Awesome Armagh ladies are Ulster Champions

July 7, 2014

• Ulster Ladies Championship Final – Armagh 2-14 Monaghan 1-8

Richard Bullick in Clones

Awesome Armagh ended seven lean years at provincial level in stunning style with a devastating display which comprehensively dethroned champions Monaghan in Clones yesterday.

A late penalty from magnificent captain Caroline O’Hanlon put the icing on the cake as the rampant Orchard outfit tore the pre-final favourites to shreds en route to being crowned Ulster champions. The last time these teams met in a Championship match, Monaghan triumphed by a 24-point margin but Armagh have risen again and this thoroughly deserved victory has sent out a warning to every team in Ireland.

Armagh’s most recent Ulster final was the 2010 defeat by Monaghan, who had retained the trophy throughout the intervening period before their reign was unceremoniously ended yesterday. Played as a curtain-raiser to the men’s replay between the respective counties, the ladies of Armagh and Monaghan relished the chance to play in front of a fantastic crowd and James Daly’s ladies really rose to the occasion.

NFL Division Three champions Armagh had already beaten two teams who had spent the spring playing two levels above them in this Championship campaign, including destroying Tyrone in a curtain-raiser in the quarter-final. But Monaghan, managed by Armagh man John Morrison, were always likely to be a step up with their array of All Stars and big game experience, so this was the true test of Daly’s resurgent side. Rising star Fionnuala McKenna opened Armagh’s account with a free in the first minute after interplay by midfield maestros O’Hanlon and Sinead McCleary, though Monaghan eventually levelled after nine and then quickly went ahead.

O’Hanlon equalised for Armagh and a brilliant intercept by Marian McGuinness followed by great team defending showed how up for this contest the underdogs were, with Sharon Reel another hero at the back. An Armagh goal midway through the first half gave the women in orange a timely boost, McKenna bursting through the middle and Mags McAlinden playing the ball across for Kelly Mallon to hit the net from an acute angle.

Monaghan pulled back a point in the 22nd minute and another through a free from veteran Niamh Kindlon before levelling towards the end of the half with a point which the umpires appeared uncertain about. But Armagh still went in to the changing rooms two up thanks to a McKenna point from wide on the right and another by Lauren McConville after a rare venture upfield from veteran full-back Caoimhe Morgan.

The immense Niamh Marley set the tone for fresh Armagh hunger right at the start of a second half which saw her namesake Niamh Henderson make an increasing impact though there were any number of Orchard heroes on this glorious day.

McKenna kicked a free in the 33rd minute after O’Hanlon was pulled back but Monaghan drew level with an exceptionally controversial goal when the Monaghan centre half-forward was sinbinned but the Farney women were still allowed to take the free.

The referee’s strange decision was compounded when Morgan lost her footing and Caitriona McConnell put the ball in the Armagh net but the Orchard crew remained calm and the classy O’Hanlon almost immediately struck a sweet point at the other end.

A short free from O’Hanlon was viciously laced over by McKenna to restore the two-point lead but McConnell replied with another nice point to keep the final very much in the balance with a five-figure crowd now in attendance.

Midway through the second half, Aoife McCoy kicked a point after a good claim by Kelly Mallon who then put a goal between the teams, again with a beautiful score off her left foot. Armagh goalkeeper Katie Daly, another to have a great game, pulled off a sharp save just after Siobhan Mackle came on for McConville and on 51 minutes lively veteran McAlinden edged her team four clear via a post. McKenna kicked a free to which Monaghan replied but the Orchard captain put the game beyond the outgoing champions with a clinical penalty in the closing stages won by corner-back Louise Kenny. The schoolgirl, deputising for the injured Sarah Marley at corner back, quickly came forward again for another point of her own and McCoy and McKenna knocked over two more in injury-time.

Monaghan had the last word with a point which ensured they didn’t lose on double scores or by a margin of double figures but it was scant consolation for a well-beaten team.  They now go into the last round of qualifiers while Armagh have an All-Ireland quarter-final to look forward to in mid-August.

Having tucked away the penalty, the incomparable O’Hanlon lifted the trophy and the Player-of-the-Match award before heading off to the Commonwealth Games with the Northern Ireland netball team on Saturday week.

ARMAGH: K Daly; M Tennyson, C Morgan, L Kenny (0-1); S Reel, N Marley, M McGuinness; N Henderson, C O’Hanlon (capt; 1-2, 1pen); S McCleary, F McKenna (0-6, 3f), A McCoy (0-2); L McConville (0-1), K Mallon (1-1), M McAlinden (0-1).  Subs: S Mackle for McConville (47 mins), D Morgan for Kenny (62).