Cross twins won’t be back for Ulster Semi

June 10, 2013

Richard Bullick

Hopes that the legendary O’Donnell twins might be back in the Armagh ladies panel ahead of this month’s Ulster Senior Championship clash with Tyrone now look unlikely to be realised.

The last time Armagh won the Ulster title back in 2007, Bronagh O’Donnell lifted the trophy after sister Alma’s Player of the Match performance helped the women in orange crush their bitter rivals in Clones.

The Crossmaglen duo’s subsequent move to live and work in Dublin led to several lean years for Armagh, but the Orchard’s recent renaissance under James Daly has fuelled speculation that the O’Donnells might make themselves available again in spite of the long-distance commute.

There has been no public comment either by the O’Donnells or Armagh management but boss James Daly has spoken previously of his admiration for the experienced pair and former Orchard captain Bronagh has continued to take a keen interest in the team’s fortunes.

When Daly took over as Armagh manager 18 months ago he vowed to build a team that the twins would want to be part of and, last month’s National League final loss aside, impressive progress has certainly been made.

One complication is that the twins are now heavily committed to leading Dublin club Na Fianna, the 2011 All-Ireland Senior Club Championship finalists, with Bronagh being captain and both coaching the Under 16 side.

Had Na Fianna won the All Ireland club title last season it might have cleared the way for an Armagh return by the O’Donnells, but they were unexpectedly beaten in the Dublin Championship final, leaving a sense of unfinished business.

O’Donnell’s team avenged that defeat with an emphatic 15-point victory over Foxrock Cabinteely in the opening game of this season’s county championship and last week rattled up an incredible 49-point margin in booking their place in the semi-finals.

Those don’t take place until the end of July but that break in the schedule doesn’t seem to have translated into a return to the Orchard ranks by the 32-year-olds, who have lost little of the drive and intensity which made them such significant figures in Armagh ladies football.

However, ironically, that near pathological commitment could be part of the difficulty in that the O’Donnells don’t tend to do things by half measures so it wouldn’t be as simple as management offering flexibility and permission to miss some sessions.

They are undoubtedly still fit and effective enough to make them valuable assets in inter-county football beyond this season but Daly has pragmatically planned without having the services of these two all-time Armagh greats.

Although even now they would be among the first names on any Orchard supporter’s ‘dream team’, the manager must deal in reality, work on the assumption that they won’t be back and develop the most competitive panel possible.

Since coming into the job on the back of a successful spell as Armagh Minor manager, Daly has been building the sort of professional set-up he hopes can either attract the twins back or alternatively thrive without them.

Their early return would be a bonus in strengthening the side and increasing competition for places, while working with the O’Donnells could only benefit the exciting generation of Orchard talent currently coming through.

However the Armagh manager is still spoilt for choice with several young guns flying in training and impressing with the high-flying Under 21s to the extent that established stalwarts such as Clodagh McCann, Sharon Reel and Marian McGuinness will come under pressure for their starting spots anyway.

And even if the O’Donnells don’t reappear in the short-term, the fact the door hasn’t been shut on a comeback adds to the positive sense of Armagh hope and will encourage every player to keep pushing hard in training to make sure it isn’t their place that would be vulnerable.

Beating Tyrone without the Crossmaglen stalwarts would be a powerful statement of intent, not only to the outside world but towards delivering Daly’s pledge of making Armagh an appealing prospect once more for illustrious Orchard exiles.