Armagh Ladies win National League Final in Dublin

May 12, 2014

by Richard Bullick at Parnell Park


Crossmaglen’s Lauren McConville netted the only Armagh goal as the Orchard outfit won Saturday’s Tesco HomeGrown National League final to secure the Division Three title and all-important promotion.

Armagh beat Waterford in a Dublin decider for the second time in three seasons, following up their seven-point victory in the 2012 All Ireland Intermediate final with another triumph at Parnell Park on Saturday.

The long-time title favourites completed a perfect campaign in terms of finishing with nine wins from nine games, though James Daly’s side didn’t deliver a particularly accomplished performance in the final.

Armagh went into the match without one of their top players, Sinead McCleary, due to a hamstring tear and captain Caroline O’Hanlon uncharacteristically didn’t register a single score all afternoon.

But there were significant contributions from the emerging generation, with 20-year-old Fionnuala McKenna named Player of the Match after kicking five points to complement teenager McConville’s 1-2, and veteran vice-captain Caoimhe Morgan was an absolute Orchard hero.

Armagh’s rock was typically inspirational throughout and produced two incredibly brave blocks to deny Waterford certain goals at crucial times in what was a closer contest than many pundits predicted.

Morgan set the tone for her outstanding afternoon’s work by intercepting Waterford’s first attack inside the opening 30 seconds and both teams had their turn with the ball before Aileen Wall kicked a wide.

Midfielder Elaine Power was off target too in the fourth minute after a Morgan push had yielded a Waterford free and the Armagh No 9, O’Hanlon, soon followed suit from a pass by McKenna.

More great work from Morgan briefly staved off the Waterford threat but their next attack ended in a wide and then a low shot from O’Hanlon was given wide when the ball appeared to have been deflected behind.

Waterford were doing well and a Niamh Marley chargedown only halted them briefly, but Linda Wall clocked up their fourth wide before star turn Michelle Ryan got the game’s opening score with a 10th minute free.

Armagh responded quickly, Morgan winning a free from which her team counter-attacked with McConville sending over an equalising point and former captain Mags McAlinden nudged them in front for the first time two minutes later.

McAlinden, the woman who led Armagh to victory over Waterford in Croke Park, had another shot on the turn 30 seconds later and although that was saved, her team were awarded a free which McKenna converted.

Daly’s side were having to work hard in defence but in spite of their efforts Waterford closed the gap to a single point midway through the half before both teams were guilty of wasting possession.

It was turning into a frustrating afternoon for McAlinden, who had netted a hat-trick in the semi-final, as she frequently found herself unsuccessfully chasing balls as they rolled over the end-line.

Waterford introduced Hannah Landers up front on 19 minutes and Armagh also made a substitution before the break with Malone giving way to the fleet-footed Siobhan Mackle as McKenna notionally moved to midfield in a fairly fluid formation.

A great run from O’Hanlon came to nothing but her precise soccer pass from a 45 gave Mallon the space and time to fire over Armagh’s fourth point shortly after a save at the other end from Daly.

The game remained closely contested but McKenna boosted Armagh with a big run and fine point in the 25th minute, which was followed by some fiercely-committed defending from the two younger Marley sisters and Sharon Reel.

The fearless Morgan’s reckless courage denied Waterford a certain goal and then, just after a long free from Ryan went wide, Armagh hit the net in injury-time as McConville broke through with McAlinden and delivered a confident finish.

There was still time for Mackle to garnish what was now a much healthier looking first half with a point as Armagh went in seven up, the same margin they beat this opposition by in that All Ireland Intermediate final.

McConville extended that to eight with a point 35 seconds after the resumption and although Ryan cancelled it out with a free, a towering free from McKenna was immediately followed by a point for Aoife McCoy and then the Harps star put the ball over the bar after the Waterford keeper saved well from Mackle.

That took Armagh’s lead into double figures but in spite of another point-blank block by Morgan and Katie Daly doing well to palm a shot against the post, a Waterford goal gave them a lifeline.

Dromintee’s Shauna Grey had come on for Marian McGuinness to give Armagh fresh legs but the absence of Caoimhe Murray from the matchday squad for personal reasons reduced Daly’s options for forward replacements.

When McAlinden was withdrawn on 48 minutes, the substitute was schoolgirl Louise Kenny, a defender at a time Armagh needed to press on rather than sit on their lead which was now down to six.

Reel was adjudged to have given away a penalty and although Daly didn’t even have to save Waterford’s wayward spot-kick, the Orchard crew continued to live dangerously.

An awful final ball from Mallon was followed by wides for Henderson and O’Hanlon before Waterford reduced the arrears to five points.  The underdogs lost a player to the bin but Sarah Marley quickly followed leaving it 14-a-side.

There was even greater drama as the game drifted into injury-time with Mallon given a straight red card by Wexford referee Mags Doherty for retaliation after being blatantly taken out upon taking a perfect pass from O’Hanlon.

The initial culprit was sinbinned, reducing the teams to 13 players each with six minutes remaining on the stop-clock, but Armagh held their nerve with McKenna’s fifth point and two from Mackle to round off a deserved victory.

ARMAGH: K Daly; M Tennyson, C Morgan, S Marley; S Reel, N Marley, N Henderson; C Malone, C O’Hanlon (capt); M McGuinness, F McKenna (0-5, 2f), A McCoy (0-1); L McConville (1-2), K Mallon (0-2), M McAlinden (0-1).  Subs: S Mackle (0-3) for Malone (29 mins), S Grey for McGuinness (39), L Kenny for McAlinden (48).