Armagh played some simply magnificent football in perfect conditions at the Athletic Grounds as they trounced traditional rivals Tyrone by an astonishing 24 points in the NFL Division Two derby.
ARMAGH 6-14 TYRONE 0-8
Richard Bullick at the Athletic Grounds
It was glorious stuff in the sunshine from the Orchard crew who served up a superb performance on their first outing at Armagh headquarters this season and took their goal tally to 13 on successive Sundays.
All Star Aimee Mackin became the fifth player to raise a green flag for the Orchard outfit by only the 22nd minute of what was a dream display by Armagh against their nearest neighbours.
In spite of playing into the wind in that opening period, Armagh led by 5-6 to 0-4 at the interval and added 1-8 in the second half, including late points for young subs Niamh Reel and Tiarna Grimes.
On an afternoon when there were nine different scorers in Orchard jerseys it was encouraging that Aimee Mackin kicked only two points of Armagh’s first 4-5, though she did finish as the team’s top-scorer for a fourth match out of four this season, with 2-4.
Likewise the only forward who didn’t get on the scoresheet here was Armagh’s 2017 Player of the Year Aoife McCoy, who had hit 2-3 in a purple patch the previous Sunday against Sligo and often posts significant tallies.
The damage done during Armagh’s blistering start was worth its weight in gold and left Tyrone facing an exceptionally difficult task even though there was so much time remaining on the clock.
That tough job was rendered impossible by the good Orchard defending which complemented their red hot attacking and in particular the stunning goalkeeping performance from Mullaghabawn’s Caroline O’Hare.
Only converted from her original role as a forward last season, O’Hare pulled off a series of absolutely superb saves, some at very close-range, to thwart Tyrone’s attempts to get back into the game and she was also reassuringly safe under the high ball.
As well as the players, credit for this highly impressive performance from Armagh must go to new joint managers Lorraine McCaffrey and Fionnuala McAtamney, who went with a positive approach rather than giving Tyrone time on the ball.
Although Armagh’s attacking game will rightly get plenty of plaudits, the Orchard defence can also take great satisfaction from restricting Tyrone to just four points in each half, including from frees.
Stalwart Sharon Reel’s experience, physical presence and good organisation is serving Armagh well in her relatively new role in the middle of a strong. half back line where she is flanked by 2014 All Star corner back Mairead Tennyson and Clodagh McCambridge.
The new management have moved McCambridge from full back to wing back, allowing captain Caoimhe Morgan to revert to the No 3 jersey she relinquished when on maternity absence in 2016.
The skipper’s sister Sarah Marley, who particularly relished Sunday’s victory having missed Armagh’s win over Tyrone in the 2014 Ulster Senior Championship quarter-final due to a broken ankle, was always likely to fill one of the corner back berths.
With Tennyson and McCambridge both being deployed further forward, Carrickcruppen’s Rebecca O’Reilly, who played under McCaffrey and McAtamney at club level, is currently holding down the other starting spot in the full back line.
However with Shane O’Neill’s skipper Louise Kenny, last season’s regular wing back starter Megan Sheridan and Shauna Grey all coming off the bench on Sunday and Marian McGuinness having played much of her county football in the half back line, there is significant competition for places in the Orchard defence even before Niamh Marley returns from long-term injury.
Although St Peter’s prospect Tiarna Grimes was listed to start against Tyrone alongside Caroline O’Hanlon, McGuinness unsurprisingly kept her place in the team, with Fionnuala McKenna continuing in midfield.
The upshot of that was that the notional big six of the Mackin sisters, McKenna, Kelly Mallon, McCoy and Lauren McConville have, for a variety of reasons, yet to play together in the same forward division for Armagh.
Blaithin Mackin came into the team at the start of the 2016 National League campaign but the then new manager Ronan Clarke deployed McKenna at centre half back that spring and then McConville and McCoy headed to America for the summer.
Mallon was sidelined for all of last season, McConville made a delayed start to the current campaign and, for the last two matches, McGuinness has been at wing forward with McKenna in midfield.
Her attacking credentials may be less heralded than those of the others but experienced campaigner McGuinness has had the distinction of outscoring her big buddy O’Hanlon in the last two games and it was the 32-year-old who showed a killer instinct in netting the Orchard’s opening goal against Tyrone.
Armagh’s imposing tally of 6-14 and winning margin of 24 points was a tribute to the Orchard crew’s cohesion, clinical insincts and determination across the entire team to keep pushing on and maintaining standards long after the game was well won.
Armagh’s marking was very effective for the most part and the home players looked comfortable on the ball regardless of the numbers on their backs against a Tyrone team who came into this match above their hosts in the Division Two table.
Both these sides had hammered Sligo away and lost at home to Tipperary but the Red Hand women were ahead of their Orchard counterparts courtesy of a home win over Waterford compared to an Orchard draw with Cavan on the road.
However Armagh had shown real resilience that afternoon in claiming a share of the spoils in Templeport rather than sliding to a second defeat in two outings this season and they then cut loose against this section’s weakest side Sligo next time out.
Few would have expected another Armagh scoring spree against Tyrone in what most pundits predicted was likely to be a close contest, though the venue might have been seen as a good Orchard omen.
Last time these teams met in the Athletic Grounds an Armagh side which had spent that spring playing two National League levels below their visitors, upset Tyrone by an emphatic 15-point margin in that 2014 provincial championship quarter-final on their way to claiming a first Ulster title for seven seasons.
This match might not have been of quite the same significance but it was far from meaningless either given Armagh’s need for the league points, their desire to do the Athletic Grounds justice and the extra edge which comes with playing Tyrone.
Although Armagh hammered Tyrone 3-20 to 0-3 in Drumquin in the opening game of 2016 under Ronan Clarke, their hosts have rebuilt from the sorry state they were in at that stage.
Two years ago troubled Tyrone were whitewashed on their way to relegation from the NFL’s top flight but since then they have reached an All Ireland Intermediate final, brought through an influx of fresh talent from their Ulster Minor Championship-winning side and taken heart from St Macartan’s winning the provincial club championship.
So they were regarded as dangerous opponents but Armagh began with real intent, O’Hanlon attacking from the throw-in and winning a free which Aimee Mackin converted inside the opening minute, though that score was soon cancelled out after a slick Tyrone attack was rewarded with a Grainne Rafferty point from play.
McKenna nudged Armagh back in front with a free and Aimee Mackin hit a wide but Tyrone fluffed their kickout and the Shane O’Neills star showed alertness in feeding McGuinness who went through to finish with conviction.
O’Hare made her first fantastic save at the feet of the great Gemma Begley, who had been played in by a sublime ball by Maria Cavanan, captain Morgan mopping up, and her sibling Sarah Marley then forced rising star Chloe McCaffrey to over-carry.
Begley kicked a free but Aimee Mackin pointed in reply after an imperious 90-metre run by O’Hanlon and then, after Carrickcruppen’s Rebecca O’Reilly won a dropping ball on her own end line, a sweeping Armagh attack led to the hosts’ second goal.
It came from McKenna following good work from O’Hanlon, Aimee Mackin, McConville and McCoy, but Armagh refused to sit back on what was already becoming a healthy lead.
McConville added a point and then O’Hanlon plucked a long-range Begley free from under the Orchard crossbar in yet another example of small moments which the orangewomen made go their way, while Reel and others typified Armagh’s physical commitment.
Canavan, niece of former Red Hand captain Peter, kicked a free but O’Reilly produced a great chargedown on the next Tyrone attack, O’Hanlon had a free moved forward in her own half and launched another raid from which the ever determined McConville netted.
Mallon finished to the roof of the net a minute later and although Tyrone captain Neamh Woods made a great run, Canavan missed the subsequent free and a great burst by McConville led to a McKenna point.
Armagh’s fifth goal was a tremendous team effort from deep defence featuring the lively Tennyson, Sarah Marley and McCambridge twice each, and Mallon before Aimee Mackin cut in along the end line on the left to deliver a typically lethal finish.
Canavan drew another blank from a free and then there was more dream football from Armagh with Tennyson, Sarah Marley, Blaithin Mackin and McCambridge combining from the back on one occasion and next time Morgan herself striding forward off a return pass from O’Hanlon after firstly showing her experience in cutting out a threating Tyrone ball in.
O’Hanlon kicked her opening point of the afternoon and O’Hare had two good moments at the other end before pulling off a wonder save from McCaffrey after another great run by Woods.
With Tyrone so badly behind, Begley felt she had to go for goal from close range deep in injury-time but fell between two stoools and drilled wide at head height as Armagh went in 17 points up.
Tyrone began brightly in the second half with a Canavan free and point from midfielder Meabh Mallon either side of a wide and it took great team defending from Armagh followed by another top-class save from O’Hare at the feet of Begley to stop them making more inroads.
The match programme had Carrickcruppen’s Anna Carr down to start in the Armagh goals but this performance from O’Hare could see her hold onto the No 1 jersey for the foreseeable future.
O’Hare climbed above Begley to claim a high ball and then, after McGuinness gave way to young Grimes, Mallon leaned back and chipped over a wonderfully nonchalant point.
Aimee Mackin added a nice left-footed effort a minute later and although McKenna was wide with a free, Begley’s withdrawal was another boost for Armagh just before Aimee Mackin and Canavan traded points.
The battle between Begley and Morgan was a timeless treat which recalled a bygone era but uncharacteristically the Carrickmore women’s solitary scoreboard contribution was one free and she gave way to Peter Canavan’s daughter, Aine, midway through the second half.
O’Hanlon hit her second point following good work by McConville and, although Mallon kicked a wide, Blaithin Mackin joined the list of scorers with a point to make it 5-11 to 0-7.
Niamh Reel and Kenny replaced McCoy and O’Reilly respectively with the Silverbridge schoolgirl soon setting up Aimee Mackin for her second goal just before Dromintee’s Grey took over from Blaithin Mackin.
Canavan and McKenna exchanged scores to maintain Armagh’s 22-point advantage and two more Orchard changes saw Sheridan and Niamh Murphy introduced in place of Tennyson and Aimee Mackin.
There was time for home subs Reel and Grimes to complete the rout, the former then leaving the field to let young Shane O’Neills forward Aoibheann Jones take the field as Armagh’s seventh sub of a memorable afternoon.
All Ireland Intermediate champions Tipperary maintained their 100 percent record with a notable away win, by 1-13 to 3-4, against former Armagh manager James Daly’s previously unbeaten Cavan as they seek to emulate the Orchard outfit’s feat of back-to-back promotions in 2014 and 2015.
Waterford are now in second place courtesy of a 2-13 to 2-5 home win against pointless Sligo while Clare warmed up for this Sunday’s visit of Armagh with an agonising 3-11 to 3-10 loss away to a Laois side who were recording their first victory of the year.
Free-scoring Armagh, whose points difference is the best in the division, have climbed above Cavan into third place on points difference with Sunday’s defeat pushing Tyrone down into fifth place, the position they finished in last season.
ARMAGH: C O’Hare; S Marley, C Morgan (capt), R O’Reilly; M Tennyson, S Reel, C McCambridge; F McKenna (1-3, 1f), C O’Hanlon (0-2); M McGuinness (1-0), K Mallon (1-1), B Mackin (0-1); A Mackin (2-4, 1f), A McCoy, L McConville (1-1) Subs used: T Grimes (0-1) for McGuinness (38mins), L Kenny for O’Reilly (52), N Reel (0-1) for McCoy (52), S Grey for B Mackin (54), M Sheridan for Tennyson (57), N Murphy for A Mackin (57), A Jones for McConville (60).
TYRONE: S Lynch; E Brennan, J Barrett, C Conway; S McCarroll, E Mulgrew, N Woods (capt); M Mallon (0-1), EJ Gervin; N Hughes, M Canavan (0-4, 2f), E Hegarty; C McCaffrey (0-1), G Begley (0-1, 1f), G Rafferty (0-1). Subs used: N McGirr for Conway (24mins), C McQuaid for Hegarty (29), E Smyth for Hughes (44), A Canavan for Begley (44), A McHugh for Rafferty (50), A Tuohey for Mulgrew (54).
Referee: Brendan Rice (Down).