O’Hanlon and Mackin Armagh’s only All Star nominees

October 12, 2015

Richard Bullick

Ladies County Board Chairman Owen Reel has expressed disappointment that Armagh have received only two 2015 ladies All Star nominations in spite of reaching the All-Ireland semi-finals for a second year running.

Superstar skipper Caroline O’Hanlon, the reigning All Ireland Player of the Year, and young sensation Aimee Mackin, who has had an amazing first senior season for Armagh, were nailed on certainties to make the shortlist.

But there were legitimate hopes that several slightly less heralded Orchard heroes might make the cut too after another successful season for James Daly’s ladies.

Armagh can certainly feel hard done by considering Tyrone got seven nominees for the men’s All Stars on the back of a very similar season to the orangewomen.

Mickey Harte’s side lost their opening provincial championship match to the team which went on to lose the Ulster showpiece before coming through the back door route to reach the All-Ireland semi-finals where they were comfortably beaten.

Daly’s side followed an almost identical path with the exception of the National League where Armagh ladies won Division Two and the Tyrone men were relegated from Division One.

Armagh’s fellow losing ladies semi-finalists Kerry received five nominations in spite of being beaten by one more point than Armagh, though they had of course shocked Cork to win the Munster Championship.

Galway, who took Cork to an NFL Division One final replay before being beaten by them in the All-Ireland quarter-finals, have also five players on the shortlist with three each for Monaghan and Donegal.

Donegal have evidently been rewarded for winning their first ever Ulster Senior Championship but Armagh did inflict both their defeats in 2015, in the NFL Division Two decider and the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Ironically the three Donegal players shortlisted don’t include hot-shot forward Yvonne McMonagle, who would undoubtedly be regarded as a more controversial omission than any particular player from Armagh.

Monaghan did beat reigning provincial champions Armagh in the Ulster semi-final but went out of the All-Ireland at the last eight stage yet the Donaghmoyne trio of goalkeeper Linda Martin and forwards Cora Courtney and Cathriona McConnell are among the chosen 45.

Mayo, who were well beaten by Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-finals, match Armagh’s two nominees while Waterford’s reward for winning the mere qualifying competition for next year’s All-Ireland – the TG4 Intermediate Championship – is a trio of representatives on the shortlist with one from beaten second tier finalists, Leitrim.

All-Ireland finalists Cork and Dublin again get the lion’s share of nominations, 11 and 10 respectively, and they did win their respective semis by comfortable margins but these huge contingents are more reminiscent of what happens in hurling, a sport palpably lacking depth.

Even looking across to other codes rubs salt in Armagh wounds when they see the hefty contingents from Tyrone and Donegal in men’s football and Derry’s two camogie nominees even though the Oak Leaf girls were whitewashed in both their National League Division One and Senior Championship round robin campaigns.

Last season Armagh got four nominees on the back of winning the Ulster title en route to the All-Ireland semis so losing their provincial crown was always likely to cost them at least one of those tickets this time given the fairly formulaic carve-up which takes place.  So expectations were reasonably low but three would have been a much more satisfactory return than two.

Unlike last time, when Caoimhe Morgan’s exclusion was a blatant travesty, the Orchard’s chances of an extra nominee in 2015 may have been harmed by the fact that there was no particularly clearcut third candidate.

A decent case could have been made for Morgan again, unsung heroes like Aoife McCoy and Sharon Reel, possibly Lauren McConville, 2014 All Star Mairead Tennyson or the much-improved Kelly Mallon.

It could be argued Armagh goalkeeper Katie Daly has had to make more difficult, crucial saves than the Cork or Dublin netminders, while another unfashionable foot soldier Sarah Marley has had a very solid season after missing last summer with a broken ankle.

Last year’s nominees Sinead McCleary and Fionnuala McKenna remain pivotal players for the Orchard outfit though the former has had injury interruptions with the latter suffering from not being deployed in her optimum position.

The fact Morgan missed the All Ireland semi-final due to pregnancy and McCoy was unable to start the big game due to injury wouldn’t have helped their respective causes while several others maybe needed a more outstanding display against Dublin to seal their inclusion.

However given the impression that these things are more based on notional quotas than simple merit, the failure to include at least one more Armagh representative from a long list of possibles, is frustrating.

There are a sparse eight nominees out of 45 from Ulster with only O’Hanlon and Mackin from the six northern counties in a clear case of quality over quantity.

This is triple All Star O’Hanlon’s fifth successive nomination and her eighth in total – five more than any other player in Armagh’s history – in spite of operating in the exceptionally competitive midfield department.

Most teams tend to deploy their top players in the middle of the field and the All Star selectors have less scope to creatively accommodate midfielders slightly out of position in their line-up than with defenders or attackers.

O’Hanlon this time finds herself up against the Cork duo who won their 10th All Ireland medals each last month, Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley, Kerry’s Bernie Breen, Galway’s Geraldine Conneally and Fiona McHale of Mayo.

The 31-year-old’s fellow Camlough girl Mackin may only have completed her first Orchard campaign having just turned 18 in April, yet her inclusion as one of only two Armagh players recognised is no surprise due to the exceptional impact the Shane O’Neill’s star has had.

Her goal in last month’s All Ireland semi-final saw Mackin’s scoring aggregate go past the century mark from her first 13 Armagh matches as she finished the season with 16-54 to her name.  O’Hanlon, top-scorer in 2014.

O’Hanlon has fierce competition in midfield and there are plenty of prolific forwards in Ireland up against Mackin but both Armagh’s marquee names should have very realistic chances of making the final line-up.  Getting two All Stars would soften the blow of the Orchard county being under-represented on the shortlist.

Among Mackin’s rivals in the full forward line are Donegal dangerwoman Geraldine McLaughlin, Cork veteran Valerie Mulcahy who controversially missed out on an All Star in 2014 and Dublin captain Lyndsey Davey.

The greatest markswoman in the history of the sport, Mayo’s Cora Staunton, has a second chance to make history by equalling the all-time record of 10 All Stars but like last year may miss out.  She was sensational in the Connacht decider but surprisingly proved fallible in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

All six Cork players who have featured throughout their remarkable run of 10 All-Irelands in 11 years have made the shortlist and the Rebelettes can expect to claim most places in the final line-up after another Senior Championship-National League Division One double.

There are 10 counties represented in this year’s list of nominees – which includes 21 of the 45 from 2014 – with the actual All Stars due to be revealed at the traditional gala banquet in Dublin’s Citywest Hotel on November 14.