Ladies facing Farney showdown
Tuesday, 4 April 2017
ARMAGH will have a second chance to secure their top flight status in the Lidl National League after the weekend's defeat by Monaghan in Clones condemned them to a Division One relegation play-off against the same opposition.
MONAGHAN LADIES ...2-15
ARMAGH LADIES ...2-12
The all-Ulster showdown is scheduled to go ahead this Sunday at a neutral venue after a narrow win for Mayo ended the possibility of a three-way tie at the bottom between teams with two wins each.
The Orchard had a slightly superior points difference to Monaghan, while the Farney women would have benefited from head-to-head being used as the tie-breaker criteria but the LGFA favour play-offs to settle relegation issues.
With this crucial last league game being staged in front of a significant crowd in Ulster headquarters as a curtain-raiser to the Monaghan men's match against Dublin in NFL Division One, it had a distinct Championship feel to it.
The second installment may not have such a grand setting or large audience but the stakes will be even higher with both teams now at the point of no return in terms of their first division status.
Last Sunday was do-or-die for Paula Cunningham's Monaghan whose only previous victory in the current campaign had come at home to Mayo and unfortunately Armagh mistakes made it easier for them to grab the lifeline on offer.
This St Tiernach's Park match was something of a tale of two keepers with Armagh rookie Caroline O'Hare - a recently converted full forward - letting in two nightmare goals and Monaghan legend Linda Martin pulling off a series of superb saves at the other end.
Those soft first half concessions meant the orange women were always chasing the game, which lured them into going for goal too early and too often against All Star Martin, who has earned her reputation as the best shot-stopper in Ireland.
She broke Orchard hearts with her string of top-class saves and, although several shots were straight at her or lacked power, there is little doubt that Armagh would have hit the net at least once or twice had their hosts had an average goalkeeper.
While Monaghan were able to bring in Martin and fellow All Star Cathriona McConnell - who top-scored with 1-5 - as two of three alterations to their published line-up, Armagh's late change saw them take the field without one of their most influential figures, Aoife McCoy.
The Dromintee dynamo's exceptional carrying was a big inspiration in the away win over Dublin but she hurt her knee last time out against Kerry and couldn't take any part in this Monaghan match.
Her withdrawal paved the way for Fionnuala McKenna to return to the team after being dropped against Kerry for the first time in her 70-match Orchard career and an improved performance earned the Harps skipper the full hour.
The other change to the initial line-up against Kerry saw former captain Mairead Tennyson return to the Orchard defence with Carrickcruppen full forward Sinead Finnegan the player to make way in the resulting reshuffle.
There were several surprises positionally in the Armagh side including defender Niamh Marley wearing a double-digit jersey for the first time ever and she marked her centre half forward debut with only the second goal of her Orchard career.
The other one came on her birthday on the corresponding Sunday last year as Armagh defeated Dublin for the first time and her powerful performance here deserved to be rewarded with another notable result.
There is no reason however why she can't have belated birthday celebrations this Sunday for Armagh are certainly capable of getting a positive result in the rematch and have nothing daunting to fear facing Monaghan again.
There were also impressive performances from young full back Clodagh McCambridge, marking Ciara McAnespie, old warhorse Sharon Reel typically put her body on the line and Aimee Mackin top-scored with six points though shooting was sometimes a poor option.
Armagh's afternoon had begun brightly as they scored three times in a row from play after Mackin had missed an early free ahead of McConnell converting one at the other end.
O'Hanlon equalised for Armagh and Mackin kicked the next two scores before late inclusion Shauna Coyle pulled one back and Ellen McCarron levelled matters early in the second quarter.
Aimee Mackin's chip nudged Armagh back in front but then disaster struck as O'Hare tamely tipped into her own net from what should have been a regulation catch or punch clear and Grainne McNally rubbed salt in the wounds with a follow-up point.
O'Hanlon pointed again and Martin did well to tip a skimming shot from Aimee Mackin over the bar and McConnell cancelled that one out before Tennyson struck the post after surging forward from defence.
A goal then would have put Armagh ahead but instead they went in five behind as O'Hare failed to prevent a faltering free from McConnell dropping into the net in injury-time, though in fairness she may have been a bit unsighted by a defender.
McCarron extended Monaghan's advantage to a two-goal margin with the first of her five second half points within 30 seconds of the resumption and the hosts scored 10 times in that last half hour.
Armagh won the second half by posting 2-6 but for most of it they struggled to get the deficit down below five as Monaghan managed to reply each time the Orchard got a score in spite of having Coyle sin binned.
McKenna kicked a good point but Armagh lived dangerously at the other end and the home team edged seven ahead before Niamh Marley emphatically punched to the net to restore Orchard hope.
McConnell and Caoimhe Mohan widened the gap again and although McAnespie cancelled out a Mackin point, O'Hanlon's 58th minute goal set up a frenetic finale with Armagh knowing a draw would be as good as a win in keeping them up at Monaghan's expense.
O'Hanlon had a free fairly close in and drove the ball low for goal but it was turned away and Monaghan went upfield for a point which meant Mackin's injury-time free was just a consolation score. But it's still all to play for this Sunday in what should be a cracking contest.
MONAGHAN: L Martin; Rachel McKenna, J Fitzpatrick, S Coyle (0-1); A McAnespie, S Courtney, G McNally (0-1); C Courtney, E McAnespie; L McEnaney, E McCarron (0-6), C McConnell (1-5, 3f); C McAnespie (1-1), C Mohan (0-1), R Courtney. Subs: Rebecca McKenna for Rachel McKenna (28 mins), L Jones for McEnaney (58).
ARMAGH: C O'Hare; C Morgan (capt), C McCambridge, S Marley; M Sheridan, M Tennyson, S Reel; N Coleman, C O'Hanlon (1-2); A Mackin (0-6, 2f), N Marley (1-0), F McKenna (0-3, 2f), S Grey, B Mackin, L McConville (0-1). Subs: A Mulholland for Grey (41), S Finnegan for B Mackin (51).
Referee: Colm McManus (Meath).
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