Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Dynamic clubs set for tasty tussle

Richard Bullick

The last two winners of the Armagh Junior title meet on Wednesday in what has been billed the tie of the opening round across the three levels of the Mackin’s Club Championships.

Carrickcruppen entertain Dromintee in the remaining Senior quarter-final but the more intriguing game is down the road where Shane O’Neill’s host Forkhill in what looks like a fascinating contest.

As a relatively new club bursting with young talent, Shane’s have been blazing a trail as an emerging force in Armagh ladies football and now Forkhill are making their own waves.

Their captain Amy Mulholland was the perfect choice to launch this season’s club championships having led Forkhill to their first trophy triumph last September when they beat Mullaghbawn in a Junior final replay.

With Forkhill flying high at the top of Division Two with a magnificent seven victories from seven League games, Mulholland is someone who can enthusiastically testify, from first hand experience, to the transformative effect Championship success can have on a club. “It might not seem much to the big clubs but that Junior win has been fantastic for us, not only as an unforgettable experience at the time but because of the positive spin-offs from it,” she reflects.

Securing that elusive silverware has transformed Forkhill mindset and they have come into the new season with the enhanced ambition, momentum, vibrancy, belief and confidence flowing from their exploits last term. “Winning the Junior Championship has definitely done an awful lot for us coming into this season and now winning League games every week, most of them convincing victories too, is something more we can feed off.

“We’ve had our first ever victory over Crossmaglen and beaten both teams that came down from Division One last season, Lissummon and Killeavy, but I’m under no illusion that Shane’s will be our toughest test so far.”

After lifting the Armagh Junior trophy, Shane’s became the first Orchard club to win a provincial crown at any adult level to go with their multiple Ulster titles in age group football, an impressive pedigree Mulholland clearly respects. “Our results have raised a few eyebrows but Shane’s are definitely favourites.  They’ve home advantage and are a first division side who have recently won at Carrickcruppen and in Aimee Mackin have one of the top talents in Ireland.”

The cruel loss of club captain Louise Kenny and another Armagh player Moya Feehan for the rest of the season with serious knee injuries sustained playing camoge and soccer respectively has been a bitter blow for Shane’s. But they still have one of the hottest prospects in the country in stand-in skipper Mackin, the teenage scoring sensation who has made such an impact in her first senior season for Armagh, topping the Orchard chart for 2015 with 13-38 from her first eight games. In Peter Lynch and Misty Quinn, Shane’s and Forkhill have influential figureheads who have developed dynamic ladies sections at their respective clubs and sides with a penchant for free-flowing football.

With Mulholland frequently notching double-figure tallies for Forkhill, both teams have a prolific forward with the same name albeit spelt differently and, particularly with Mackin captaining Shane’s in

Kenny’s absence, counterpart comparisons are inevitable. The Forkhill leader is naturally keen to avoid this match being built up as some sort of Aimee against Amy shootout given her opposite number’s reputation but the in-form forward shouldn’t lack confidence either.

“Aimee is something special, a handful for any defence, but the fact she’s at the other end must not distract the Forkhill forwards from trying to do our own job.  We’ve been getting good tallies this season and must back our own attacking game.” It could be a high-scoring affair between teams with proven forward fire-power though Shane’s showed their pragmatic streak in keeping large numbers behind the ball in their win at ’Cruppen. Forkhill’s form and the absence of Kenny and Feehan from the Shane’s side has levelled up the odds since the draw was made but Mulholland insists that “we’re undoubtedly underdogs going there to give it our best shot.

“Louise and Moya are great players but, even now with them missing, Shane’s are far from a one-woman team.  They’ve plenty of proven performers including Blaithin Mackin, who is an exceptional prospect.” Unlike the Sheridan sisters, Lauren and Megan, Mulholland didn’t get a county call-up during the winter but the silver lining for Forkhill has been having their 21-year-old captain fully focused on club football meantime.

Mulholland harbours Armagh ambitions so this opportunity for Forkhill to carve another notch also affords the fleet-footed forward a personal shop window to stake her claims for future recognition. Her importance to the cause was underlined recently when manager Quinn drove to Letterkenny on a Saturday afternoon to collect his captain from a hen weekend and her huge haul that evening helped deliver a valuable victory at Lissummon. With her namesake Mackin certain to make a significant scoreboard contribution, Mulholland will need a repeat performance for Forkhill to have a realistic chance of upsetting Shane’s. Whoever emerges from this tie will meet the winners of Wednesday’s other quarter-final (7.30pm) between recently relegated Killeavy and newly promoted Sarsfields in the last four. Last Friday’s scheduled quarter-final featuring Lissummon and Crossmaglen was postponed due to a bereavement at the home club so Ballyhegan, who won at Derrynoose, must wait to see who they will face for a place in the Intermediate decider.