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Famous victory for Armagh Ladies

 ‚óŹ Armagh 4-9 Cork 3-11

Richard Bullick at Tullamore

Magical Armagh made history by shocking Cork in Tullamore on Saturday to secure a ladies All-Ireland Senior Championship showdown with Mayo on August 10.

Letting slip an 11-point lead to lose their opening group game Cavan meant only a win would suffice for Armagh and they duly delivered a first ever victory over Cork in a championship match thanks to a superb performance.

Trailing by four at the interval in Tullamore and having already lost double All Star forward Aimee Mackin to a twisted knee, the Orchard crew, who went into this match as rank outsiders, had a seemingly impossible mountain to climb.

However, an unforgettable goal rush, of four majors in a 10-minute purple patch, put unfancied Armagh a barely believable 10 points ahead at one stage in a surreal second half against the most successful county in ladies gaelic history.

Current National League champions Cork won an astonishing 11 All-Ireland titles in 12 years up until 2018 and their resurgent side are tipped to regain the Brendan Martin Cup from Dublin this season.

They hit back clinically to drastically reduce the Orchard advantage and few would have bet against Ephie Fitzgerald’s Rebelettes going on to the win which they had been overwhelming favourites for in advance.

But battling Armagh had other ideas as they held their nerve and kept coming up with what was needed at key moments, the most notable being Sarah Marley’s perfectly-timed tackle in the 58th minute which denied Cork a certain and probably match-winning goal.

Armagh fought for every blade of grass on O’Connor Park’s perfect pitch and winning those moments laid the foundations for this famous victory on one of those unpredictable but glorious days which make sport so special.

This was an exceptionally proud day for the Marley family with all four sisters starting together in a Championship match for the first time and it was fitting that the occasion coincided with one of Armagh’s greatest ever victories.

The win was especially sweet for the eldest sibling, Armagh captain Caoimhe Morgan, who like predecessors Caroline O’Hanlon and Maebh Moriarty had played in that agonising single point defeat by Cork in the 2006 All-Ireland final.

O’Hanlon had just returned from captaining Northern Ireland’s netballers in a gruelling World Cup campaign but, alternating between midfield and a role further forward, she top-scored with 1-3 and created numerous opportunities for others.

Losing Aimee Mackin was a big blow but others stepped up, not least her younger sibling Blaithin, who was a worthy Player of the Match, though, to a woman, the entire Orchard crew were simply magnificent on an afternoon filled with Armagh heroes.

Blaithin Mackin contributed 1-2, including an outstanding goal two minutes after O’Hanlon’s superb strike, with the other green flags being raised by Kelly Mallon and sub Mairead Watters.

Crossmaglen’s Watters pounced on Cork indecision at the back to get through for a goal which put Armagh an astonishing 10 ahead while both the dynamic Aoife McCoy and Blaithin Mackin had great goal chances either side of half-time.

Lissummon’s Niamh Marley and Clann Eireann’s Clodagh McCambridge had outstanding games but everyone in orange played an important part in a great team effort built upon huge heart, fantastic fitness and no shortage of skill or ambition.

Earlier, Cork had kicked no fewer than five wides in the opening 11 minutes but were leading by two points to one thanks to scores from Orla Finn and Ciara O’Sullivan after Aimee Mackin had raised the afternoon’s first white flag.

Armagh had a great goal chance when McCoy slipped Blaithin Mackin in after a great run but O’Brien blocked brilliantly at her feet and a good ball from Cork captain Doireann O’Sullivan to sister Ciara led to Rhona Ni Bhuachalla hitting the net.

O’Hanlon kicked a wide and although she then set up points for both Mackin sisters, both were cancelled out by Doireann O’Sullivan to keep the gap at four.

Aimee Mackin kicked a wide after a great ball by Mallon but converted a free after Doireann O’Sullivan posted her third point and both teams struck the woodwork.

Aimee Mackin was already down injured and continued to receive attention as Mallon missed a fairly straightforward free but Cork kicked a wide of their own and Ciara O’Sullivan was sinbinned by Maggie Farrelly for flattening Niamh Marley.

Watters took over from Aimee Mackin while Cork brought on Eimear Scally and Libby Coppinger, both originally listed to start, in place of Aisling Hutchings and Chloe Collins.

Grimes got the underdogs off to a positive start, pointing within 40 seconds from a ball by Mallon after Armagh had won a turnover downfield and wonderful Orchard defence finally forced Cork to kick a wide at the other end.

A sublime move, which saw Niamh Marley catch the Armagh kickout and go on a surging run before O’Hanlon and Blaithin Mackin combined brilliantly, deserved a goal but in the end the latter rolled it straight at the keeper.

Finn got a point for Cork but O’Hanlon kicked a long free and soon netted an equalising goal when Catherine Marley won a great turnover and sent sibling Niamh rampaging forward.

O’Hanlon had work to do but held off a challenge before finishing superbly to the roof of the net and she put Armagh ahead with a nicely taken point just after Finn had hit the post with a free at the other end.

Ciara O’Sullivan returned from the bin and pointed within 60 seconds but, in between, Armagh had scored their second great goal in two minutes, this time a stunning solo effort by Blaithin Mackin.

McCambridge cut out a final pass which would surely have resulted in a Cork goal and captain Morgan made another crucial intervention at the back before Blaithin put Armagh four up with her second point.

A delightful ball by O’Hanlon left Mallon through on goal and she confidently finished to the net, though Doireann O’Sullivan pulled back a point just before Cork replaced Ni Bhuachalla with soccer star Noonan.

Carr sent Blaithin Mackin racing down the right wing with a perfectly weighted kickout and she found the supporting O’Hanlon who sent over another impeccable point.

When Watters punished Cork’s uncertainty at the back with a fourth Armagh goal, the orangewomen were briefly 10 points to the good but midfielder Maire O’Callaghan quickly responded with a great goal for Fitzgerald’s team.

Niamh Marley had little option but to give away a penalty and although Noonan’s spot-kick was saved by Carr the ball came back off the post for Coppinger to put away, though thankfully Marley didn’t receive a yellow card from Farrelly.

It was game on now though and Cork closed the gap to just a single goal with a 54th minute Finn free followed by a Scally point but Sarah Marley’s brilliant tackle and another McCambridge intervention kept the threat at bay.

Doireann O’Sullivan reduced the arrears to one in the first minute of injury-time but her next attempt went wide and a last effort from Cork floated through harmlessly as the hooter brought great relief for Armagh, 

ARMAGH: A Carr; S Marley, C Morgan (capt), M Moriarty, C McKenna, C McCambridge, M Sheridan; N Marley, T Grimes (0-1); K Mallon (1-0), C O’Hanlon (1-3, 1f), C Marley; A Mackin (0-3, 1f), A McCoy, B Mackin (1-1).  Subs used: M Watters (1-0) for A Mackin (ht), A Donaldson for C Marley (47mins).

CORK: M O’Brien; E Meaney, E Spillane, S Kelly; M Duggan, A Hutchings, M Cahalane; M O’Callaghan (1-0), A O’Sullivan; D Kiely, C O’Sullivan (0-2), C Collins; O Finn (0-3, 1f), D O’Sullivan (0-5), R Ni Bhuachalla (1-0).  Subs used: E Scally (0-1) for Hutchings (ht), L Coppinger (0-1) for Collins (ht), S Noonan for Ni Bhuachalla (46).

Referee: Maggie Farrelly (Cavan).