Narrow defeat for Armagh in Cavan

March 16, 2015

Cavan 1-15 Armagh 3-7

Richard Bullick reports

Armagh’s hopes of a home semi-final in NFL Division Two suffered a severe setback when beaten by Cavan on the artificial surface at Breffni Park.

However with two home matches remaining against Meath and Down, James Daly’s ladies remain well placed to make the top four play-offs when they will relish another crack at the two teams which have beaten them this spring.

Cavan came into this match having been something of a surprise package this season with four wins from four, including an impressive victory away to Westmeath, to top the table on points difference from Ulster rivals Donegal..

However provincial champions Armagh came to town with only one reversal so far, a one point defeat in a rearranged game away to Donegal with a quite understrength side so this was set to be an interesting test for both teams.

Even with home advantage, Cavan knew this would be a much tougher assignment than their last game when they hit an imposing 9-22 away to Down while Armagh hadn’t been pushed hard recently either.

Coming off two reasonably straightforward home matches against Kildare and Clare which had afforded Daly scope to rotate players and give game-time to fresh faces, the Armagh manager wheeled out his big guns for this significant test.

The influential Fionnuala McKenna made a timely return from the ankle injury sustained in training ahead of the Donegal game while captain Caroline O’Hanlon, goalkeeper Katie Daly and Dromintee clubmate Aoife McCoy came back into the starting side.

Newcomer Moya Feehan and her Shane O’Neill’s club captain Louise Kenny, two players pushing hard for first choice status even when everyone is available, were also restored to the initial line-up.

Katie Daly replaced teenage deputy Anna Carr in nets behind the very experienced full back line of All-Star Mairead Tennyson and the eldest two Marley sisters, vice-captain Caoimhe (Morgan) and Sarah.

Sarah had deputised in midfield for absent skipper O’Hanlon in the last two games but the trusty trio were re-united here for the first time since the Westmeath match in early February and like on that occasion it was the second sibling who wore the No 3 jersey.

So with four positional switches to augument the six personnel changes – all of which strengthened the team on paper – from the recent Clare clash, O’Hanlon’s return was effectively for Sinead McCoy, who had started at corner back against the Banner outfit.

Cailin Duffy dropped back to the bench so Shauna Grey and Kenny, who replaced her in the first half last time out, were both chosen either side of Niamh Marley in the half back line.

The formidable duo of new Newry Sports Personality of the Year O’Hanlon and Sinead McCleary, who was shortlisted for Craigavon’s equivalent, were paired in midfield for the first time this year.

Along with Tennyson, Niamh Marley and McCleary, Lauren McConville and Kelly Mallon wore the same jerseys for the third match running with the Harps player seemingly settled at centre-half forward.

As in the Westmeath match when Armagh won well against a previous bogey team, McKenna wore the No 14 jersey and indeed Daly’s line-up here featured the exact same permutation of six forwards as selected that day.  In fact the only personnel change from that opening game was Kenny coming in for the currently unavailable Niamh Henderson.

Stalwarts Sharon Reel, late returning to the panel this season, and Marian McGuinness, who is still sidelined by injury, may yet reclaim the wing back berths by the end of this first phase of the season but in their absence Grey has had four starts so far.

The expectation was that there wouldn’t be much between these south Ulster sides and sure enough there was only a point in it after a tight first half played in near perfect conditions, with the hosts having that narrow advantage.

McKenna made her presence felt by hitting the net during the opening half on her return and also kicking a point with one apiece from captain O’Hanlon and young Mackin who had top-scored on each of her first three Armagh starts in rattling up an aggregate of 5-18.

Teenager Mackin kept Armagh hopes alive in the second half with two goals but Cavan added 1-11 and on the day raised the white flag 15 times to only seven occasions for the visitors and it is hard to win with a statistic like that in the opposition’s favour.

Like Mackin, McKenna, O’Hanlon and the captain’s Carrickcruppen clubmate Caitlin Malone contributed a point each in the second half but Daly’s side ultimately fell two short of their hosts who can now look forward to a home semi-final.

Malone made her first appearance of the season off the bench having recently returned to the panel while Reel replaced Grey and former captain Mags McAlinden came on up front for Feehan but Armagh couldn’t turn the tide on a day they had only four scorers.

ARMAGH: K Daly; M Tennyson, S Marley, C Morgan; S Grey, N Marley, L Kenny; S McCleary, C O’Hanlon (capt; 0-2); L McConville, K Mallon, A McCoy; M Feehan, F McKenna (1-2), A Mackin (2-2).  Subs: S Reel for Grey, C Malone (0-1) for McConville, M McAlinden for Feehan.