Underdogs ’Cruppen ready for provincial challnege

September 28, 2015

Richard Bullick

Carrickcruppen are happy to be cast in the role of underdogs going into Sunday’s Ulster Senior Club Championship quarter-final away to formidable Monaghan side Donaghmoyne.

A few weeks ago the boot was on the other foot for the Orchard county final as the Camlough giants took a vastly superior recent record into the Athletic Grounds decider against Armagh Harps.

However with hugely experienced captain Caroline O’Hanlon leading the way, Carrickcruppen didn’t let complacency creep in and the inspirational skipper can now help ensure her team doesn’t suffer from any inferiority complex in contrasting circumstances.

Their opponents this weekend have enjoyed constant success, dominating Monaghan for many years, winning numerous Ulster titles and being crowned All-Ireland club champions three times.

Donaghmoyne have an unrivalled record of achievement among Ulster clubs this century so this is a daunting draw for the Armagh champions but Barry Flynn’s ladies are really looking forward to the challenge.

“This season it was all about the county title and everything was geared towards that from February but now we’ve had the best part of a month to focus on the provincial campaign everyone’s really looking forward to that challenge,” reflects Flynn.

“The county title was our big goal this season but we aren’t just satisfied with that as a one-off success, there’s a desire to go on and dominate domestically and also make an impact in Ulster.

“Donaghmoyne are going to be a serious proposition for us to deal with because they’re a huge team in Ulster ladies football but that’s what we need to come up against and see how we respond to that pressure.”

After running Donegal outfit Termon, who won the All-Ireland title last season, so close at the semi-final stage of their last provincial campaign two years ago, ’Cruppen had hoped to mount a serious challenge for the Ulster title in 2014.

Those hopes ended early however when beaten by arch rivals Clann Eireann in the Armagh final and, with hindsight, the Camlough club would acknowledge getting a little ahead of themselves and taking their eye off the domestic ball.

So this season, under new management in the form of Flynn and his dad Gerry, Carrickcruppen’s simple priority has been reclaiming the county title but the effort invested in achieving that should stand to the team for this provincial campaign.

“We’ve worked exceptionally hard since starting pre-season at the beginning of February, had over 80 training sessions behind us by the time of the county final and there’s confidence comes from knowing you’ve that work done,” says Sinead Finnegan, one of the team’s most experienced players.

“Against Harps we had absolute belief but the other thing that stood to us was the willingness to fight hard for each other and do whatever it took to win a tight game.

“Donaghmoyne are as tough opposition as you could face at club level but after everything we’ve put into it this year we’re ready to give this provincial campaign our best shot and see how we measure up against the best sides in Ulster.”

Apart from their remarkable record in club competitions, another measure of Donaghmoyne’s impressive pedigree is that they supply around half of the starting team for Ulster’s most successful county, Monaghan, including the two Courtneys, the prolific Cathriona McConnell – a trio of All Stars – and Ireland’s top keeper in Linda Martin.

Eileen McElroy and domiciled Clare native Fiona Lafferty are Monaghan’s current midfield duo with defender Joanne Geoghegan another Farney regular and the Niamhs, Lynch and Callan, on the bench.

Flynn will be anxious that his iconic captain O’Hanlon comes through the All In For Ann charity match the evening before unscathed though Donaghmoyne may also have several players on duty for Ulster.

O’Hanlon’s predecessor as Ulster skipper Sharon Courtney will also line out in Dromintee and, although the invitational line-ups have yet to be confirmed, her sister Cora and forward McConnell often feature for their province.

It is an unusual situation but, as an international netballer and through regularly juggling two sports, O’Hanlon has extensive experience of playing big games within 24 hours of each other.

As always, ’Cruppen will rely heavily on their superstar skipper though arguably less so than the previous time these sides met in the provincial competition just after the Camlough girls won their first Armagh Championship in 2010.

On that occasion the extraordinary decision to play O’Hanlon at full forward rather than midfield meant she was effectively relegated to the role of frustrated spectator while Donaghmoyne established dominance.

There was too much damage done by the time the inevitable switch was made and although O’Hanlon hauled ’Cruppen back to scoreboard respectability, Donaghmoyne’s win was more comfortable than the small margin may have suggested.

Although she has made her name as one of the best midfielders in Ireland for more than a decade, triple All Star O’Hanlon hasn’t actually worn her trademark No 9 jersey during this club championship campaign.

She was notionally listed at right half forward against Armagh Harps in the county final, having been in the No 11 shirt for the semi, but whatever her number, Cruppen will want the All-Ireland Player of the Year on the ball as much as possible.

In the Termon match in 2013, O’Hanlon was relentlessly targeted and sustained two broken ribs but kept playing until the final whistle which came when she was harshly blown for over-carrying in the opposition goalmouth with ’Cruppen an agonising single point behind.

O’Hanlon’s side has had to wait two years for a return to provincial action and although getting Donaghmoyne away in the quarter-finals is the toughest possible draw, this is where the Camlough club want to be – and not just to make up the numbers.

Although they both withdrew to concentrate on the club championship campaign, two of ’Cruppen’s leading lights Sinead Finnegan and Caoimhe Murray are benefiting from having been back in the Armagh set-up since that last provincial adventure.

Megan Cinnamond and O’Hanlon are effective free-takers from the respective sides of the field and teenage newcomer Dearbhail McCullough has added extra threat up front alongside Murray and Finnegan playing further forward than in past times.

Breaking down a Donaghmoyne defence marshalled by the seasoned Sharon Courtney won’t be easy and net-minder Martin can appear unbeatable but Cruppen had seven scorers in their healthy 1-19 tally against Harps in the county final.

Flynn’s side don’t lack physical presence around the middle of the field where the strapping Caitlin Malone is surrounded by the likes of O’Hanlon herself, Dearbhla Wright and Niamh Hughes.

Experienced campaigner Marian McGuinness may be asked to track Cora Courtney with full back Rebecca O’Reilly relied upon to keep McConnell quiet and after doing a good job against Armagh Harps’ formidable forward division, the Cruppen defence should be backing themselves especially with Anna Carr behind them.

Cruppen’s preparations haven’t been helped by several League games being called off by opposing sides since the county final and although Monday night’s Division One decider at Clann Eireann was scheduled a little too close to the Donaghmoyne match for comfort, Flynn’s side definitely needed a recent competitive encounter before this weekend.

With home advantage and such proven pedigree in the provincial club championship few would bet against Donaghmoyne moving towards yet another Ulster showpiece but Carrickcruppen can have a go with a lot less to lose than they had in the county final.