Daly’s Armagh ready for next test

June 16, 2014

Richard Bullick

Armagh ladies are keeping their feet firmly on the ground as they seek to follow up their comprehensive victory over Tyrone by booking a first Ulster final appearance for for years.

Manager James Daly is promising that his side won’t underestimate Donegal in Sunday’s Senior Championship semi-final in Lisnaskea (5.00 pm) in the aftermath of their wonderful win over the old enemy.

There was huge hype around the quarter-final being staged in the Athletic Grounds and Daly’s ladies really rose to the occasion with a superb performance en route to a 2-17 to 1-5, but now the Orchard outfit face a dangerous game against unpredictable Donegal.

Unlike Tyrone, Donegal were recently relegated from NFL Division One and this match won’t have the extra edge and sense of occasion the last day did but Amagh must replicate the effective football and intensity shown then if they are to clear this hurdle.

Coming so soon after the exhilirating high in the Athletic Grounds, it would be easy to let standards slip but with the important prize of a first appearance in the Ulster showpiece since 2010 within their reach, Armagh have every incentive to keep pushing.

Armagh’s momentum coming off the back of that superb performance against Tyrone following on from promotion in the National League could even see some make them favourities against Donegal.

The Orchard crew certainly won’t go into this semi with any inferiority complex but boss Daly is still laying claim to the underdog tag as he seeks to manage the hype around a team with 10 wins from 10 matches so far in 2014.

“Donegal were relegated and we were promoted so we’ll both be in Division Two next season but they’ve had the advantage of playing all the best teams this spring so should be battle-hardened,” he insists.

“They’ve had plenty of time to prepare for the Ulster Championship and although up until last Sunday they may have been expecting to face Tyrone rather than ourselves, they’ve had the chance to sit in the stand and watch us.

“It’s a tight turnaround and we’d probably have liked another week in between but this lets us maintain momentum and having to quickly focus on the next task is no bad thing as having another big game to prepare for keeps feet firmly on the ground.

“We’re expecting another tough test against Donegal but because we fear no-one now we’ll try to impose our gameplan on it rather than be dictated to by opposition strengths,” says Daly, who accepts the Tyrone result represents a big breakthrough.

“Nobody’s getting carried away at this stage but after losing our three biggest games by a point last year, this time we’ve finally secured promotion and now a first win since returning to the Senior Championship in 2013 so that’s positive progress.”

Daly highlights the salvaging of a league game against Sligo in Silverbridge back in March when Armagh came back to win from eight points down in the final quarter as an encouraging endorsement of the team’s character and growing maturity.

“Although we’ve some very experienced players there’s a lot of youthful talent too and the team is growing all the time.  There’s increasing confidence in our own ability but, as our captain Caroline O’Hanlon says, it’s about taking small steps and always learning.

“In ways last Sunday’s was a strange game going into with all the hype about being in the Athletic Grounds and us not entirely sure where we were coming off the back of a league campaign in Division Three.

“The league final against Waterford wasn’t a great advertisement for football but there was suffocating pressure on us that day just to get the job done and get over the promotion line.  Last Sunday was very different, a positive scenario all about opportunity, and the girls really rose to the occasion.

“You don’t want the occasion becoming a distraction but, providing the mindset is right, that sort of fantastic support is something positive which players can feed off and everyone enjoyed the experience.

“With a platform like that I’m very proud and delighted that the girls showed what they’re capable of and everybody from Katie (Daly) in the goals to the full forward line and all the subs who came on stood up and did the job asked of them.

“Our big players were excellent and they rightly take plenty of plaudits but this team is indebted to unsung heroes like Sharon Reel, who did a fantastic job shutting down one of their main players, Cathy Donnelly.

“We felt we were capable of beating Tyrone but I think it’s fair to say never expected to do so by 15 points.  But on the day the team kept pushing on, concentrating on getting the processes right and the scoreboard took care of itself.

“Coming out after half-time the size of the crowd really hit me and I think they appreciated the performance.  Armagh supporters like seeing their teams beating Tyrone and there was a great buzz, but by Tuesday night we were back to the hard work and focusing on Donegal.

“With the ability and dedication is this squad, we want to kick on from the Tyrone result and with a place in the Ulster final to play for, it’s been easy enough getting everybody back into it.  There’s a lot more this team wants to achieve,” he concluded.

Daly, recently named Tesco Manager of the Month for May, has an impressive record at the Orchard helm with only five defeats in 37 matches, including those three by the minimum margin last year.