Historic win for Orchard
Tuesday, 7 February 2017
MAGNIFICENT Armagh made history on Sunday as they overcame All-Ireland champions Cork for the first time ever with a superb performance at Clonmore.
This was a thoroughly deserved victory for the heroic Orchard outfit over the current National League titleholders who have now won six All Irelands on the trot and 11 in the last 12 years.
Sean O'Kane's side led throughout an absorbing game and never really looked like being overhauled by the most successful county in the history of ladies gaelic football.
Few would have given Armagh much chance of scalping near invincible Cork for the first time here based upon the previous Sunday's opening round of fixtures in this year's Lidl National League.
Seven days before the Clonmore clash, Armagh were well beaten 4-10 to 0-11 by newly promoted Donegal while Cork crushed Munster neighbours Kerry on an ominously one-sided 5-17 to 1-11 scoreline.
But beating Cork was the perfect response and the orangewomen won with a tremendous team effort featuring some wonderful football, admirable belief and unstinting hard work for the full 60 minutes.
All Star Aimee Mackin led the way with five points but Armagh had a healthy spread of six scorers on an afternoon when all of their tally except a solitary free came from open play. By contrast, Cork scored only five points from play all afternoon as the Orchard defence emphatically put the previous Sunday's Convoy nightmare behind them.
The margin might have been even wider considering Carrickcruppen pair Caroline O'Hanlon and Sinead Finnegan both popped over points when through on goal in either half but Armagh were content to build brick by brick towards this historic result.
Armagh's great resolve ensured that they held their nerve to get over the line in a close encounter rather than being daunted by Cork's reputation or burdened by the weight of history.
It was a particularly proud day for ferocious Orchard captain Caoimhe Morgan, harshly sinbinned during Armagh's agonising one-point loss to Cork in the 2006 All Ireland final, whose very vocal leadership supplemented an inspiring personal performance.
The other two Orchard survivors from that Croke Park showpiece, Morgan's captaincy predecessors and fellow All Stars Caroline O'Hanlon and Mairead Tennyson were also influential figures as Armagh made history.
O'Kane rung the changes after the Donegal defeat with three personnel alterations, one necessitated by Niamh Marley not being fit to start due to the hamstring strain that forced her off last day, and nine positional switches from the Convoy line-up.
It was again an unfamiliar formation on paper but Armagh were wonderfully fluid with so many adaptable players looking comfortable on the ball and always willing to work hard in undertaking defensive duties.
The energetic support play was also testament to the Orchard crew's work ethic, which, combined with the seamless manner in which individuals interchanged, enabled Armagh to keep probing with relentless recycling until opportunities presented themselves.
Especially considering the psychological challenge of playing Cork, Armagh showed pleasing patience, composure and cohesion with that Donegal defeat not seeming to have knocked confidence in the Orchard ranks.
Cork kicked three wides early on before Aimee Mackin opened the Orchard account and O'Hanlon added another 60 seconds later after recalled clubmate Finnegan had won a ball out left and played her in on goal, one of three decent changes Armagh had to raise green flags.
McKenna kicked a free before the visitors finally registered their opening point in the 12th minute and the orangewomen went on to lead 7-3 at the break, the half ending with the ever-lively Lauren McConville rounding off some great approach play.
Both McKenna and Mackin had got their second scores in between and Armagh were well worth their interval advantage not least as a reward for great team work on both sides of the ball.
Veterans Morgan, Tennyson and Sharon Reel along with young guns Clodagh McCambridge and Megan Sheridan all made telling interventions to break up Cork attacks, with Armagh always seeming to have spare players to help relieve the pressure and the hosts frequently turned defence into threatening attack in the blink of an eye.
The likes of wing back Blaithin Mackin, O'Hanlon and McConville repeatedly poured forward with real conviction while Aoife McCoy also typically carried with real relish in spite of a couple of heavy knocks as did Niamh Marley when introduced early in the second half for Aveen Donaldson.
Two quickfire Cork points closed the gap to two in the third quarter and O'Hanlon had to catch a stinging shot on her goal-line. Although Eimear Scally cancelled out scores from Mackin and Finnegan, Aimee landed a brilliant point from an acute angle of the left and sub Eve Lavery also raised a white flag.
O'Kane elected to shut up shop in the closing stages, introducing defenders Shauna Grey, Colleen McKenna and Marian McGuinness for forwards McConville, Niamh Coleman and McCoy as time ticked away.
Cork closed the gap to a single goal margin with another free from Scally but Aimee Mackin's cool, curling effort following O'Hanlon's great run restored the Orchard cushion and, although the champions had the last word with a third Scally free, Armagh held on for a famous and deserved victory.
ARMAGH: C O'Hare; C Morgan (capt), C McCambridge, M Sheridan; B Mackin, M Tennyson, S Reel; C O'Hanlon (0-1), A Donaldson; L McConville (0-1), A Mackin (0-5), N Coleman; A McCoy, S Finnegan (0-2) , F McKenna (0-2, 1f). Subs: N Marley for Donaldson (36 mins), E Lavery (0-1) for McKenna (41), C Marley for Finnegan (52), S Grey for Coleman (58), C McKenna for McConville (58), M McGuinness for McCoy (61).
CORK: M O'Brien; M Ambrose, R Phelan, M Duggan; S Cotter, R O'Sullivan, S Kelly; N Cotter, A Hutchings; L Coppinger, B O'Sullivan, O Farmer (0-1); E Scally (0-5, 3f), C O'Sullivan (capt; 0-1), O Finn (0-2, 1f). Subs used: J O'Shea, E Meaney, M Corkery.
Referee: Brendan Rice (Down).
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