Sports

ORCHARD HOPES CRUSHED BY DONEGAL

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

ORCHARD HOPES CRUSHED BY DONEGAL thumbnail

ARMAGH 4-8 DONEGAL 9-21
Richard Bullick at Brewster Park

Deadly duo Yvonne McMonagle and Geraldine McLaughlin plundered a magnificent seven goals between them as holders Donegal tore Armagh apart in Sunday's Ulster Senior Championship final at Brewster Park.
With Orchard hopes of claiming their fourth Ulster title long gone, all Armagh had to fight for during 11 tormenting minutes of injury-time was to avoid the indignity of the Donegal goal tally reaching double figures or their total score breaking the half-century barrier.
In the end, with Donegal down to 12 players, neither of these humiliations happened but Armagh still left the field shell-shocked and crestfallen after their eagerly-awaited return to the Ulster showpiece had turned into an incredibly chastening experience.
Chasing a third provincial crown in four seasons, first division Donegal went into the big game as justifiably firm favourites but spirits in the Orchard camp were high after they had come from four down at the interval to eclipse Cavan in the semi-final.
However, Donegal had hammered Monaghan by the emphatic margin of 14 points in the second semi and, on these Ulster Championship showings, must be regarded as very realistic contenders for All Ireland glory later in the year.
The Orchard outfit found themselves up against a physically imposing side who displayed great team-work, were clinical up front and had their tails up throughout the second half after two goals in 30 seconds just before the break completely changed a hitherto close contest.
Donegal were six up after the first quarter but battling Armagh had levelled matters by the 21st minute with a well-taken Kelly Mallon goal followed by an Aimee Mackin penalty and were just three behind after the latter pointed in the 28th minute.
But then came Donegal's double whammy, a well-worked goal rolled home by Eilish Ward and a woodwork rebound 30 seconds later buried by Niamh Hegarty, followed up by a couple more scores to leave a daunting 12 points between the teams at the interval.
From there it was going to be uphill for the women in orange but things just went from bad to worse as Armagh managed to raise the white flag only once in the last half hour to go with a Caroline O'Hanlon penalty and goal by Blaithin Mackin, who had also kicked a good first half point.
Tyrone referee Brian McCallion actually awarded three penalties to the Orchard crew but Aimee Mackin had her second effort saved by the Donegal goalkeeper before leaving the field injured to round off a painfully forgettable first Ulster final appearance for the Camlough girl.
A prolific forward for club and county, renowned markswoman Mackin had topped the Orchard charts in all nine Armagh matches so far this season but she failed to register a single score from play in Enniskillen.
Her only scoreboard contributions were converting two left-footed frees, having regained those duties from O'Hanlon since the semi-final, and driving Armagh's opening penalty award into the top left corner.
It was a disappointing performance from a player with two All Stars to her name, with several very wild wides early in the second half when Armagh needed cool heads and to make each chance count, though the injury undoubtedly didn't help.
The 21-year-old is one of the most famed fowards in Ireland but was well overshadowed here by Donegal's much more experienced pairing of McLaughlin and, in particular, McMonagle.
All of McMonagle's 4-6 came from play while McLaughlin finished with 3-4 of her own in spite of playing second fiddle to her strike partner on an afternoon Donegal had a spread of eight separate scorers.
Armagh's most accomplished player O'Hanlon led the way for her team on the scoreboard, clinically netting the third penalty to supplement three imperious points from play and numerous threatening runs.
Even though she had played a British SuperLeague netball match in London the previous evening, shining as Manchester Thunder won at Surrey Storm to confirm their top four play-off place, O'Hanlon looked full of energy and showed her class in midfield.
Although troubled by a lower leg injury which required treatment on several occasions from early on, Mallon made her presence felt up front for Armagh, scoring one goal, winning her team's first penalty, and hitting the post low down late on.
Although scoreless, Crossmaglen's Lauren McConville fought ferociously until the bitter end, taking plenty of physical punishment for the Orchard cause on a day Donegal had three players sinbinned in the last quarter and four in total.
It was a tough game for captain Caoimhe Morgan and her experienced Orchard defence though perhaps Sharon Reel's hard-nosed physicality could have been deployed against big McMonagle as it has on occasions in the past.
Top-scorer with six points when outsiders Armagh overcame champions Monaghan in the decider four years ago, the ineffectual Fionnuala McKenna was also subbed early with her replacement Marian McGuinness injecting some much-needed urgency.
Armagh goalkeeper Caroline O'Hare made a brilliant point-blank save in the 12th minute with Katy Herron right through but ended up picking the ball out of her net nine times as Donegal showed how ruthless they can be.
The gap grew to 28 by the finish and Armagh had an understandably lengthy huddle at one end after the final whistle before dutifully trooping back to watch Karen Guthrie lift the trophy.
As Donegal celebrated it felt a long time since the Orchard had taken the lead inside 60 seconds through an Aimee Mackin free, but McMonagle had hit 1-1 by the end of the third minute and they were six up when Armagh had a goal disallowed because the referee had just blown for a free.
Mackin put over the reasonably difficult free and then Mallon finished to the net with great composure from a narrow angle after the Donegal goalkeeper was caught well outfield and Armagh moved the ball left to the Harps player.
Armagh raised their second green flag in just three minutes when Mallon was hauled down after a magnificent clean catch inside and Mackin brought her team level from the penalty spot.
McLaughlin came up with a goal and two points while captain Guthrie got in on the act too but Armagh hit fine scores from O'Hanlon, Blaithin Mackin and Mallon to trail by just three again.
Herron extended the gap to four before those two Donegal goals in the 30th minute and, with the Orchard outfit understandably reeling, the champions added two follow-up points to make it 4-13 to 2-7 at half-time.
Armagh had scored five unanswered points in the first six minutes of the second period against Cavan and, needing something similar here, did begin brightly but without tangible reward.
Their flourish was short-lived for Donegal got back in their stride and kept pulling further ahead, with Mackin's saved penalty after a great run from O'Hanlon just rubbing salt in the Orchard crew's wounds.
McMonagle completed her hat-trick of goals and fellow dangerwoman McLaughlin joined her in that exclusive club towards the end as not even the introduction of five substitutes by Donegal or those three sinbinnings gave Armagh much respite.
O'Hanlon did tuck away a penalty won by McConville and, although Mallon was denied her second goal by the upright, Blaithin Mackin did raise a fourth green flag for Armagh with a nice finish in injury-time.
It was scant consolation though and Armagh have four weeks to recover from this crushing defeat before facing group games against Cork and Monaghan in the first phase of the revamped All Ireland Championship, with the top two qualifying for the quarter-finals.
ARMAGH: C O'Hare; S Marley, M Moriarty, C Morgan (capt); S Reel, C McCambridge, M Tennyson; T Grimes, C O'Hanlon (1-3; 1-0pen); B Mackin (1-1), F McKenna, K Mallon (1-1); A Mackin (1-2; 1-0 pen, 2f), A McCoy (0-1), L McConville. Subs used: M Sheridan for S Reel (38mins), M McGuinness for McKenna (43), N Reel for A Mackin (51), S Grey for Marley (59), N Murphy for Mallon (61).
DONEGAL: R McCafferty; T Doherty, N McLaughlin, E Gallagher; T McCafferty, C Hegarty, D Foley; K Herron (0-4), A McDonnell (0-1); K Guthrie (0-1), N Hegarty (1-1), SJ McDonald (0-2); G McLaughlin (3-4, 1f), Y McMonagle (4-6), E Ward (1-2). Subs used: R Friel for N Hegarty (46), AM McGlynn for Foley (58), B Gallagher for Ward (58), K McKinney for Doherty (51), B McLaughlin for McDonald (61).
Referee: Brian McCallion (Tyrone).

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