Armagh and Tipp serve up a thriller





Richard Bullick at St Loman’s Park


Armagh bounced back from the concession of three goals in the opening 12 minutes in Mullingar to reach the Tesco HomeGrown National League final against Down after a titanic tussle with Tipperary.

Especially considering Division Three table-toppers Armagh had the wind behind them in the first half it felt like an unfolding nightmare for a set-up already rocked by a bereavement in the immediate Daly family.

That meant Armagh manager James and his daughter, regular goalkeeper Katie, were both absent but the match went ahead at the family’s insistence and the Orchard outfit ultimately triumphed in adversity.

Captain Caroline O’Hanlon had actually given her side the dream start, finishing strongly to the net after a perfectly timed run onto a through ball but Tipperary responded with a hat-trick of goals in the space of seven mad minutes.

The equaliser came when the wind kept a stray shot from a Tipp player from crossing the end-line, allowing the ball to be returned to the danger area, the second came from a series of richochets and the third was a penalty.

Having to pick the ball out of her own net three times in quick succession wasn’t what Catherine McAlinden might have expected when she agreed to an emergency return to the No 1 jersey in place of Katie Daly.

But the woman who saved a penalty in Croke Park last October as Armagh were crowned All Ireland Intermediate champions proved her worth with a stunning save to deny Tipp a killer fourth goal in the 21st minute.

Two minutes later, Armagh had their noses back in front courtesy of a good point by O’Hanlon and a confident goal by the lively Mairead Tennyson, who would have missed out on a starting spot but for Kelly Mallon failing a fitness test.

Tipperary finally scored their first point of this strange game in the 25th minute and added two more to go ahead again only for Armagh to level when the dynamic Niamh Henderson completed her first half hat-trick of points in stoppage time.

Sinead McCleary was again given the No 14 jersey on her return to action following an overseas placement after a productive outing at full forward against Wexford, with O’Hanlon continuing to be partnered in midfield by her Carrickcruppen team-mate Caitlin Malone.

Leaking goals had been Armagh’s downfall in their last defeat – to Westmeath in the corresponding game 12 months ago – but this time they limited the damage and kept picking off points at the other end.

In addition to Henderson’s hat-trick, both O’Hanlon and Tennyson supplemented their respective first half goals with a point apiece, with McCleary having been the first woman in orange to raise a green flag.

Armagh had done well to go all square at the break but still faced an uphill task with an increasingly strong wind in their faces for the second period which made manufacturing scores exceptionally tricky and put the onus on the Orchard defence to stand firm.

O’Hanlon drew first blood by landing a free but a great run by the All Star went unrewarded as her shot suddenly veered off course as the umpires reached for their flags.

However young sub Shauna Grey, on for Carrickcruppen’s Marian McGuinness, struck a massive blow with an acute-angled goal that put a four point buffer between the teams, though Tipp cancelled it out by scoring three times without reply.

McCleary’s late free meant Tipp had to go for goal from a free of their own well into injury-time and the Armagh defence, who ultimately emerged from this match in credit in spite of the horror start, kept it out as the final whistle brought great relief.

ARMAGH: C McAlinden; C Morgan, L Brown, S Marley; S Reel, N Marley, C McCann; C Malone, C O’Hanlon (capt; 1-2); D Morgan, F McKenna, M McGuinness; N Henderson (0-3), S McCleary (0-2), M Tennyson (1-1).  Subs: S Grey (1-0) for McGuinness (half-time).


by Richard Bullick

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