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Captain Caroline O’Hanlon hit a late winner against Tipperary to secure Armagh a fifth straight victory in the Tesco Homegrown National League and guarantee a home semi-final later in the month.

There was just over a minute remaining when Armagh’s All Star skipper converted the straightforward free to break the hearts of a spirited Tipp team who had been ahead several times during an Easter Sunday cliff-hanger.

But in the end James Daly’s understrength side emerged victorious in Silverbridge in spite of stalwart wing back Sharon Reel joining the long list of established stars on the sidelines.

The Killeavy woman was taken to hospital with a suspected cheekbone fracture midway through the first half leaving the home defence, already without last autumn’s All Ireland Intermediate final Player of the Match Laura Brown, a bit vulnerable.

The Armagh rearguard also missed the support normally received from midfield dynamo Sinead McCleary, currently in Malta on a midwifery placement, but ultimately managed to restrict Tipp to 2-6.

At the other end, Armagh Harps star Fionnuala McKenna top scored for the second match running, a free in either half sandwiching a great goal on 20 minutes when she stormed through the visiting defence and clinically beat the keeper.

That lifted the home side’s spirits straight after losing Reel and Armagh also responded in perfect fashion to the concession of both Tipperary goals before and after half-time.

The soft first one on 29 minutes left Armagh facing the prospect of turning into the wind with a two-point deficit but a scintillating spell produced four points in the prolonged period of injury-time that resulted from the lengthy stoppage for the unfortunate Reel.

Captain O’Hanlon, who as a doctor had been involved in initially treating her stricken team-mate, set the tone with a superb solo score which featured a 70-yard run and was followed by a point apiece from schoolgirl Niamh Henderson, Marian McGuinness of Carrickcruppen and Derrynoose’s Kelly Mallon.

Although Armagh were hit with another Tipp goal less than a minute into the second half, they again hit back immediately with a three-point salvo from McGuinness, back in action after a family bereavement, McKenna and Henderson.

That restored the home team’s two-point lead but Tipp got back on even terms by early in the final quarter and equalised again with five minutes remaining after Henderson’s third point had nudged Armagh in front once more.

The imposing McKenna, who had nearly netted a second goal and was wide with a free from an acute angle on the left, got Armagh going forward with a storming run that led to a period of sustained pressure.

When the chance came, it was slightly to the right of the posts so the responsibility fell to O’Hanlon rather than McKenna and the Orchard legend made no mistake in clinching victory.

Already assured of a home semi-final, promotion-chasing Armagh round off their programme next weekend with a trip to Longford, who will be buoyed by their victory over earlier league leaders Leitrim and want to avenge last September’s All Ireland semi-final loss to Daly’s ladies.


by Richard Bullick

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