Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Rampant Armagh secure play-off place


Richard Bullick reports

Armagh marched into the NFL Division Two play-offs by hammering Meath in Silverbridge where Dromintee’s Aoife McCoy captured the headlines with a first half hat-trick of goals.

The home team came into the match knowing a draw would secure a top four finish with one round of fixtures remaining but they had the win well in the bag by the interval.

Stung by their defeat at table toppers Cavan last time out, James Daly’s ladies showed a ruthless streak as they extended their 100 percent record at their Silverbridge base this season to four matches.

They led 6-7 to no score at the break, McCoy’s three goals being supplemented by a brace from full forward Fionnuala McKenna and one major from captain Caroline O’Hanlon.  Kelly Mallon kicked two points as did the skipper with one apiece courtesy of McCoy, McKenna and Aimee Mackin.

Meath’s hopes, however remote, of getting in the shake-up for a play-off place had emphatically ended early.  Having defeated Down and drawn with Clare they weren’t mathematically out of it coming to Silverbridge but never looked like upsetting Armagh here.

The visitors did get the only goal of the second half but that was their sole score of the afternoon in contrast to Armagh – in spite of multiple changes – adding another nine points, four of them from All Ireland Player of the Year O’Hanlon with two each from McKenna and Mallon and Mackin kicking one.

Armagh have tended to make multiple changes from one match to the next during this league campaign and it was no different this time with four alterations in personnel accompanied by five positional switches.

In terms of the home team, the significant news was welcome first starts of the season for the Carrickcruppen pair of Marian McGuinness and Caitlin Malone along with stalwart Sharon Reel from Killeavy.

McGuinness was making her first Armagh appearance of the year having been sidelined by injury while Reel has been eased back via the bench having missed pre-season and Malone only recently returned to the panel after an absence.

That trio brings to an impressive 31 the numbers of players to have had at least one start for the Orchard outfit this term with a further three having seen some action as subs.

The fit-again McGuinness was, surprisingly, named at left corner back with one of five ever-presents this season, Sarah Marley, dropping out of the line-up and her older sister Caoimhe Morgan moving to full back.

Reel resumed in her familiar No 5 jersey at the expense of Dromintee’s Shauna Grey while Malone’s inclusion alongside her clubmate O’Hanlon in midfield was accommodated by switching Sinead McCleary to the centre half back berth normally occupied by Niamh Marley.

The fourth personnel change saw Sinead Finnegan of Carrickcruppen replace Moya Feehan from neighbouring Shane O’Neill’s with three consequent positional switches.

With Finnegan listed at left half forward, Aoife McCoy moved over to the right flank but rather than Lauren McConville reverting to the corner where she played last year, the Crossmaglen girl was named at wing back.

The knock-on effect was natural defender Louise Kenny switching from left half back to the unfamiliar role of left corner forward at least on paper but Armagh have a sufficiently fluid formation that the numbers don’t matter much.

The changes were presumably more about getting regulars like McGuinness and Reel back onto the field from the start of a game rather than as a direct consequence of the patchy performance against Cavan last time out but the Armagh management will have been demanding a more disciplined display with a lot less frees given away.

All Star corner back Mairead Tennyson was the only constant factor in the defensive formation from the last game and it was certainly an unfamiliar Orchard rearguard especially on the left but they kept a completely clean sheet in that first half.

It speaks volumes for the great versatility of McGuinness that this was the eighth position she has started in for Armagh under Daly and testament to her general fitness that she was parachuted straight back into the starting team.

Daly is still mixing and matching but this was a stronger side than he sent out for the last two home matches against Kildare and Clare with Finnegan the only player in yesterday’s starting team from outside what most may regard as his top 20.

With a panel of 34 players, bench berths aren’t guaranteed so every opportunity to come off the bench counts and the Armagh manager used eight of his subs in this game.

Frontline defenders Sarah and Niamh Marley were introduced along with their Lissummon clubmate Sarah Gamble while former captain Mags McAlinden came on as did Dromintee duo Shauna Grey and Sinead McCoy and Armagh Harps pair Cailin Duffy and Tanya McCoy.

ARMAGH: K Daly; M Tennyson, C Morgan, M McGuinness; S Reel, S McCleary, L McConville; C Malone, C O’Hanlon (capt; 1-6); A McCoy (3-1), K Mallon (0-4), S Finnegan; L Kenny, F McKenna (2-3), A Mackin (0-2).  Subs used: S Marley, S Gamble, M McAlinden, N Marley, T McCoy, S McCoy, C Duffy, S Grey.