Carrickcruppen complete historic domestic double

October 5, 2015

by Richard Bullick

Carrickcruppen clinched their historic first domestic double in perfect fashion by giving great rivals Clann Eireann a bloody nose in their own Lurgan backyard.

Their magnificent comeback victory in last Monday night’s Division One decider secured the Camlough club the Mackin Feeds Football League title to go with the Armagh Senior Championship crown won last month.

Trailing by six points at half-time away from home, Cruppen pulled through to outscore their hosts 2-9 to 1-1 in a superb second period and win by the handsome margin of five in spite of a plethora of injuries.

Cruppen’s latest triumph came at a significant cost with two prominent players being carried off and two others sustaining concerning injuries six days before Sunday’s daunting Ulster quarter-final away to Monaghan giants Donaghmoyne.

Shipping so many untimely injuries was a big blow but that bad luck couldn’t entirely take the gloss off this satisfying success, Carrickcruppen’s third impressive victory over Clann Eireann in three Big Two clashes this season.

Barry Flynn’s ladies sensationally thrashed Clann Eireann in the initial league game in June before following up with a wonderful win in the Championship semi a few weeks later, in spite of being reduced to 14 players for more than half the match by the astonishing sending off of vice-captain Marian McGuinness.

After those hurtful losses, Clann Eireann should have had no difficulty finding motivation for this title decider, which both teams went into having lost only one league game all season, and this time the cards seemed stacked in the Lurgan side’s favour.

This was Clann Eireann’s chance to salvage some silverware with a revenge victory over their arch rivals, they had home advantage for the shoutout, unlike Cruppen, had no provincial championship match to be thinking about saving themselves for and weren’t as rusty as the visitors who were coming off three successive walkover wins in the league.

Last season, under the previous format, the then Armagh champions Clann Eireann refused to play the scheduled league final against Carrickcruppen a week before their provincial campaign began so the Camlough table toppers received the trophy by default in an unsatisfactory conclusion to the competition.

The league final format was subsequently scrapped at last December’s Armagh Ladies County Board AGM which voted to revert to the traditional scenario of the table toppers being declared league winners.

However with Cruppen having won their home match against Clann Eireann but lost the historic Camlough derby to neighbours Shane O’Neill’s, last Monday’s return tie was a final in all but name with winners taking all.

So Cruppen opted to play even though the timing was far from ideal and after being left kicking their heels since the county final thanks to all three scheduled opponents pulling out, they did need a competitive match going into Ulster.

Had the recent cancellations been better flagged in advance, the league decider could have been brought forward giving Cruppen a more reasonable break before facing Donaghmoyne.

With the tight timetable, injuries were a real concern especially given the intensity which these Big Two games generate and, in the event, the nightmare happened with four casualties sustained though the walking wounded weren’t victims of anything other than misfortune.

Sinead Finnegan and Dearbhail McCullough were both carried off after twisting their ankles badly, Caitlin Malone got a bad bang on the knee and Amy Hughes was involved in a heavy accidental clash with former Armagh captain Mags McAlinden.

Neither player was able to continue after the sickening collision, with McAlinden appearing particularly badly dazed, and with head injuries under such spotlight in sport presently it is right that no risks are taken with suspected concussion.

Carrickcruppen travelled to Lurgan without influential full back Rebecca O’Reilly, goalkeeper Anna Carr and young forward Orla Garvey, so Shannon Sexton deputised in nets with the O’Reilly related shuffle facilitating the return of Aoife McCullough up front.

Amy Hughes was deployed at full back with namesake Niamh Hughes dropping into the half back line, captain Caroline O’Hanlon resuming her Armagh midfield pairing with Malone having worn No 10 in the county final and Dearbhail McCullough coming out to half forward.

Clann Eireann were missing the highly talented Henderson sisters along with Sionnain McConville who was briefly in the Armagh panel in 2012.

However both teams were along fairly familiar lines with many of the usual suspects coming up against each other and it was a typically close contest for most of the first half.

In a fiercely fought but sporting game, the two title contenders initially traded scores and were level at five points each midway through the first half.  Clann Eireann then hit a purple patch which brought three successive scores and a Niamh Murray goal which came from a defensive lapse.  Three more points at either end meant the gap was still six at the interval on a scoreline of 1-11 to 0-8.

Gangling teenage full forward Dearbhla Coleman kicked six points for Clann Eireann with the eldest McAlinden notching four and one for former Armagh star Shauna O’Hagan.

Megan Cinnamond posted two frees for Carrickcruppen and O’Hanlon one, with that pair and Caoimhe Murray all kicking a point apiece from play to supplement two from Finnegan.

It had been a relatively poor performance in the first half from county champions Cruppen but they were transformed after the break and played much better up the hill, using space cleverly and taking a direct approach productively.

The normally lethal O’Hanlon failed to convert a penalty against Clann Eireann for a second time in two league games this season, her attempt being saved by former Armagh goalkeeper Catherine McAlinden who has recently returned to action.

But Cruppen’s long-serving skipper still scored 1-2 in that last half hour, one point more than the entire Clann Eireann team managed, the second home goal coming when a Sinead McCleary free dropped under the crossbar to beat emergency goalkeeper Sexton, normally a forward.

The other goal was scored by Murray while Finnegan and Dearbhail McCullough each hit two points before being carted off.  McGuinness got forward for a couple of useful scores and Aoife McCullough got on the board too as one of seven Carrickcruppen contributors.

Ciara Maguire, Louise McNulty and Edel Rafferty saw action as second half subs which was fitting for this has been a squad effort all season with the big guns not always available for league games due to county commitments.

The double may have helped justify Finnegan and Murray’s decision to put club before county but O’Hanlon being limited to the last quarter of the Shane’s game probably cost Cruppen their 100 percent record in Armagh football this season.

Another successful season for Armagh has created real challenges for the club scene and various issues for ALCB to tackle for future years, though the boot may be on the other foot for Flynn next season if he becomes county team manager as successor to James Daly.

Steering his home club to two trophies in his first season at the helm has surely enhanced the reputation of Flynn, whose Cruppen predecessor Lorraine McCaffrey has already ruled herself out for the Armagh job.

Regaining the Armagh Senior Championship was Cruppen’s biggest goal this season but retaining the league trophy courtesy of this worthy win at Clann Eireann is the icing on the cake for the Lowe’s Lane ladies.

Carrickcruppen: S Sexton; A Doran, A Hughes, K Garvey; N Hughes, M McGuinness (0-2), C Hughes; C Malone, C O’Hanlon (capt; 1-4, 1f), D Wright, M Cinnamond (0-3, 2f), D McCullough (0-2); A McCullough (0-1), S Finnegan (0-4), C Murray (1-1).  Subs: C Maguire for Wright, L McNulty for A Hughes, E Rafferty for Finnegan, Wright for D McCullough.