ARMAGH 4-6 TIPPERARY 3-10
Richard Bullick at Kinnegad
Armagh’s Lidl National League Division Two campaign has ended as it began, with a frustrating second half implosion against All Ireland Intermediate champions Tipperary which saw then snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Tipp had left Silverbridge with the win points at the end of January thanks to a spectacular Orchard collapse in the opening game of the season and there was a sinking sense of deja vu after Sunday’s semi-final.
Back then Armagh had a healthy eight-point lead overhauled and, this time, the Orchard crew were nine points ahead early in the second half at Kinnegad but eventually lost by a point as another Tipp purple patch proved their undoing.
Blaithin Mackin had netted a fourth Armagh goal straight after the resumption but Tipperary pulled back two points and then hit 1-3 without reply in a devastating two-minute spell late in the third quarter.
That all but wiped out the Orchard cushion and left them facing a tough fight into the elements against an increasingly confident Tipp team with their tails up and for whom winning has become second nature.
Tipperary’s only defeat since 2016 came a fortnight ago in the last regular league game against Waterford but that was with a relatively experimental line-up in a comparatively meaningless match.
It was ultimately a miserable birthday for Armagh ace Aimee Mackin, who unusually didn’t register a single score in the entire second half as Tipperary ended Orchard hopes of an immediate return to the top flight.
Unfortunate to be relegated last April, the orangewomen were keen to bounce back at the first attempt but will now have to try again next spring in a competitive section featuring either Tipperary or Cavan along with Armagh’s fellow losing semi-finalists Waterford plus Tyrone.
Victory in Kinnegad would have meant Armagh meeting their former manager James Daly’s Cavan in an all-Ulster Dublin decider for the Breffni brigade beat Waterford 1-8 to 0-8 in the other semi in Birr.
With the elder Mackin netting twice in the opening period, firstly from a penalty and then a wonderful finish, few would have bet against the double All Star completing another hat-trick to mark turning 21 even though Armagh had to play into the wind in the second half.
Although Armagh had struggled in the opening period to establish a comfortable buffer for facing into the elements, that Blaithin Mackin goal less than 20 seconds into the second half finally looked like giving them a bit of breathing space.
With Armagh joint managers Lorraine McCaffrey and Fionnuala McAtamney having the luxury of introducing Caroline O’Hanlon from the bench for the first time anyone can remember, there were high hopes of Orchard consolidation.
The triple All Star did point twice in quick succession early in the last quarter as Armagh briefly looked like turning the tide again in their favour but bringing O’Hanlon on didn’t have an exceptionally postive effect for her side.
She hasn’t trained with Armagh for more than a month, just got back from captaining Northern Ireland’s netballers at the Commonwealth Games in Australia on Thursday and played most of a British SuperLeague game for Manchester Thunder on Saturday evening.
So holding her back was probably prudent in the circumstances and the hope would have been that O’Hanlon could carry plenty of ball into that second half wind and use her experience to run down the clock with Armagh ahead, but things didn’t pan out that way thanks to the Tipperary tidal wave.
As expected, come throw-in Armagh had 12 positional switches compared to their published line-up but also one important personnel change with Forkhill’s Megan Sheridan replacing O’Hanlon in a reshuffled side.
O’Hanlon was listed to start in midfield with Blaithin Mackin, herself returning to the starting team after a trip overseas, but instead it was Fionnuala McKenna and Clodagh McCambridge who lined up at the outset.
Although shorter than their counterparts, the dependable pair can take satisfaction from the fact Armagh’s fourth goal, scored by Blaithin Mackin, came directly from them combining well to win the second half throw-in.
Aimee Mackin topped the Orchard charts for an eighth time in eight games this season but unusually scored only three times all afternoon, one of them the 13th minute penalty which was won by Aoife McCoy.
The offence was perhaps slightly less obvious than when a previous penalty claim was waved away two minutes earlier in favour of an ostensibly straightforward free which Kelly Mallon somehow missed.
Her failed attempt was eclipsed later by an awful free from Aimee Mackin, who weakly tapped the ball towards the goalkeeper from short range a minute after Tipperary had drawn level for the first time in more than half an hour’s play.
It was probably the worst strike of Aimee’s outstanding Orchard career to date and an ill-timed miss just after Tipperary’s star attacker Aisling Moloney had ghosted onto an Armagh kickout for Roisin Howard to net an equalising goal.
O’Hanlon hit the bar after a speculative lob from Lauren McConville who was then almost in for her second goal of the afternoon before McCoy’s third point put Armagh ahead again in the 59th minute.
That tally was the least Dromintee dynamo McCoy deserved for an afternoon full of effort and characteristically effective carrying but that woman Moloney cancelled it out from long range and what would prove Tipperary’s winning score quickly followed from sub Kate Davey.
Armagh had more than four minutes of injury-time, most of it accrued during a lengthy stoppage for treatment to Orchard captain Caoimhe Morgan following a sickening collision but they never really looked like getting another score.
Moloney was sinbinned in injury-time for a reckless challenge on O’Hanlon which might have earned a red card in rugby but it was too late to matter on an afternoon Armagh got on the wrong side of Wicklow referee Stephen McNulty too often, especially late in the first half.
Although punctuated a bit by the whistle this was an exciting game between two teams who would have been worthy finalists, and a cracking contest underpinned by unflinching commitment on both sides.
The ever-vocal captain Morgan led by heroic example for Armagh with some superb blocks, rejuvenated veteran Marian McGuinness continues to be the story of the season and was especially conspicuous in the first half linking well with new clubmate Sharon Reel on the right.
Armagh got off to the worst possible start, Tipperary’s Mairead Morrissey scoring a goal off the inside of the far post in the second minute quickly followed by a point from lively dual star Orla O’Dwyer as the rain swept in and the wind began gusting strongly.
The Mackin sisters combined in a flowing move which deserved a goal but the Tipperary keeper Lauren Fitzpatrick did well to deflect McCoy’s shot over for just a point and Aimee quickly got another from out on the right.
McCoy drove over her second score in the 10th minute and Mackin converted that penalty to put Armagh in front for the first time though another O’Dwyer point narrowed the gap to one almost immediately.
Morgan produced a brilliant block in her own goalmouth but Moloney landed a long-range equalising score and Tipperary rattled the crossbar before the Mackins combined again for Aimee to finish clinically low to the net.
Armagh had another let-off when the ball bounced on their crossbar but they had the last word of the half when Crossmaglen’s McConville, who had barely been in the game in the opening period, got through for a much-needed goal to make it 3-3 to 1-3 at the break.
McCaffrey and McAtamney’s side lived dangerously after Blaithin Mackin had joined the goal rush at the start of the second half but there were three wides and two crucial chargedowns either side of a Tipp free from Moloney.
Armagh had a significant goal chance but McCoy’s lay-off to McConville lacked conviction and the keeper just got there first and four minutes later Tipperary had posted that unanswered 1-3 at the other end as the orangewomen got hemmed in.
Although they stemmed the tide and had a boost when Morgan was able to continue after treatment midway through the half, from there it felt like it was going to be a long afternoon for Armagh.
Tipperary skipper Samantha Lambert was ticked for flattening McCoy just before O’Hanlon kicked a point and fisted another a minute later after being fouled by the influential O’Dwyer.
That put Armagh three ahead again but Tipperary were handed the equalising goal on a plate and, although the women in orange got their noses in front one last time through McCoy, the hope proved false.
Bitterly disappointed Armagh must now regroup for their Ulster Senior Championship semi-final at the start of June against a Cavan side who by then may have secured first division status for next season, though Tipperary will prove formidable opponents for Daly’s side.
ARMAGH: C O’Hare; S Marley, C Morgan (capt), R O’Reilly; S Reel, M Tennyson, M Sheridan; C McCambridge, F McKenna; M McGuinness, K Mallon, B Mackin (1-0); A McCoy (0-3), A Mackin (2-1, 1-0pen), L McConville (1-0). Sub used: C O’Hanlon (0-2) for Mallon (34mins).
TIPPERARY: L Fitzpatrick; S Condon, M Curley, E Buckley; B Condon, S Lambert (capt), C Condon; J Grant, G O’Brien (1-0); AR Kennedy, M Morrissey (1-0) N Lonergan; O O’Dwyer (0-3), A Moloney (0-6, 3f), R Howard (1-0). Subs used: K Davey (0-1) for O’Brien (45), R O’Donnell for Condon (54), S Everard for Lonergan (60).
Referee: Stephen McNulty (Wicklow).