’Cruppen pair return to Bolster Armagh

March 23, 2015

Richard Bullick

The timely return of experienced Carrickcruppen pair Marian McGuinness and Caitlin Malone should help Armagh’s NFL promotion push in the coming weeks.

The versatile McGuinness has been sidelined by injury so far this year but has recently returned to training and is building towards a welcome Orchard comeback.

Thanks to an accidental clash at training she missed Armagh’s All-Ireland quarter-final last August and although appearing briefly in the subsequent semi was still struggling.

Although Armagh have fresh faces emerging who will push hard for recognition, McGuinness, who turned 29 at the start of February, remains an important player in the Orchard ranks.

Meanwhile, ’Cruppen clubmate Malone made her first appearance of the season as a point-scoring sub in the recent defeat to Cavan having opted to give Armagh gaelic another go after finishing her university finals.

Untimely injury last spring saw Malone lose her Armagh starting spot and she subsequently left the panel ahead of going on her overseas medical placement.

Upon returning towards the end of the season, she got heavily involved with her first love of running and although Malone played in the county final for Carrickcruppen it looked like triathlon could win out as her sport of choice.

But Malone, also following in the footsteps of her club captain Caroline O’Hanlon in studying Medicine, has her sights set on a second Orchard career and got a quick chance against Cavan.

A towering midfielder who O’Hanlon rates highly, Malone is a physically imposing player who gives James Daly another option around the middle of the field.

She first came into the Armagh panel as a 16-year-old back in the summer of 2008 so although still young, Malone has considerable experience in the orange jersey and been a significant factor in Carrickcruppen’s success.

Attempts to convert Caitlin into a target full forward weren’t particularly successful so, given that Armagh are well stocked up front now, she is likely to be deployed primarily in midfield, from the bench initially and perhaps pushing for a starting spot alongside skipper O’Hanlon as the year progresses.

McGuinness showed her versatility last season by playing across the half back line and in midfield having first featured under Daly at wing forward in the All-Ireland Intermediate title winning team of 2012.

She finished up at left wing back before that hugely frustrating injury and would be expected to reclaim the starting spot there once she regains full match fitness.

A player who keeps herself in fantastic condition, the cheerful physio’s irrepressible personality is also an asset to Armagh and as O’Hanlon’s best buddy she helps keep the superstar skipper in good spirits.

In the Armagh set-up for more than a decade, McGuinness came to the fore in 2008 when deputising in midfield firstly for an injured Alma O’Donnell and then O’Hanlon herself while the latter was on overseas placement.

That Armagh midfield duo was widely regarded as the best in Ireland so for McGuinness to be brought in as first reserve was testament to her emerging reputation at the time.

Having her and Malone to add to the list of 32 players who had already represented Armagh in their first four matches of this season underlines the developing depth at Daly’s disposal.

When everybody is available the management will have difficult decisions not only in terms of the starting team but even the fight for the bench berths with the newcomers working hard to ensure they’re togged out on big Championship Sundays.

A draw with Meath at Silverbridge this Sunday (2pm) in NFL Division Two would confirm Armagh’s place in the top four play-offs with a further home match against neighbours Down remaining.

Daly’s ladies will start firm favourites in both fixtures and two wins would likely see them finish third behind Ulster rivals Cavan and Donegal who have both beaten them this spring and so far boast impressive records of five wins from five.

Thankfully for Armagh, proposals to give the top two in the table home advantage in the semi-finals were rejected for this season so they won’t have to travel to the opposition’s backyard when attempting to book their ticket to Parnell Park in May.

Meath aren’t expected to be of Cavan’s calibre but the Orchard crew will want to bounce back from their Breffni blip with not only a clearcut result this weekend but an improved and more disciplined performance after giving away an unacceptably high number of frees last time out.