Home comforts for Daly’s Ladies

December 8, 2014

Richard Bullick

Armagh won’t have to travel outside their own province next spring during the first phase of their bid for a second successive Tesco Homegrown National League promotion.

James Daly’s ladies will arguably be favourites for the coming season’s NFL Division Two title after their glorious Championship summer since winning the third division final in May.

They beat three top tier teams en route to Ulster Championship success before thrashing another first division side, Laois, by an astonishing 23 points in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

A favourable fixture list has given Armagh five home matches out of their seven league games with the only two trips being to fellow Ulster sides Donegal and Cavan.

Half of the eight teams in next season’s Division Two are from the northern province, the quartet being completed by new All-Ireland Intermediate champions Down, who beat Armagh in the 2013 Division Three decider.

Newly promoted Armagh’s opening game on February 1 is away to the other team new to Division Two in 2015, Donegal, who were relegated from the top flight this season.

The teams met in this summer’s Ulster Championship semi-final when the orangewomen won by six points in Lisnaskea having been down by four at one stage in the first quarter.

The following week the Orchard outfit host Westmeath, the only team to have beaten Armagh by more than a point during Daly’s three-year reign until this season’s All-Ireland semi-final against Cork.

On February 22, Armagh are at home to Kildare with a visit from Clare the following Sunday before a weekend off ahead of the relatively short trip to Cavan.

Meath come to Armagh for the penultimate league game on March 29 and Armagh finish a fortnight late with home advantage in the eagerly-awaited derby battle with nearest neighbours Down.

Donegal will be aiming to bounce back from relegation, Armagh know Westmeath’s qualities, Meath have a strong tradition in ladies football and Down are an ambitious side.

But Daly had said when Armagh agonisingly missed out on promotion from the third division in 2013 that he felt his side could have challenged for the Division Two title this year.

That last gasp decider defeat to Down held Armagh back by a year but they should be better placed now to win the second division title at the first time of asking after another 12 months of impressive progress.

With the top two teams in the table finally being given home advantage in the semis next season instead of the previous nonsense of neutral venues, Armagh’s only trip out of Ulster would be if they reach NFL finals day at Parnell Park on May 9.

That will again be a winner-take-all affair as calls by Daly and others for a two-up, two-down NFL format again appear to have fallen on deaf ears so only the champions will be promoted to Division One.