Impressive victory for Armagh against Kerry

February 15, 2016

ARMAGH 4-11 KERRY 0-12

Richard Bullick at Pearse Og Park

Armagh made it two wins from two on their return to NFL Division One with a very impressive performance against Kerry at Pearse Og Park.

Following their rout of troubled Tyrone in their opening game, the Orchard outfit faced a much sterner test here against a team who had beaten National League and All Ireland champions Cork the previous Sunday.

They duly passed that test with flying colours on new manager Ronan Clarke’s home pitch and already look safe from any threat of relegation after this second successive convincing victory.

Trouncing Tyrone 3-20 to 0-3 in Drumquin was a slightly surreal start to Armagh’s first top flight campain this decade but yesterday’s follow-up win was a far more meaningful statement of intent.

Kerry were worthy opponents but Armagh played positively with the same freedom, fluidity, lack of fear and collective commitment they had displayed against the old enemy a week earlier.

Played in bright spring sunshine on a chilly afternoon, this was a heartwarming Orchard display which augurs well for forthcoming matches, starting with Sunday’s trip to Emyvale for the rearranged game against Ulster rivals Monaghan.

Teenage All Star Aimee Mackin led the way with a superb personal haul of 2-7 while her younger sibling Blaithin also raised a green flag on only her second senior appearance for Armagh.

The first Armagh goal came from one of the opening game’s brightest stars Lauren McConville, who hit 1-2, with the Orchard’s other points coming courtesy of Aoife McCoy and a late effort from former captain Caroline O’Hanlon.

Kerry scored more times than Armagh in a fast first half but the hosts still led 3-4 to 0-9 at the interval thanks to those goals by McConville and the elder Mackin which sandwiched the latter’s emphatic penalty conversion.

Considering they had been facing into the breeze, that was a very pleasing platform for Armagh and they stretched clear in the second period to record a double-digit winning margin which will make the entire country sit up and take notice.

These are early days but Armagh have evidently the talent to compete with the best sides in the country and the players are clearly relishing life under double All Star and All Ireland winner Clarke, who has given them licence to express themselves and is cultivating confidence.

The only change to the team which started against Tyrone saw Shauna Grey come in for Lauren Sheridan with Mairead Tennyson reverting to corner back in her first home match as captain.

There was a fascinating tussle all afternoon between the Silverbridge livewire and the elusive little Kerry attacker Sarah Houlihan, who scored five points in their win over Munster rivals Cork.

With Louise Ni Muircheartaigh out injured and Bernie Breen named on the bench, Kerry’s other standout was tall centre half forward Lorraine Scanlon who was a real handful for the Orchard rearguard.

Kerry pride themselves on a sound defence but they won’t be the last side to find it very difficult containing Mackin, who hit 16-54 for Armagh last season and has more experience and physical strength this time around to offset the fact she is no longer a surprise package.

The visitors had shown their intent by making the long journey north east the day before the match and they were rewarded with the better start, going three points up inside six minutes.

But Crossmaglen’s McConville produced a clincal finish on eight minutes after Mackin’s threatening run and then the young Shane O’Neill’s star hammered home the penalty after Aoife McCoy was floored in a cynical challenge which should have brought the culprit a yellow card.

Kerry kicked two more points either side of an excellent effort from McConville and Aimee Mackin made it double scores with lethal finishing following a superb ball in from her sister Blaithin.

The elder Mackin sandwiched a point from McCoy which came as a result of an attack O’Hanlon launched from her own goalmouth with two of her own as Armagh went in four to the good at half-time.

Armagh goalkeeper Anna Carr, again preferred to previous first choice custodian Katie Daly, was a little uncertain at times but ultimately kept a clean sheet and the Orchard defence did a good job in general.

The inexperienced Clodagh McCambridge is a promising project at full back in pregnant great Caoimhe Morgan’s absence and on this occasion she had great experience alongside her in the shape of Sarah Marley and Tennyson while seasoned campaigner Sharon Reel typically put her body on the line.

One point-blank block exemplified the Killeavy stalwart’s physical courage and it was also great to see Fionnuala McKenna and Niamh Marley each pushing hard shortly after receiving lengthy treatment.

Armagh won without the sort of exceptional contribution O’Hanlon is famous for but the triple All Star worked hard and definitely deserved her only point late on when she showed determination to win possession and strode through the middle to register.

By then the game was up for Kerry, who had gone seven behind within five minutes of the resumption as McConville again got the first score of this half followed by Mackin fisting over from an acute angle and then hoisting a majestic point from way out on the right.

Kerry pulled the three back but Aimee Mackin rounded off an Armagh attack from deep and then Blaithin hit the net after O’Hanlon had run hard from Carr’s kick-off and released the eventual goal-scorer down the left.

That was effectively game over but Armagh added a further three unanswered scores with Aimee Mackin’s only free and sixth point from play sandwiching the O’Hanlon strike.

Blaithin Mackin, replaced late on by Catherine Marley, looks like a very valuable addition for Armagh this season while the diminutive duo of McConville and McCoy continue to thrive in the orange jersey.

It wasn’t one of Kelly Mallon’s more effective outings but the fact Clarke could replace her with 2014 All Star nominee Sinead McCleary, recently returned from her honeymoon after marrying Cross star Tony Kernan, early in the second half was the ultimate luxury.

McCleary will surely start the big games ahead and with Niamh Henderson, Louise Kenny and Siobhan Mackle all still to return from injury along with Morgan come Championship time, there is set to be fierce competition for places as the campaign progresses.

Lissummon’s Niamh Marley, deployed alongside O’Hanlon in midfield, made the Gaelic Life Team of the Week after the Tyrone game as did McConville while last season’s full forward McKenna is adjusting well to the unaccustomed centre half back role.

Grey and Forkhill’s Lauren Sheridan have had a start apiece while the experienced Sinead Finnegan is relishing getting another Orchard chance this time in her Carrickcruppen position of full foward.

Clann Eireann teenager Aoibhinn Henderson was the other sub used yesterday and even in the limited time showed what a promising player she is, linking well with Aimee Mackin and building on her first appearance off the bench in last September’s All-Ireland semi-final.

ARMAGH: A Carr; S Marley, C McCambridge, M Tennyson (capt); S Reel, F McKenna, S Grey; N Marley, C O’Hanlon (0-1); A McCoy (0-1), K Mallon, B Mackin (1-0); L McConville (1-2), S Finnegan, A Mackin (2-7, 1 pen, 1f).  Subs used: S McCleary for Mallon (36 mins), A Henderson for Grey (48), C Marley for B Mackin (62).