Forkhill finish special campaign unbeaten

September 21, 2015

Richard Bullick

A late free from prolific captain Amy Mulholland against Mullaghbawn last Wednesday night ensured Division Two winners Forkhill finished their impressive Mackin Feeds Football League campaign unbeaten.

Although Forkhill had already secured a ticket to top flight football for the first time in their history, the skipper’s sixth score saved the gloss being taken off a celebratory evening at Peadar O’Doirnin Park.

Her team’s third draw of the campaign preserved Forkhill’s record of not having lost a league game all season while the point guaranteed opponents Mullaghbawn the second promotion place ahead of Intermediate champions Lissummon.  It finished 0-10 to 2-4.

Forkhill might have liked to round off their successful campaign with more of a flourish while their recent successors as Armagh Junior champions, Mullaghbawn, will reflect on a win which got away but with this particular draw everyone really was a winner.

This enthralling game between neighbours on a perfect evening for football was a fitting showcase climax to the Division Two season and although both teams were guilty of failing to convert chances there was no lack of purpose, enterprising play or physical commitment.

Mullaghbawn were missing captain Colleen McElherron, an Armagh panellist for a period earlier in the season, who had returned to her studies in London since the previous Sunday’s Ulster Junior Club Championship quarter-final defeat at home to Derry side Steelstown on a scoreline of 1-9 to 1-6.

Additionally their star player Caroline O’Hare, who notched all six points against Steelstown, only lasted the first half as she visibly struggled from the start with an injury picked up several weeks ago playing soccer and there were several other regulars missing.

The script suggested Forkhill would ease to a valedictory victory and the early exchanges supported that as Mulholland, probably the most prolific forward in Orchard club football outside of Aimee Mackin, posted a great opening point after a trademark run in the second minute.

She soon added another but had a third ruled out for over-carrying and committed Mullaghbawn grew into the contest as wasteful Forkhill lacked concentration at times and the visitors netted twice  through Dani Creaney and Leona Quinn to take an unexpected interval lead.

It was 0-6 to 2-1 at half-time with Mulholland having notched four points including a free awarded when a Mullaghbawn lunge put her off enough to roll a goal chance past the far post.  There were also scores for Nicola Burns and full forward Laura Keenan.

The useful Lisa McCann, who impressed for Mullaghbawn along with the midfield duo, landed a free following the resumption after full forward Creaney bustled through but opposite number Keenan, the captain’s cousin, cancelled that out six minutes later.

Another Armagh panellist from this season’s NFL campaign Lauren Sheridan got Forkhill level and Mulholland edged them ahead again but Creaney and Quinn pointed for the prospective party poopers.

However Mulholland held her nerve when the chance came as the game entered injury-time in near darkness, though McCann was just wide with an even later attempt to snatch victory for Mullaghabawn.

Owen Reel, who had refereed the game with typically casual authority and customary commonsense, donned his other hat as Armagh Ladies County Board Chairman to present the trophy to Mulholland.

“We’d already the title in the bag but it’s an absolutely brilliant feeling to have gone through the entire League unbeaten.  Mullaghbawn really pushed us hard but we were determined to keep our record and got there in the end,” the skipper reflected.

“I’m not surprised how hard Mullaghbawn made us fight for it tonight, they’re our rivals locally and after we beat them in the Junior Championship final last season this was a chance for revenge by coming to our home patch and taking the edge off our title.”

There is no doubt that beating Mullaghbawn in that Junior final replay last September was a real watershed moment for Forkhill and has had a hugely transformative effect in terms of their enthusiasm, commitment, confidence, belief and ambition.

With the incredible bounce from that triumph, they’ve gone from minnows who felt they knew their lowly place to a fearlessly formidable force who have earned the right to mix it with the county’s top teams next term and are relishing that prospect.

“Two years ago we were halfway down the Division Three table and last season we needed to beat Mullaghbawn here in our final League game to stay up but that Championship success changed everything,” admits Mulholland.

“This season we’ve won League games against big name clubs we’d never have even expected to compete against, the likes of Lissummon, Killeavy and Crossmaglen, and our League campaign just gathered momentum.

“We had a lot of very convincing victories early in the season – good scorelines and emphatic margins – which left us perfectly placed for promotion and more recently we’ve fought hard to avoid defeats even when we might have been able to afford to drop points and still go up.

“Two years ago we wouldn’t have been great for numbers but now we’d have at least 20 players turning out three times a week – there were 27 togged tonight – and everybody is working hard under our manager Misty (Quinn) and coach Kevin McGuigan.  I’d like to thank them along with Paul and Sharon O’Brien for their commitment.”

The Forkhill men made history by being promoted to Division One last season and now the ladies will be dining at the top table too so little wonder there’s a big buzz around the club.

“We’ve got good support and everybody’s delighted for us.  For Forkhill to have their two senior teams in Division One football is fantastic for such a small village and I’m proud we’ve been able to follow the boys by going up.”

The promising Sheridan sisters received county call-ups on the back of Forkhill’s Junior title triumph with younger sibling Megan getting significant game-time for Armagh in big Championship matches this summer.  She’s a top prospect who should have a very bright future.

Seeing their players wear the orange jersey is also a source of pride for Forkhill and the mercurial Mulholland, a nippy player who can push herself further, has pledged to fight for a place in next season’s county panel alongside the crop of formidable forwards who have helped Armagh become contenders for the sport’s top prize.

Things have never been better for Armagh ladies football but there’s nowhere that feel-good factor is stronger right now than in Forkhill following what Mulholland describes as an unbelievable 12 months.  Even before the celebrations die down they’re already looking forward with excitement to the challenge of a brand new adventure in 2016.