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Carrickcruppen crowned County Champions again

September 14, 2015

CARRICKCRUPPEN 1-19 ARMAGH HARPS 2-13

Richard Bullick at the Athletic Grounds

Heroic captain Caroline O’Hanlon led Carrickcruppen to their third county title with this hard-fought victory in Saturday night’s Mackin’s Senior Championship showpiece in the Athletic Grounds.

The Camlough club’s superstar skipper was simply magnificent and deservedly received the Player of the Match award along with the Marie Hoye Cup at the end of what was a wonderful final.

A fantastic crowd who really got into the match and the difficult conditions caused by relentless rain added extra intensity to this pulsating game which had plenty of near reckless courage on show with bodies being put on the line repeatedly amid numerous crunching hits.

But this physically ferocious contest had plenty of football too with a healthy flow of scores, some excellent efforts from well out, and absorbing battles between county colleagues such as Armagh Harps forward Kelly Mallon against Cruppen vice-captain Marian McGuinness.

This was the first time in five finals this decade that Cruppen haven’t faced arch rivals Clann Eireann in the decider but Armagh Harps proved very worthy opponents for the Lowe’s Lane ladies and after this the Orchard can no longer be regarded as a two-club county.

The established Big Two have dominated the local club scene in recent years and many may have felt whoever won this season’s semi between them would have one hand on the trophy.

But Harps had twice as many players as Carrickcruppen in the Armagh matchday panel for last Saturday’s All Ireland semi-final against Dublin and came into the final with impressive momentum having reeled off six straight wins in the league.

Ironically that may have helped guard against any subconsious Cruppen complacency and the management team of Barry Flynn and dad Gerry had their homework well done on the threat Harps posed.

Considering three lynchpins of this side had sacrificed their involvement in the county set-up to concentrate on their beloved Carrickcruppen’s Championship push, the team itself was never likely to take victory for granted.

That investment must have felt worthwhile for Sinead Finnegan, Caoimhe Murray and Rebecca O’Reilly as the Cruppen party began on the sacred turf of the Athletic Grounds on Saturday night before moving to the changing rooms and back to the club.

The victorious Cruppen players were engulfed by a sea of red and white flag-waving supporters who spilled onto the pitch at the end to acclaim their heroes.

The Camlough legions must surely have been anxious when Harps pulled back to level terms early in the second half but Carrickcruppen’s response was the stuff of champions as they eased six clear before Fionnuala McKenna’s consolation goal almost on the hooter.

The 21-year-old Harps skipper couldn’t have done much more over the course of the hour which had started with her surging through to post her side’s opening point inside the first 20 seconds, going on to hit the tremendous tally of 1-6 from midfield.

The admirable McKenna is very much the young pretender to O’Hanlon’s throne but ultimately the regular finalists made their big game experience count against a club which hasn’t featured in a final since late last century.

The evergreen Paula Enright, surprisingly given the goalkeeping duties here, was their only survivor from that 1998 win over Mullaghbawn, but it surely won’t be as long until the city club adorn the domestic showpiece again.

But this was Cruppen’s night and, although pushed hard, they undoubtedly deserved victory in the end after a pumped up performance which drew on the hurt of losing last September to Clann Eireann.

Like Lorraine McCaffrey and Fionnuala McAtamney before them in 2013, the Flynn family duo have tasted Championship success in their first season at the helm with ever-present skipper O’Hanlon lifting the trophy for the third time.

The triple All-Star is in her 11th season as skipper having captained Cruppen’s adult ladies side since its inception and led their meteoric rise through the Junior and Intermediate ranks to that first Senior title triumph in 2010.

She quickly cancelled out McKenna’s opening point by confidently finishing a move she started and although Harps went back in front with a free from Shauna McCready, Cruppen responded with an unanswered 1-5.

O’Hanlon levelled with a free which she won herself and good work from Finnegan brought her another opportunity before Amy Hughes showed her strength to secure a first right-footed free for Megan Cinnamond.

McKenna tried to lift Harps with a magnificent run which deserved a point but the ball just shaved past the near post and Cruppen continued their scoring sequence with a glorious goal midway through the half.

The imperious O’Hanlon produced another irresistible burst through the middle, Murray fed the ball up again and the skipper herself netted with Cinnamond tagging on another point half a minute later.

The unflappable Finnegan scored Cruppen’s sixth point with O’Hanlon-like guile and nonchalance and although Aoife Lennon finally got a third score of the evening for Harps, another Cinnamond free fairly quickly cancelled it out.

However Cruppen perhaps sat back a little thereafter, inviting the opposition onto them rather than going for the jugular and, after another Harps point, Flynn’s ladies were indebted to a brilliant low double save from Anna Carr.

O’Hanlon claimed a textbook clean catch in front of goal and sent over a superb point on the turn with her weaker right foot but McKenna replied with a long-range point as the steady rain couldn’t dampen the entertainment.

An O’Hanlon run from deep and her exchange with Finnegan led to a lovely point for the skipper before Mallon kicked a straightforward free for Harps and then inexplicably missed with an even easier effort inside a minute.

McKenna kicked a free in injury-time and McCready followed suit to leave four in it at the break.  Cruppen were in the box seat but Harps went into the changing rooms with hopes very much alive.

The whole-hearted Murray got a point for Cruppen in the first minute of the second half but Mallon kicked another free for Harps and then soccer star Lennon, fresh from captaining Newry City Ladies to the NI Premiership title, slotted home a goal from an acute angle.

Captain McKenna kicked the equaliser following a 45 from Lennon but the favourites were back in front a minute later thanks to a score from Derbhla Wright.

Carrickcruppen introduced the pacy Ciara Maguire, replaced in the starting team by Aileen Doran before throw-in, in place of Caoimhe Hughes, who had taken an earlier knock and the exciting, exceptionally physical contest continued to captivate.

Towards the end of the third quarter, O’Hanlon landed an inspirational point courtesy of a brilliant run from deep in her own territory before finishing calmly and with accuracy from long range surrounded by defenders.

Aoife McCullough replaced Wright and although Mallon landed a point, a free from Cinnamond meant no net change.  However the immense McKenna kicked two points in just over a minute to close the gap to one.

But, a little like Lissummon in the Intermediate final, Cruppen produced a storming finish with four points in two minutes – Cinnamond’s free and point from play sanwiching a long range effort from O’Hanlon herself and a useful score by Murray.

They added another point in injury-time to take their lead out to six and render McKenna’s goal with virtually the last kick of the ball a mere consolation as Cruppen supporters prepared to spill onto the field.

After Mullaghbawn at Junior and Lissummon at Intermediate level in recent weeks, this Carrickcruppen success completed a hat-trick of redemptive victories for last season’s three defeated finalists in the Mackin’s Championships.

O’Hanlon will rightly get the headlines but Cinnamond’s scoreboard contribution was also significant while senior players like vice-captain McGuinness, Finnegan, county midfielder Malone, full back O’Reilly and the diminutive Murray made their experience count along with a rejuvenated Amy Hughes.

Carr’s double save late in the first half felt very valuable at the time, teenagers Kerrie Garvey and Wright are already well established in this team and the likes of Niamh and Caoimhe Hughes along with Maguire and 16-year-old forward Dearbhail McCullough have proved valuable additions since the last title triumph.

Doran was with Armagh last season and the fact Flynn could bring on players of the calibre of Maguire and Aoife McCullough with Shannon Sexton and Orla Garvey not needed underlines the depth Cruppen possess for a club team.

The meticulous manager had big boots to fill following McCaffrey but the heartfelt tributes from the Cruppen players, who had been building towards this weekend from the start of February, highlighted the Flynn factor as a significant component in this season’s success.

The attention of Flynn and his players will now turn to a daunting Ulster Senior Club Championship quarter-final away to top Monaghan outfit Donaghmoyne on October 4 while there will be a shootout with old adversaries Clann Eireann later this month to decide the destiny of the league title.

Those tasks will be tackled with purpose, professionalism, relish and considerable confidence when the time comes, however regaining the Armagh Championship has been Cruppen’s primary project this year and taking the trophy home to Lowe’s Lane on Saturday night was a wonderful feeling for all involved.

CARRICKCRUPPEN: A Carr; C Hughes, R O’Reilly, K Garvey; A Hughes, M McGuinness, A Doran; N Hughes, C Malone (0-1); C O’Hanlon (1-6, 2f), M Cinnamond (0-6, 4f), D Wright (0-1); D McCullough (0-1), S Finnegan (0-1), C Murray (0-3).  Subs: C Maguire for C Hughes (38 mins), A McCullough for Wright (50).

ARMAGH HARPS: P Enright; C Rath, T McCoy, M Maguire; L McGoldrick, C Duffy, P Toal; F McKenna (capt; 1-6, 1f), A Lennon (1-1); S Feeney, K Mallon (0-4, 2f), S McCready (0-2, 2f); E O’Kane, S McParland, A Hynds.

Referee: Kieran Conlon.

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