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Historic triumph for Forkhill in Junior final

September 15, 2014

Richard Bullick in Silverbridge

FORKHILL 2-10 MULLAGHBAWN 1-7

History was made in Silverbridge on Friday night as Forkhill ladies won their first ever trophy when crowned junior county champions, sparking ecstatic celebrations.

A huge crowd watched their second derby battle with South Armagh rivals Mullaghbawn in the space of five days after the original game had been drawn 1-12 each at the same venue the previous Sunday.

Forkhill’s long-serving manager Misty Quinn admitted afterwards to having been slightly worried that his side may have missed the boat first time around having had sufficient chances to win without getting over the line.

However they backed up that spirited performance with a more commanding display which brought them a deserved victory by the relatively comfortable margin of six points.

In sisters Megan and Lauren Sheridan, who fittingly shared the Player of the Match award, Forkhill had influential figures around the middle of the field while irrepressible skipper Amy Mulholland provided incisive cutting edge in attack.

Her darting runs left the opposition defence scrambling and imposing full forward Andrea Shannon cashed in by bagging a brace of first half goals to put Forkhill in control at the break.

Both sides had scored five points in that opening half hour so Shannon’s two majors were the difference between the teams as the floodlights took over from fading natural light on a glorious late summer’s evening.

Former county panellist Caroline O’Hare hadn’t as much impact as Mullaghbawn might have hoped though their less heralded midfielder Colleen McElheron fought hard to keep them in it in the second half.

The other Mullaghbawn midfielder, skipper Leonna Quinn, gave her team a lifeline by putting the ball in the net midway through the second half after Forkhill keeper Joanne Mackin had saved her sister Emma’s initial effort

But because their conversion rate wasn’t too hot, the trailing team probably needed a second goal to really put pressure on Forkhill in the later stages of what was nevertheless a competitive encounter.

There were early indications of what was to come, Mulholland landing a free in the second minute and then creating havoc with an attack from which Shannon forced a 45.

O’Hare kicked a free to level after a Mullaghbawn wide but Forkhill responded clinically as the mercurial Mulholland attacked directly and Shannon was on hand to raise the green flag.

Midfielder Laura Keenan added a point for Forkhill which was cancelled out by her opposite number McElheron, though both then kicked wides, the latter from a free awarded for one of numerous fouls on O’Hare.

McElherron cancelled out another Forkhill point, this one by Shannon, and Janine McKinley did likewise with Mulholland’s second successful free of the evening.

Forkhill finished strongly, Shannon’s second goal being followed by an inspirational steal in defence and although Mulholland dropped a free onto the keeper, Keenan kicked one before O’Hare replied in kind to end the scoring for the opening period.

The second half began brightly for Forkhill, Sarah King kicking a point followed by a good effort from Lauren Sheridan and nothing but a 45 came off a long run from O’Hare for Mullaghbawn who then had a wide courtesy of Leonna Quinn.

A low shot from O’Hare deflected wide and Forkhill co-captain Aoife Treanor pointed at the other end though there were worrying moments when Mulholland needed treatment before resuming.

The Sheridan sisters were starting to dominate and an intercept by Lauren sparked another attack involving Mulholland and Shannon though possible penalty claims were waved away by Barney Henry and in fact it was Mullaghbawn who hit the net a minute later.

Leonna Quinn followed her goal with a good point from an acute angle on the right but Mulholland replied for Forkhill just before the club’s longest-serving player Niamh Treanor, recovered from a torn cruciate last year, came on as a sub.

The nippy Mulholland brought a buzz to the packed crowd with a thrilling dash down the nearest sideline and right round to post an uplifting point.  Forkhill drew a blank with a free but Mullaghbawn could convert only one of numerous chances before time ran out, again through captain Leonna Quinn who got all their second half scores.

The final whistle sparked delirious scenes of celebration from Forkhill who had undoubtedly earned their silverware the hard way, with two final appearances after almost having to play two semi-finals.

Through no fault of their own, Forkhill had been caught up in a saga surrounding an unregistered player from Lurgan club St Peter’s who had played in the quarter-final against Granemore.

An initial County Board decision to reinstate Granemore would have meant Forkhill, who had already beaten St Peter’s, having to win a semi-final all over again, prompting Mulholland to accompany regular delegate Quinn to the September monthly meeting to passionately argue the club’s case.

“We were relieved when the County Board backed what we felt was a just and logical claim to take the place in the final which we had won fair and square, but after getting through that and then not finishing the job last Sunday, the pressure was on us tonight to deliver,” reflected an ecstatic Amy.

“But the high stakes gave us more motivation and although it hasn’t sunk in properly yet, this means everything to this club.  Having had to fight hard on and off the field for this success makes it mean more than if it had come easily.

“It was brilliant to do it in front of such a fantastic crowd and all the girls were great, especially the Sheridans – we certainly couldn’t have won without them,” said Mulholland, who didn’t appear too badly curtailed by the tendonitis which caused her to wear heavy strapping on her knee.

For Forkhill stalwart Quinn, this was also a very satisfying triumph, particularly in light of those nagging concerns that a golden opportunity had been missed in the first encounter.

“I felt we’d left it behind us a bit on Sunday but the response was positive – we got in front and stayed in front and everybody delivered from the Sheridans and Laura Keenan and the Kings to others who might get less plaudits,” said Misty.

“If they’d got another score or two at one stage it might have got tense but we always managed to keep a bit of daylight between the teams, though when you’re ahead in a final you’re always relieved to hear the final whistle.”

In the original game, both teams had been somewhat wasteful with chances created though that made for an excitingly tense encounter.  Mullaghbawn had led by six points to five at half-time but ultimately needed O’Hare to level late on both in normal time and extra-time.  However Forkhill finally finished the job five days later.

The only consolation for Mullaghbawn in not winning was that the outcome arguably vindicated the club’s insistence on being graded at Junior level in their first season of fielding an adult ladies side again.

Armagh Ladies County Board had argued that the number of experienced players available to Mullaghbawn should mean the club being slotted in at Intermediate level, but this move was subsequently blocked by the Ladies Gaelic Football Association on a technicality.

It was felt Mullaghbawn might run away with the Junior Championship, thus re-igniting the regrading controversy, but Forkhill’s historic victory was a more romantic conclusion to the competition’s tale for this season.

FORKHILL: J Mackin; N Quinn, D Quinn, N Donaghy; E King, M Sheridan, L Carroll; L Keenan (0-2, 1f), L Sheridan (0-1); A Treanor (0-1), S Byrne, N Byrnes; A Mulholland (capt; 0-4, 2f), A Shannon (2-1), S King (0-1).  Subs: A O’Neill, A O’Brien, C Toal, N Treanor, R O’Neill, T Canning, S McGeough, K Hallisey, C McKeown, S Mackin, M O’Brien, K Haughey.

MULLAGHBAWN: E McVerry; F Leonard, E Daly, O Grant; E Quinn, C McKinley, L Leonard; C McElheron (0-2), L Quinn (capt; 1-2); A Leonard, C O’Hare (0-2, 2f), L Murchan; J McKinley (0-1), L McKinley, D Doherty.  Subs: L Donnelly, C Smyth, M Carr, A Magill, N Rafferty, C Mackin, N Downey, B O’Sullivan, A Quinn, S McNamee, K O’Brien, R Murphy.

Referee: Barney Henry.

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