Armagh get their Summer back on track
ARMAGH 3-22 LAOIS 3-7
Richard Bullick in Clones
Armagh bounced back from their Ulster semi-final defeat by Monaghan with a second comprehensive victory over Laois in the space of 12 months.
There were 23 points between these teams when they last met in the 2014 All-Ireland quarter-final and Armagh again asserted their superiority in Saturday evening’s qualifier at St Tiernach’s Park.
This was Armagh’s first time back in Clones since their glorious Ulster final triumph last July and although there was no packed crowd this time, the revered venue seemed to inspire the women in orange.
The Orchard crew went into this tie as firm favourites to get their All-Ireland bid back on track against a Laois side they will be replacing in NFL Divsion One next season.
Laois were whitewashed in the top flight this spring but bounced back by beating Meath in the Leinster Championship and only lost by 10 points to Dublin in the semi-final, a big improvement on last year.
Armagh made it a happy birthday for manager James Daly by getting their Championship summer back on track with this convincing victory and will now hope to continue the celebrations on captain Caroline O’Hanlon’s birthday when they take on Leinster runners-up Westmeath for a place in the All-Ireland quarter-finals against Monaghan.
That would be a rematch of the Ulster Championship semi earlier this month when holders Armagh were resoundingly dethroned by their predecessors, leaving them to chase All-Ireland glory by the back door route this time.
It wasn’t a perfect performance from Armagh who were slightly sloppy at times and won’t have liked leaking three goals – which kept the still commanding margin notably lower than last season – but the outcome never really looked in doubt.
Armagh wasted some scoring chances but the fact they still piled up an impressive 3-22 shows how many opportunities were being created and, although Aimee Mackin won Player of the Match again, there was a healthy spread of scores.
Having topped the charts in seven of her first nine Armagh matches, Mackin jointly led the way with O’Hanlon here, though the skipper’s haul of 1-4 did include a couple of frees.
The high profile pair were ably supported by O’Hanlon’s fellow free-taker Kelly Mallon who contributed five points while Lauren McConville opened Armagh’s account and also got the first three scores of the second half.
Aoife McCoy raised Armagh’s first green flag late in the first half, her seventh strike of the year, and soon added a point while full-forward Fionnuala McKenna, who finished the match deployed in the middle of the field to accommodate the introduction of several specialist forwards, kicked two points.
The last score came from Carrickcruppen’s Caoimhe Murray, one of five subs used on an evening when fringe figures getting gametime was a positive which contributed to the feelgood factor.
Tanya McCoy, who replaced Sinead Finnegan from the published line-up, will have taken a lot from her first Championship start, young Megan Sheridan again got meaningful game-time and Catherine Marley had a relatively rare chance to join her three big sisters on the field.
Examiner columnist Roisin Murphy had a useful cameo after many months of misery with hamstring trouble, showing determination and tenacity in winning a ball late on which would have met with the approval of ferociously committed elder stateswomen Mairead Tennyson and Caoimhe Morgan. Tennyson, whose outstanding display against Laois last time was pivotal to her All-Star award, again got out in front for balls she had no business to be winning, while the established trio of Marley siblings combined well on several occasions to avert danger near the Armagh goal.
An already ticked Niamh Marley was extremely fortunate not to be sinbinned when giving away a penalty but although Laois converted the spot-kick they were already too far adrift for it to have caused panic even if Armagh had been temporarily reduced to 14.
The inclusion of Tanya McCoy as a specialist defender saw Sharon Reel released further forward where she had one outstanding claim of a Katie Daly kickout before, like Sarah Marley, giving way relatively early to accommodate the substitutions.
O’Hanlon’s formidable midfield partner Caitlin Malone was the other player to come off for Armagh who were briefly behind in the early stages before retaking the lead and easing clear with a steady trickle of scores.
McKenna and Mackin had kicked a wide apiece with the former also being blocked down before McConville got the game’s first score though Laois levelled within a minute through Noirin Kirwin and went in front courtesy of a free from full-forward Martina Dunne.
But Armagh responded with O’Hanlon’s first trademark run leading to a McKenna point and the skipper also set up the attack which brought a free for Mallon who also scored from play 60 seconds later.
Good work at the back from Tennyson and Morgan, assisted by her sisters, repelled Laois and Armagh went further ahead with two frees from O’Hanlon either side of Mackin’s opening point from a rasping shot which skimmed the bar.
McKenna kicked her second point and O’Hanlon her first from play, though there were wides too, but Aoife McCoy’s goal from fairly close range in the 25th minute suddenly opened up a 10-point gap.
Laois replied with a Martina Dunne free, their first score since her previous effort 19 minutes earlier, but Armagh hit back with scores from Mallon and McCoy before Martha Kirwin and McKenna swapped points to leave 11 in it at the break.
The underdogs undoubtedly needed to hit a purple patch at the start of the second half but McConville had other ideas in reeling off three points in five minutes, a sequence punctuated only by a point from Laurie-Marie Maher.
Sheridan, for Reel, was the first sub with Catherine Marley replacing Aoife McCoy on 41 minutes just after another Mallon free. Then came the penalty which Noirin Kirwin put away but the lack of a yellow card for Niamh Marley was a considerable relief.
Mackin hit the net in typically lethal fashion after full back Morgan had come surging upfield onto a Laois kickout and the teenager heaved over a point a minute later as Murphy replaced Tanya McCoy.
Finnegan had come on for Sarah Marley just in time to see her club and county captain O’Hanlon waltz through for a signature goal though Laois surprisingly replied in kind through Ellen Healy a minute later.
Murray for Malone on 53 minutes was Daly’s last change and although at times Armagh arguably lacked composure slightly in attack, Mackin raised their 18th white flag with a brilliant banana kick.
A free from Mallon followed but Laois managed a third goal in the final minute of normal time leaving O’Hanlon and Noirin Kirwin to trade points early in injury time before a solo score from Mackin and Murray’s late effort rounded off a good day for Armagh.
ARMAGH: K Daly; M Tennyson, C Morgan, S Marley; N Marley, S McCleary, T McCoy; C Malone, C O’Hanlon (capt; 1-4, 2f); A McCoy (1-1), K Mallon (0-5, 2f), S Reel; L McConville (0-4), F McKenna (0-3), A Mackin (1-4). Subs: M Sheridan for Reel (39 mins), C Marley for A McCoy (41), R Murphy for T McCoy (48), S Finnegan for S Marley (51), C Murray (0-1) for Malone (53).
LAOIS: C Dollard; A Loughman, G Dunne (0-1), C Dunne; A Haberlin, M Young, E Healy (1-0); J Dunne, M Murphy; L-M Maher (1-1), N Kirwin (1-2, pen), F Dooley; M Kirwin (0-1), Martina Dunne (0-2, 2f), Meghan Dunne. Subs: A Malone for Meghan Dunne (30), R O’Connell for M Kirwin (43), L Brophy for Martina Dunne (55), L Daly for Dollard (60).
Referee: Gus Chapman (Sligo).