Orchard heroes honoured at Croke Park

June 23, 2014

Richard Bullick

Award winning Armagh manager James Daly has hailed his captain Caroline O’Hanlon as the best ladies footballer in Ireland after the 29-year-old’s latest record-breaking exploit.

Already the only player from any county to have been honoured every year since the inception of the Team of the National League awards, double All-Star O’Hanlon has extended her run to a sixth successive season.

She was among five Armagh players included in the Division Three select line-up unveiled at the Tesco Team of the League banquet in Croke Park, though there could have been even greater Orchard representation.

Daly’s side dominated Division Three this spring, winning all seven regular league games with the best attacking and defensive records of any side, romping past Tipperary in the semi-final and clinching the title, trophy and all-important promotion place by beating Waterford in Parnell Park.

However, Armagh had to settle for supplying a third of the line-up on a night of double delight for the Daly family from Dromintee as James was named Manager of the Month for May and his daughter Katie made the Team of the League for the first time.

She was joined by skipper O’Hanlon, vice-captain Caoimhe Morgan, her fellow veteran Mairead Tennyson and rising star Fionnuala McKenna, who unfortunately missed the ceremony due to her university exams.

Sinead McCleary, honoured last year along with O’Hanlon and McKenna, missed too many matches this time around including the final while exciting newcomer Lauren McConville, fellow teenager Niamh Henderson and defensive stalwart Sarah Marley were among those unlucky to be overlooked.

Those who did make the cut undoubtedly deserved the recognition and although Daly modestly deflected credit for his own award to his backroom team he was far from reticent in singing his players’ praises.

“It’s great to have on the sideboard but I feel a wee bit embarrassed to be up there on my own getting this when the Armagh management is very much a collective effort, but I suppose somebody has to collect it just like the buck stops somewhere when things go wrong,” he mused.

“I’m delighted Katie got that award for she has been rock solid all year.  It’s an enjoyable evening in Croke Park and the fact the event fell on her 20th birthday was a nice coincidence.”

Tennyson was switched from her familiar forward role to fill in as an emergency corner back in the second half of last August’s All-Ireland qualifier against champions Cork and it looks like a permanent move so effectively has she taken to the position.

“Mairead is the best corner back in Ulster, there’s not a better one,” declares Daly, adding: “She’s so fast, she reads the game so well – helped by knowing how forwards think – and gets through a remarkable amount of work as anyone who watched the Tyrone game will testify.”

On the more established old warrior in the full-back line to be named in the Division Three team, Daly paid tribute to Morgan as “an incredible leader who is back at the very, very top of her game after taking time out in 2012 to have a baby.

“Her drive is unreal, she’s utterly relentless.  She’s so important to Armagh but a few weeks ago she had to mark three of the very best forwards in Ireland in four matches on one day and how well she did that was central to Ulster retaining their interpro title.”

A huge fan of the impressively mature McKenna, the Armagh manager made reference to the 20-year-old’s “awesome second half in the Athletic Grounds last Sunday,” when she emerged triumphant from a titanic tussle with the renowned Neamh Woods.

But Daly reserved the ultimate accolade for Armagh’s greatest ever female footballer, O’Hanlon, branding her “the best ladies footballer in Ireland, a player who would have won nine or 10 All-Stars by now had she been from Cork.

“The number of people who came up to me after last Sunday’s match to talk about Caroline speaks volumes and I’m delighted she had that stage to showcase her exceptional talent.

“She’s an incredible player and a real leader on the field for us but best of all Caroline is a great team player who works hard, helps players around her, sets an excellent example and is a privilege to work with,” he enthused.

Currently in his third season at the Orchard helm, Daly has an impressive record with only five defeats from his 37 matches in charge going into Sunday’s Ulster Championship semi-final, three of them by the minimum margin.