Armagh’s Ulster reign emphatically ended

July 6, 2015


Richard Bullick at Breffni Park

Armagh’s reign as provincial champions emphatically ended in Breffni Park as Monaghan avenged defeat in last year’s Ulster showpiece with a comprehensive victory in yesterday’s Senior Championship semi.

Mighty Monaghan marched into their 16th Ulster final in 17 seasons as Armagh couldn’t make history repeat itself in Breffni Park.

The Orchard crew weren’t able to emulate their wonderful win over the Farney women last season or ensure this semi-final went the same way as the corresponding game eight years ago.

Back then, defending the Ulster title for the first time, Armagh beat Monaghan in a Breffni Park semi, making 2007 the only year this century that the dominant Farney outfit haven’t made the provincial showpiece.

Caroline O’Hanlon was outstanding that day and the Orchard’s current captain tried hard to get Armagh going yesterday but on a chastening afternoon Monaghan were distinctly superior in most facets of play.

It could actually have been worse for Armagh had Monaghan taken the expected percentage of their first half chances created but various let-offs meant James Daly’s ladies went in only three down.

With Armagh having a lethal finisher in their ranks in Aimee Mackin, Monaghan must have feared the missed chances could come back to haunt them but instead they impressively pulled clear in the Cavan sunshine.

Caitriona McConnell led the way with seven points, full-forward Ellen McCarron contributed 1-2, Cora Courtney raised their other green flag and Caoimhe Mohan – a significant absentee through injury 12 months ago – got five scores.

Mackin top-scored for a seventh time in her nine Armagh matches but her 1-2 was a comparatively modest return and three players who often post significant tallies – captain Caroline O’Hanlon, full forward Fionnuala McKenna and Kelly Mallon – registered only a single point apiece.

Armagh had occasional chances to really get back into it in the second period and although they lacked luck at times, the Orchard camp couldn’t really complain for, like last year, the better team won well.

The champions came into this tie having lost four fairly prominent players in their panel to significant knee injuries, the latest being Niamh Henderson on the back of cruciate tears which have ended the seasons of Moya Feehan, Louise Kenny and Sinead McCoy.

Daly’s line-up showed two enforced changes from the starting team which defeated Donegal in the NFL Division Two final in Parnell Park last time out, with both Shane’s skipper Kenny and Henderson having to be replaced.

Kenny, who deputised for broken ankle victim Sarah Marley in last season’s successful provincial campaign, had established herself in a new sweeper role this term but was injured playing club camogie.

The promising Henderson, who had missed much of the league campaign as a result of being away on a student placement, missed out at Breffni after picking up a knee injury in club training.

Henderson had come back into the starting team at Parnell Park in place of Clann Eireann clubmate Sinead McCleary who had to sit that NFL final out thanks to the ankle injury sustained in the semi.

One of Armagh’s top performers over the years, a fit-again McCleary’s return here was a big boost and the highly adaptable player was named at centre half back where she has appeared regularly this term.

That meant Niamh Marley, previously a fixture at centre half-back, lined out on the flank with stalwart Sharon Reel taking her place on the other side wearing a protective guard on her broken nose.

Another experienced campaigner, Marian McGuinness, might have been expected to take over from Kenny but instead her Carrickcruppen clubmate Sinead Finnegan was a surprise pick by Armagh..

Daughter of Armagh’s 1977 All Ireland final team member Jim, the primary schoolteacher was first involved in the county set-up as a teenager back in the golden era of the mid-noughties but this was her biggest start in the orange jersey.

A fringe figure in the early years, Finnegan’s career has subsequently been dogged by a succession of injuries but thankfully her body has given her enough of a break to give inter-county football another go this season.

An intelligent link player who has enjoyed considerable success at club level with Carrickcruppen, Finnegan was very impressive playing further forward in the Camlough club’s recent rout of great rivals Clann Eireann in a league game.

Armagh showed four personnel changes from last season’s epic provincial final against Monaghan in a pack Clones when the Orchard underdogs deservedly won by the commanding margin of nine points.

The Armagh management were widely praised for getting their match-ups spot on the same weekend 12 months ago when the players implemented a good game plan with great efficiency, composure, passion and discipline.

Monaghan were hot favourites 12 months ago but pundits were divided this time between two well matched-teams and this showdown was eagerly anticipated since the draw was made.

Champions Armagh had a point on the board within 20 seconds through McConville after O’Hanlon, who dominated the corresponding game eight years ago, won the throw-in but drawing first blood proved a false dawn for Armagh.

O’Hanlon hit a free tamely low at goalkeeper Linda Martin and although Mackin’s second score levelled matters at two points each, Armagh had their first let-off when keeper Katie Daly arguably bundled over Mohan and a follow-up shot was blocked before McConnell pointed.

Armagh came into it in the middle of the half but Finnegan was withdrawn in the 17th minute though it was Forkhill youngster Megan Sheridan who came on – for her first taste of Championship action – rather than McGuinness.

All Star corner back Mairead Tennyson picked up an injury but Armagh got a big boost when McCoy hit the net in the 27th minute though Monaghan got two points back before the half-time whistle.

The women in orange needed a good start to the second half but Monaghan scored three of the early flurry of five points and started to edge away either side of a pivotal moment when Mackin might have had a goal twice in the same movement.

After McCleary and O’Hanlon made a big break up the middle, Mackin saw her first shot saved superbly by Martin and the young soccer star slid in for the rebound but it hit the post.

Mackin lashed home from an acute angle midway through the half to revive Armagh hopes but Monaghan were still being give far too much space and they hit back with two more points in the next 60 seconds.

However McConnell and Cora Courtney netted twice in two minutes to completely kill the game off and leave Armagh facing the prospect of regrouping and trying to reach the latter stages of the All-Ireland by the back door route.

The draw for the first round of the qualifiers will be made in Croke Park today with two of the six sides getting byes into the last 12 and the other four facing off.

Armagh are joined by Tyrone, who were well beaten by Donegal 3-19 to 1-7 in yesterday’s first semi-final, Ulster quarter-final losers Cavan and Down, and Leinster pair Laois and Meath.

ARMAGH: K Daly; M Tennyson, C Morgan, S Marley; N Marley, S McCleary, S Reel; C Malone, C O’Hanlon (capt; 0-1); A McCoy (1-0), K Mallon (0-1, 1f), L McConville (0-2); S Finnegan, F McKenna (0-1), A Mackin (1-2).  Subs: M Sheridan for Finnegan (16 mins), C Murray for N Marley (51), M McGuinness for McKenna (57), T McCoy for M Tennyson (60).

MONAGHAN: L Martin; J Geoghegan, S Courtney (capt), G McNally; A McAnespie, N Fahy, E McAnespie (0-1); E McElroy, F Lafferty; C Courtney (1-1), L McEneaney (0-3), C Mohan (0-5); C McAnespie, E McCarron (1-2), C McConnell (0-7, 3f).  Subs: T Fleming for Lafferty (43 mins), R McKenna for E McAnespie (50), C McDermott for Geoghegan (57), N Lynch for McElroy (61).

Referee: Shaun McLaughlin (Donegal).