’d look at what the difference was when you had Quinn up front instead of Cascarino. I looked for patterns, maybe not deliberately, but I could just see them. Analysing teams fascinated me.

Like any other kid who loves football, my ambition was to become a professional footballer, but those opportunities just were not there for girls in the 1990s.

So, I conformed to societal norms and tailored my ambition to become a sports reporter.

After university, I began working in radio in Ireland where I met, the great Johnny Lyons, sports editor at 98FM who kick started my sports journalism career. I ended up covering soccer, rugby, golf, horse racing, so many different sports and so many huge occasions. It was a genuine privilege and I loved it. But I always yearned to be in the thick of it.

That came about through a twist of fate.

As a sports reporter, I interviewed Michael O’Neill, then manager of Northern Ireland. After the interview, he asked me if I was a coach and where my questions had come from. He had picked up on some of the opposition analysis that I’d done in preparation for the interview.

At the same time, I’d been having conversations with John Caulfield, then Avondale United manager. We’d also met in an interview context and he’d call me to get a read on teams that he’d be coming up against in the FAI Intermediate Cup. When he got the Cork City job, he brought me in as part of his management team.

I’ve got to be honest; I didn’t even know Opposition Analysts existed. But John and Michael saw something in me and suddenly a new career path opened up that I didn’t even know was there.

I ended up being appointed to the back-room team at both Cork City and the Northern Ireland international team, analysing the opposition and optimising performance. That was where fate brought me to; all through the conversations I’d had and the questions I had asked.

I believe everything happens for a reason. We all have a purpose. I’ve learned to be present and always aim to be my best in the moment for my team and, then always take time to look back, learn lessons and see how I can be better the next time. I’ve learned to ask myself, “What is the growth opportunity?”

I’ve learned to have my homework done to put myself in the best possible situation to make the best possible decision for my team.

That’s what the constant pursuit of excellence is all about.

When I started in my professional life, I always made sure that me doing my job was all about how well I did that job, not the fact that I was doing the job and I was female. That’s tokenism for me. Gender has nothing to do with it. I never thought about being female in a perceived “man’s world”.

In elite sport, the margins are so small between success and failure. In that atmosphere you cannot afford to be distracted by the odd sexist comment or obvious stereotyping. If there were comments, they were always from outside the environment. Within the team or squad, we were all just focused on the collective effort and objectives.

In a high-performance environment, they don’t go any easier or harder on me because I’m a woman. They just want me to be giving it my best all the time.

They want to trust that the information I pass on has the potential to make a difference when it counts the most. They need to trust that, when I’m needed, I’m there to execute my role well. So, judge me as an analyst or judge me as a coach. That’s what it’s all about.

In that way, gender is never a barrier for me. I can say that with all honesty.

That’s not to say that the barriers don’t exist. The barriers for females in sport are real. But whether you are male or female in sport, everybody has to work as hard. The commitment, the sacrifice, the demands, the effort, are all exactly the same. The only difference is the lens people choose to look through; and that’s what needs to change if we’re to end gender bias in sport.

Every day’s a school day. Every culture or environment that I work in is different. Different people, mindsets, motivations and objectives. You learn from the people you work with. You learn from the opposition you come up against. The principles of the game remain the same, but how you apply them is in a constant state of flux. You have to have a respect and understanding for the environment you find yourself in. Nothing is ever fully defined. That’s the beauty of sport. It’s like living in a game of live chess. Constant adaptation.

When you’re in sport, you’re in it because you love the opportunity it gives you to push you to places that you didn’t know you could get to. Regardless of the pressure or emotion of a situation, you need to master the capacity to be always in a position to execute the task in front of you. If you allow either pressure or emotion to over spill it will inhibit your performance or your response. There’s a time for emotion, but that’s after the full-time whistle. You can have your moment then, to enjoy it or learn from it.

In particular, if you’re in a leadership role, as a coach, it’s so important to remain authentic and stay true to your values. Another truth about sport is that you only have temporary possession of the role that you’re in. You have to understand and respect that, and ensure that when you pass the baton, that you can do so knowing you operated at the highest standards. Did you give it all you could when you had your chance?

The greatest currency that anyone has is potential.

If you can get people into a space where they can realise their potential, it is the most privileged position you could be in, and the most responsible thing you can do as a leader.

I’m always grateful for the fact that people like John Caulfield, Michael O’Neill, and Jim Gavin saw potential in me and acted on it to help me to reach that potential.

In leadership, supporting someone to realise their true potential is the greatest reward of all. For me, it’s a privilege that should never be underestimated.


October 2020.

Lisa Fallon will be part of the Leaders Lounge virtual event taking place on 3rd November 2020 where she’ll join former Dublin Senior Football Manager, Jim Gavin; former Ireland Women’s Rugby captain, Fiona Coghlan; Leinster Rugby Senior Coach, Stuart Lancaster and Ryder Cup winning captain, Paul McGinley as they provide invaluable insights into the tenets of leadership and inspiring high performance.

This inaugural online event has been designed for CEO’s, Management Professionals, Business Executives, and those in wider leadership/coaching positions. For more information or to reserve your place visit

If you enjoyed Lisa’s piece you might like to read Jim Gavin’s – “The Higher Purpose“.

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