Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Mackin Feeds Football League launches locally

Richard Bullick

All four fixtures in next Wednesday’s opening round of Mackin Feeds Football League Division One games will take place in the sponsor’s south Armagh heartland.

Top flight newcomers Sarsfields from Craigavon will face a real baptism of fire when they travel to title holders Carrickcruppen with the other newly promoted team Shane O’Neill’s having home advantage against Armagh Harps down the road.

Intermediate champions Silverbridge host Senior champions Clann Eireann while Dromintee entertain Ballyhegan, who have narrowly avoided relegation in each of the past two seasons.

Whoever tops the table will win this year’s MFFL title after Armagh Ladies County Board voted to scrap the previous format of having a final to decide the destination of the trophy.

The competition regulations were changed on the back of the unsatisfactory finish to last season when Carrickcruppen were ultimately awarded the trophy without a decider taking place, something of a hollow triumph.

The new club season in the Orchard county may be getting underway on Arpil Fool’s Day but hopefully the pragmatic rule change will mean circumstances can’t make a mockery of the business end of the campaign this time.

Last season’s Division One title race ultimately became a victim of the county team’s successful season as Armagh reached September’s All-Ireland semi-final, leading to fixture congestion at club level.

As usual the League title was a two-way battle between the established big two of holders Clann Eireann and great rivals Carrickcruppen who had both booked their places in the intended decider.

But newly-crowned county champions Clann Eireann were understandably keen to concentrate on their Ulster Club Championship campaign and ’Cruppen equally legitimately felt they couldn’t keep ticking over indefinitely without competitive fixtures especially with their management team having stood down.

In the end neither club backed down so ’Cruppen were awarded the title, technically on the basis that the Lugan side refused to play on either of two designated dates and the clubs couldn’t agree an alternative.

Incidentally Carrickcruppen did finish top of the table though the second regular League game between the teams didn’t take place as neither club wanted to play what would have been a dead rubber encounter between the championship showpiece and League decider.

Clann Eireann won the sole League game between the clubs – who were both without their county contingents – and the Lurgan girls beat Cruppen in the Senior Championship showpiece to reclaim the Marie Hoye Cup.

It was an unfortunate finish to what had been a good Division One last season, though neither club nor the County Board could reasonably be blamed for what happened.

What isn’t likely to change is the same two clubs competing for the honours so, unless one or other slips to random defeats against other teams – perhaps when fielding an understrength side – the two regular League games between them should assume extra significance in 2015.

The two crunch clashes will take place on two Wednesdays, June 10 when Carrickcruppen will have home advantage in round eight and then the return game in Lurgan towards the end of the campaign.

It remains to be seen as to whether the county team have as prolonged a campaign as in 2014 but Carrickcruppen are the harder hit by Orchard calls with five players in the Armagh panel to Clann Eireann’s three.

Lissummon  can testify to the mixed blessing of Armagh representation having paid a high price last term for having a significant county contingent as the regular absence of the four Marley sisters resulted in them being relegated again after a promising start on the back of winning the 2013 Division Two title.

Unlike Carrickcruppen, Clann Eireann can call on former county stars such as Shauna O’Hagan, Laura Brown, Rhona McKeever and Catherine McAlinden and have an impressive production line of youngsters who have already represented Armagh at age group level.

Once again the Mackin’s Championship should be fiercely contested by these teams but Clann Eireann appear a bit better equipped for an attritional League campaign.

Dromintee were best of the rest last season along with top flight newcomers Grange, who have lost Siobhan Mackle to a placement in America but welcome back her aunt Dervla Mallon after the birth of her second daughter.

Having finished second in 2013, Silverbridge slipped down the table last year but winning the Intermediate Championship more than compensated for that though Armagh Harps had no such silver lining.

Not helped by Armagh-related unavailability, the city club didn’t do as well as expected last term and, with five players in the current county panel, will be glad to have stalwart Paula Enright ready for a full season after her maternity break in 2014.

Ballyhegan will once again be battling to avoid the drop as last season’s Division Two winners Shane O’Neill’s look well equipped to hold their own at the highest League level even though club captain Louise Kenny and scoring machine Aimee Mackin won’t always be available.

It could be tougher for the other top flight newcomers Sarsfields though the Craigavon outfit deserve credit for securing promotion at the expense of bigger name clubs like Crossmaglen.

Stalwart Sinead Reel looks set to come out of retirement to help Killeavy’s attempt to bounce back from relegation last seaon after a very difficult campaign and Lissummon will be fancied to go back up if they can get the Marleys on the field in enough games.

Crossmaglen and energised Junior champions Forkhill can’t be discounted in what should be a competitive tier of the League.  The fact there are 13 clubs represented in the current Armagh panel with only a combined eight out of the 34 players from the two powerhouses reflects well on the health of the domestic game in the Orchard county.