Armagh glory sparks Croke Park Party

October 9, 2012

Richard Bullick at Croke Park

Armagh 1-12 Waterford 1-5

Armagh ladies returned to the Carrickdale last night with the Mary Quinn Cup to continue the party that began in Croke Park after a convincing victory over Waterford.

James Daly’s team made light of an alarming tally of wides as they emphatically beat Waterford in the All Ireland Intermediate final on a dry but bitterly cold and breezy afternoon.

It was a happy ending to Armagh’s longest-ever season as captain Mags McAlinden lifted the trophy to a raucous roar from the Orchard County faithful after a final delayed due to last Sunday’s All Ireland hurling final replay.

Armagh had gone into the decider as firm favourites, having beaten Waterford by eight points earlier in this Championship campaign, but the pressure was still on them to deliver when it mattered most.

The women from the south east got off to the perfect start, captain Michelle McGrath leading from the front by notching the game’s opening score inside the first 20 seconds.

But with four survivors from Armagh’s last appearance at headquarters, the one-point defeat to Cork in the 2006 All Ireland final, this year’s Ulster Intermediate champions weren’t likely to be rattled by such an early concession.

One of their highly promising youngsters Fionnuala McKenna immediately responded with a strong run, though her shot went wide – which was to become a recurring theme for Armagh in an enthralling opening half.

Waterford’s main markswoman Michelle Ryan couldn’t convert a free but Armagh lived dangerously with Clodagh McCann having to be alert to tidy up in her own goalmouth in the third minute.

Full forward Shauna O’Hagan registered a wide and there was a bad miss from skipper McAlinden before Waterford were off target at the other end with an attempt to double their advantage.

Hard-working Waterford blocked down a couple of Armagh attacks and young Niamh Henderson hit wide following an enterprising run but when the score finally came it was a three-pointer.

Carrrickcruppen captain Caroline O’Hanlon hit the post with a left-footed free but O’Hagan followed up to bury the rebound in the back of the net and young McKenna quickly added a point for good measure.

Within a minute the other Carrickcruppen player in the starting line-up, Marian McGuinness, had spiralled over a superb point from way out on the right and a delightful delivery by O’Hanlon to McAlinden deserved another score but the captain was wayward again.

Armagh’s purple patch was brought to an abrupt end by a Waterford goal, Hannah Landers rolling the ball past Catherine McAlinden after a break by wing forward Linda Wall, which closed the gap to a single point again.

Waterford failed to level but their wide was followed by a couple of unproductive efforts from McKenna and, worryingly, two more wides by the Armagh captain, the second one a particularly poor attempt from a free.

However, corner forward Kelly Mallon showed the way with a good point and Shauna O’Hagan fisted another to get Armagh motoring again before Waterford and O’Hanlon exchanged wides.

But the half ended encouragingly for Daly’s side with McAlinden finding her shooting boots to land a 28th minute free and O’Hanlon’s class increasingly in evidence though both players drew a further blank apiece in the closing stages.

Leading by four points at the break in spite of missing so many chances, Armagh knew they had the winning of this game, though a Linda Wall free pulled one back for Waterford right at the start of the second half.

However, the only Armagh forward not to get on the scoresheet in the opening half, St Peter’s teenager Ciara Lennon, quickly came to the party with a great run and point followed by another from fellow young gun McKenna.

Ten minutes in, O’Hanlon got her first score of the match with a free from the left followed by a neat point from play by the youngest player in the side, Clann Eireann’s Henderson, who showed no nerves on the big occasion.

Ryan kicked a free to bring Waterford back within two goals of Armagh but McAlinden landed a free, given when O’Hagan was pulled back, though she slotted a goal chance past the post soon afterwards.

The Waterford keeper saved well from O’Hagan and although Ryan posted another point, Armagh were well on top now and it was cancelled out by another O’Hanlon free.

Linda Wall kept the underdogs’ hopes alive with another point but Daly decided to introduce fresh legs and Grange’s Siobhan Mackle looked lively in her white boots after coming in for McKenna.

An appalling penalty by Ryan, harshly awarded against Sinead McCleary, barely tested Catherine McAlinden but the Armagh keeper produced a brilliant save from the same player a minute later.

Silverbridge’s Mairead Tennyson, another veteran of 2006 who has returned to the county panel, got a run for the final five minutes and near the end Cailin Duffy and Caroline O’Hare were given a chance to experience playing at Croke Park.

Young Aisling Hughes had come on for McGuinness at half-time on a day when Armagh’s young talent showed up positively on the big stage with displays which augur well for a bright future.

But yesterday was also about the veterans and the wonderful O’Hanlon was never far from the heart of the action.  She completed her hat-trick of frees to become the only Armagh player to score three points before bossing the final few minutes.

Still full of running, she missed with a free and then kicked a wide before dazzling the crowd in the final few seconds with a couple of trademark dummies and although the ball didn’t go over the bar to put the icing on the cake, the hooter sparked delirious celebrations.

ARMAGH: C McAlinden; C McCann, L Brown, S Marley, S Reel, N Marley, N Henderson (C Duffy, 59), S McCleary, C O’Hanlon, M McGuinness (A Hughes, h/t), M McAlinden (capt), F McKenna (S Mackle, 51), C Lennon (C O’Hare, 59), S O’Hagan, K Mallon (M Tennyson, 55).  Subs not used: K Daly, A Donaldson, S Grey, M Luckie, C Malone, S McCoy, S McParland, S O’Grady, R O’Reilly, F Quinn.

WATERFORD: A Jordan; A Landers, K McGrath, N Dunphy, R Tobin, G Enright, M Wall; M McGrath (capt), E Power; L Wall, M Ryan, T Fitzgerald (E Fennell, 25; G Kenneally, 58), A Wall, S Curran, H Landers (M Revins, 48).

Referee: Pat Kehoe (Carlow).

Daly delivers All-Ireland glory

Richard Bullick

An ecstatic Caroline O’Hanlon last night paid tribute to Armagh manager James Daly after the Orchard County ladies lifted the All Ireland Intermediate trophy by beating Waterford 1-12 to 1-5.

Three second half frees from the magnificent Carrickcruppen captain helped the favourites to a deserved seven-point victory at Croke Park and the margin would have been much more but for some wasteful shooting.

However, Armagh were worthy winners and the sight of captain Mags McAlinden hoisting the Mary Quinn Cup aloft amid a sea of orange and white was the ultimate reward for last winter’s decision to drop down a level.

Now with young talent emerging to back up seasoned stars like O’Hanlon, Armagh will return to the senior ranks next year with a real spring in their step on the back of Daly’s impressive first season in charge after taking the county Minors to an All Ireland triumph in 2011.

The Dromintee man has helped restore pride and purpose to the Armagh set-up and O’Hanlon, famed for her own dedication and high standards, was quick to pay tribute to the efforts of Daly and his management team.

“I’m absolutely delighted that we won today, as reward for everybody putting in so much work – James and all his backroom staff have been unbelievable and left no stone unturned,” she said.

“The girls responded to that and the workrate on the pitch today reflected the work which those guys and Sinead (Reel) put in.  To get to Croke Park and win has been our goal all year but it’s a long season and you can only take one match at a time.”

For his part, Daly heaped praise on his players including O’Hanlon, who he described as “a legend” and numerous “unsung heroes” including Player of the Match, Clann Eireann fullback Laura Brown.

“Laura was thinking of quitting inter-county football but we got her out, dusted her off and she’s won Player of the Match in both our Ulster and All Ireland finals,” beamed Daly, who will now set his sights on ensuring Armagh make an impact at senior level next year.