Cavan crushed as Armagh march on
James Daly’s ladies emulated the Armagh men’s side by qualifying for a 2015 National League final thanks to overcoming Cavan with an impressive performance in yesterday’s first semi in Clones.
The day after Kieran McGeeney’s men won their Division Three final at Croke Park, Daly’s side set up a Dublin decider of their own in Division Two with this convincing victory and now meet Donegal, who easily saw off Westmeath 3-10 to 1-4 in the second semi at St Tiernach’s Park.
Armagh’s new wonder girl Aimee Mackin made the headlines with another huge haul but a delighted Daly and majestic captain Caroline O’Hanlon also hailed Crossmaglen’s Lauren McConville for her eye-catching contribution.
Cavan will have nightmares about the menace McConville caused them with her deceptive physicality, persistence and effectiveness in an Armagh attack which could have scored even more but for a few wides and repeatedly rattling the woodwork.
Although she only turned 18 during the week, Mackin has quickly come of age this spring in her first senior season in top-scoring with 10-25 in the regular League phase, but this was the Camlough girl’s biggest game yet and she predictably rose to the occasion in notching 1-8.
O’Hanlon herself hit 1-4 and was typically central to an Orchard display which must be considered one of the best under Daly whose side enjoyed a famous victory on their last trip to St Tiernach’s Park.
That was last summer’s unforgettable Ulster final triumph over reigning champions Monaghan and this time too there was a shower just before the start and a controversial opposition goal, but again Armagh refused to be derailed.
They had lost the regular League game between these teams by two points and the semi-final brought a worrying first few minutes for Armagh before they got to grips with the Cavan challenge.
Firstly the Breffni women were allowed to saunter right through from the throw-in for a simple point and Armagh found themselves four down by the seventh minute thanks to an unsatisfactory combination of factors.
Kelly Mallon had kicked an equalising free but Cavan replied in kind to rub salt in the wounds as the award still stood in spite of Sinead McCleary being taken out off the ball.
The All Star nominee was removed for further treatment on the sideline and, with Armagh down to 14 players, Cavan cashed in on the confusion by breaking through for a frustratingly soft goal on seven minutes.
But McCleary bravely resumed with her ankle strapped and Armagh were back on even terms midway through the half before pulling seven points clear by half-time and stretching their lead further after the break with O’Hanlon’s magnificent goal.
Cavan had gone through the regular league campaign unbeaten but ending up facing dangerous Armagh after losing a play-off against Donegal for first seed status in the semi-finals.
Armagh’s hope was that Cavan’s confidence might be dented by being beaten in that tough game in Irvinestown only seven days earlier, though that somewhat superfluous fixture ensured the Breffni women would be battle-hardened for a close contest.
The Orchard crew were expecting a Breffni backlash following the Donegal defeat but Armagh had their own point to prove in Clones having slightly surprisingly lost the League game between the teams.
Cavan came into that home match against Armagh last month as table toppers with four wins from four fixtures and won 1-15 to 3-7 to underline their emergence as the early season’s surprise package.
Not helped by Cavan’s greater familiarity with the artificial pitch at Breffni Park, Armagh were at least in part undone on that occasion by their own naive, slightly lazy and indisciplined performance which produced a steady flow of frees for Cavan which were duly converted.
Armagh, who had led earlier in the game, might still have snatched a dramatic victory at the end as O’Hanlon struck a post with virtually the last kick of the game but this time they left nothing to chance.
In this second clash, Armagh scored 12 times in the first half compared to 10 in the entire hour at Breffni Park and were much more effective and disciplined in defence in spite of being on the receiving end of two perplexing yellow cards in the second half from Meath referee Colm McManus.
Mallon got the first, presumably for retaliation as Armagh had already been awarded the free, with Caitlin Malone also sinbinned towards the end for cumulative minor offences.
Compared to the original game, Armagh had only two changes in personnel with two of that afternoon’s used subs, Sharon Reel and Malone, coming in for Shauna Grey and Moya Feehan who recently sustained a knee injury playing soccer for Northern Ireland Under 19s.
However there were also several positional switches with siblings Sarah Marley and veteran vice-captain Caoimhe Morgan reverting to their regular roles in the full back line by swapping places.
The half back line was entirely changed with Reel replacing Grey and McCleary dropping back from midfield to accommodate Malone with Niamh Marley moving out to the left and Louise Kenny notionally lining out at wing forward.
With experienced campaigner Marian McGuinness still undercooked after a long lay-off, young Shane O’Neill’s skipper Kenny kept her place in the team and this significant contribution will make her hard to leave out of the starting side for the final.
Armagh’s rearguard knew they needed to be on their toes against a potent Cavan attack which had scored 16 times against them in the original game.
Last time against Cavan, young Mackin led the way with 2-2 and although the opposition now knew the threat she posed, containing it proved problematic for the Breffni women.
She and full forward Fionnuala McKenna kicked a point apiece between two from O’Hanlon as Armagh drew level at the end of the first quarter but it was Mackin’s goal just after a second free from Mallon which cemented the turnaround.
McConville made the goal and then drove over a point herself following yet another mugging of a defender before Mackin reeled off three scores in sucession and Mallon completed her hat-trick of frees.
Armagh’s healthy lead of 1-11 to 1-4 could have been even better but the ball rolled agonisingly wide when Mackin put clubmate Kenny through and a goalmouth scramble ensued.
But with O’Hanlon netting in the fourth minute of the second half, Armagh never looked back in spite of frequently hitting the woodwork and although Cavan got the last score of the game it was long since over as a contest on an increasingly wet afternoon.
Daly had withdrawn a still limping McCleary on 40 minutes with her Clann Eireann clubmate Niamh Henderson making a welcome return after being unavailable for five fixtures due to academic commitments.
The newly married Mags McAlinden, McGuinness, Grey and his Dromintee club colleague Sinead McCoy were the other four subs used by Daly on an uplifting afternoon for Armagh.
ARMAGH: K Daly; M Tennyson, C Morgan, S Marley; S Reel, S McCleary, N Marley; C Malone (0-1), C O’Hanlon (capt; 1-4, 2f); A McCoy, K Mallon (0-3, 3f), L Kenny; L McConville (0-2), F McKenna (0-2), A Mackin (1-8). Subs: N Henderson for McCleary (40 mins), M McAlinden for Mallon (45) S McCoy for Reel (48), M McGuinness for N Marley (50), S Grey for A McCoy (53).