Morgan backs Tennyson for All-Star

November 3, 2014

Richard Bullick

Mairead Tennyson goes into this weekend’s ladies gaelic oscars night in Dublin with the ringing endorsement of a woman who knows what it takes to be an All Star corner back.

After iconic captain Caroline O’Hanlon, Silverbridge livewire Tennyson looks the next best bet of the four Ochard hopefuls to make the final line-up unveiled at the CityWest Hotel on Saturday night.

If successful, she will be only Armagh’s fourth ever ladies gaelic All Star, following in the footsteps of the three orangewomen honoured when the Orchard outfit were beaten by a point in their sole All-Ireland final appearance in 2006.

Tennyson was one of seven nominees from Armagh that landmark year, with the trio of captain Bronagh O’Donnell, O’Hanlon and corner back Caoimhe Marley (now Morgan) claiming All Stars.

That was as a half forward but now, after an eight-year gap, Tennyson has returned to the shortlist this time as a defender following her spectacularly successful conversion to corner back in the past 12 months.

Pitched in at the deep end in a crisis for the second half of last season’s All-Ireland qualifier against champions Cork, feisty terrier Tennyson immediately impressed and her exceptional performances in the Orchard rearguard this summer have been widely recognised.

She made significant contributions to Armagh’s Ulster Championship success but it was her remarkable masterclass against Laois in the All Ireland quarter-final which should be used as a coaching video for young defenders up and down the country.

Out in front for virtually every ball through a magical mix of speed, anticipation and single-minded determination, the outstanding Tennyson suffered a suspected shoulder dislocation late on but miraculously made it back for the semi-final against Cork a few weeks later.

Both Armagh manager James Daly and coach Aileen Matthews are adamant there hasn’t been a better corner back in the country this year than the intense Tennyson and her All Star nomination came as no surprise.

Generally regarded as unlucky not to make the All Stars shortlist herself this year, rather than moping the typically big-hearted Morgan is delighted for her mate Tennyson and enthusiastically endorses her credentials.

“We’ve been playing for Armagh teams together since we were 15 and are very close friends so I’m absolutely delighted she’s in the frame for an All Star and would love to see her get her deserved reward next weekend,” says Caoimhe.

“Tenny is very dedicated and always puts the needs of the team first, never more so than during that Cork match last year when she stepped in as an emergency corner back.  Now she’s made that position her own, with her legendary determination and adaptability.”

Having her very vocal comrade alongside her in the full back line has doubtless helped Tennyson adjust – Morgan is a great talker and encouraging influence cut from the same ferociously competitive cloth as her fellow veteran.

“She works so hard, is never too proud to ask for advice and although her speed is undoubtedly her most noticeable attribute, she has many more which contribute to her being a top player.  It’s a great feeling to play beside someone you trust so much,” enthuses Morgan.

Although Tennyson appears individually deserving, the awarding of All Stars often appears fairly formulaic so whether or not the 30-year-old physio gets the nod will partly come down to whether the selection panel want to give Armagh two places in the line-up as a reward for being impressive provincial champions and reaching the All-Ireland semis.

In line with tradition, it is expected that champions Cork, who have 10 nominees, and beaten finalists Dublin, with 11, will claim the lion’s share of the places in this year’s All Stars XV.

The panel have left themselves wriggle-room by grouping all 18 defensive nominees but the order of listing suggests Tennyson is primarily up against Dublin’s Rachel Ruddy and Cork youngster Rosie Phelan for the No 2 jersey.

Cork’s Angela Walsh will be the full back so for Tennyson to get the nod at right corner back, Dublin’s Leah Caffrey might have to edge another Cork legend Brid Stack on the left.

None of the right half backs listed jumps out but that could enable Dublin skipper Sinead Goldrick to be picked along with last season’s All Ireland Player of the year Geraldine O’Flynn of Cork and one of the 2014 award nominees, Galway skipper Sinead Burke.

O’Hanlon is widely expected to pick up her third All Star in midfield, most likely alongside Cork captain Briege Corkery who not only won her ninth All Ireland ladies football medal this autumn but a fifth camogie equivalent.

“It’s genuinely very hard to put into words what Caroline brings to our Armagh team,” reflects her erstwhile vice-captain Morgan, “not only as an exceptional player but a true professional who leads by example.

“She is without a doubt one of the best ladies gaelic footballers in Ireland over the past decade and would give a fair few men a run for their money.  Best of all she’s a proud Armagh woman and deserves every accolade which comes her way.”

The other two Armagh players shortlisted, the under-rated Sinead McCleary and young gun Fionnuala McKenna, are first time nominees who thoroughly deserve to be there though both may miss out on places in the honoured half forward line.

Cork’s Ciara O’Sullivan is probably favourite for the No 11 jersey while Mayo ace Cora Staunton could pick up a record-equalling 10th All Star at full forward with Valerie Mulcahy of Cork also likely to feature in the front line along with one of the Dublin trio.

The remaining places could come down to balancing between Cork and Dublin representation which could count against the Armagh half forwards and the likes of Tyrone captain Gemma Begley who has starred for an underachieving county.

Still only 20, McKenna had an outstanding Ulster Championship campaign after winning Player of the Match in the NFL Division Three final while versatile midfielder McCleary has certainly earned her first nomination after a decade delivering consistently for the county team.