Armagh target place in National League final

April 22, 2013

Richard Bullick

Armagh ladies will meet Tipperary in Mullingar on Sunday (2pm) with a place in the Tesco HomeGrown National League Third Division decider at stake.

Unbeaten for 12 months coming into this semi-final, James Daly’s side are regarded as favourites not only to progress but ultimately be crowned champions, thus securing a place in Division Two for next season.

However, a mixture of those high stakes and fresh memories of the recent encounter in Silverbidge when Armagh only won with a late free from captain Caroline O’Hanlon, will ensure there is no danger of complacency in the Orchard camp.

Tipp showed in the League game against Armagh that they are a spirited, dangerous side and have been building momentum after a slightly sluggish start to the campaign.

Thrashing Down the week before visiting Silverbridge ignited Tipp’s season and, after running Armagh close, they defeated Sligo to finish level on 12 points with two teams that had earlier beaten them, Leitrim and Longford.

Although Tipperary finished third in the table based on points difference, the bizarre regulations for the competition meant lots being drawn to determine who would occupy the third and fourth play-off places.

Lucky Longford, in spite of having the worst points difference of the three sides locked on equal points, drew the bye into the semi-finals by being artificially allocated third seed status, leaving Leitrim and Tipp to play off for fourth.

A late point secured Tipp’s passage to the semis, leaving a shell-shocked Leitrim team that had started the campaign with four straight victories before being beaten at home by Armagh out of the promotion race.

With only one team to go up, unlike in the men’s National League, it could come down to a shoot-out – scheduled for Parnell Park on May 11 – between near neighbours Armagh and Down, who are fancied to see off Longford in the other semi.

The controversial play-off format used to determine placings means Tipp coming into the Armagh match battle-hardened from having a knock-out game under their belts and they won’t lack confidence.

Armagh can consider themselves ill-rewarded for topping the table given that they’ve ended up being paired with the team that effectively finished third whereas runners-up Down get opponents who at face value finished in the bottom half of Division Three!

The teams finishing first and second should surely have had home advantage in the semis but instead Armagh must make the trek to Mullingar whereas Down are still on Ulster soil for their match with Longford in Clones.

Thankfully, however, Daly’s side are undoubtedly good enough to win Division Three the hard way and are rightly taking little interest in the hypothetical arguments over the lack of fairness in the hand they have been dealt.

“We aren’t bothered by any of that – we’ve always said we want to win this competition and that means backing ourselves to beat anyone anywhere rather than running scared or getting into academic debates,” insists All Star skipper O’Hanlon.

“The play-off meant we had to wait an extra week to find out who we’d be facing but, as always, our management will have their homework done and either way the semi-final was going to be against a team we’ve met recently.

“I’m sure Armagh may hold no particular fears for Tipperary after our very close contest last time but that result shows we can’t afford any complacency, especially with there being no second chance at this stage of the competition.

“Tipp are a team in form but we’ve been on a good run ourselves with six wins on the bounce.  Some of our young girls have really put their hands up in recent weeks and a few more experienced players are coming back into the mix at an important time so it’s a positive environment” she enthuses.

Squad skipper Mags McAlinden has still to play this year due to knee ligament trouble but her experienced Clann Eireann clubmate Sinead McCleary is back after missing the last three matches due to a midwifery placement in Malta.