MONAGHAN 1-11 ARMAGH 1-11
Richard Bullick at St Tiernach’s ParkCaroline O’Hanlon couldn’t convert one of the most straightforward frees of her magnificent career to snatch Armagh a last-gasp Group Two win over Monaghan in Clones.
With the teams level, Armagh’s greatest ever ladies footballer somehow missed from in front of the posts as the hooter brought an end to this absorbing opening game of the revamped TG4 Senior Championship.
A winner with the last kick of a fluctuating contest would have been the perfect finish for an Armagh team that had shown character in producing a fantastic fightback from five down at half-time, but there was no fairytale ending.
The shock O’Hanlon wide was the most stark of far too many missed chances which scuppered Orchard hopes of bouncing back from last month’s heavy Ulster decider defeat by getting their All Ireland campaign off to a winning start.
The former All Ireland Player of the Year had sent a penalty skimming over the crossbar a few minutes earlier on an afternoon when the Orchard crew’s wasteful finishing was always likely to cost them the reward an otherwise pleasing performance might have deserved.
O’Hanlon had hit the post with a free in a first half which saw her colleagues kick 2-6 worth of wides before a Monaghan goal in injury-time gave the hosts that five-point interval advantage in spite of facing into the breeze in the opening period.
For a team coming off the back of a 28-point pasting by Donegal in the Ulster final and missing double All Star forward Aimee Mackin through injury, it would have been easy to let the heads drop.
But the Orchard outfit fought hard and, buoyed by Blaithin Mackin finally raising a green flag in the 51st minute, they eventually drew level late on in spite of O’Hanlon not netting the penalty, before briefly edging ahead in injury-time.
Sub Kelly Mallon nailed a fine free from out on the left and then O’Hanlon landed one after Blaithin Mackin had a goal disallowed, but Tiarna Grimes missed a great chance to double Armagh’s advantage when she pushed past the right post after a threatening run.
Ellen McCarron kicked an equalising free for Monaghan but the Orchard had one last attack and when Lauren McConville was pulled down within comfortable range of the posts few would have bet against the hugely experiencd O’Hanlon knocking over the winning point.
However for so long this had felt like it was simply destined not to be the Orchard’s day and the triple All Star’s fluffed free confirmed those fears, though the draw may yet prove very valuable for Lorraine McCaffrey and Fionnuala McAtamney’s side.
Both teams will now play ladies gaelic’s most successful county, Cork, with whoever does best in those games assured of qualifying for the All Ireland quarter-finals, and the orangewomen will have the advantage of knowing how Monaghan have fared before facing the Rebelettes.
Monaghan and Cork clash this Saturday so the Armagh management will have a chance to watch their next opponents and have an extra week to prepare their team for a Galway game against the county which won an astonishing 11 out of 12 All Irelands up until 2016.
Armagh must set aside the frustrating failure to take that clearcut chance right at the end on Saturday just like they bounced back from the hurt and humiliation of the Ulster showpiece and showed real resilience in Clones after blowing good opportunities and falling a fair bit behind.
Ace markswoman Mackin’s failure to recover sufficiently from the leg injury which forced her off against Donegal was a big blow while vice-captain Mallon wasn’t fit to start either having received treatment several times during that Ulster final loss.
Experienced campaigner Marian McGuinness returned to a reshuffled line-up with Forkhill’s Megan Sheridan also stepping up, taking the number of clubs represented in the Armagh starting team to 11.
Deployed at full forward, Blaithin Mackin had two genuine goal chances inside the first three minutes but All Star goalkeeper Linda Martin got a hand to the first attempt and the second rolled wide either side of McKenna opening Armagh’s account with a free.
McCarron kicked an equalising score before the Orchard hit three wides in as many minutes through McKenna, Sharon Reel and Aoife McCoy and O’Hanlon hit the post with a long-range free before McKenna kicked an excellent one from wide on the left to put Armagh ahead again.
Ciara McAnespie bought a soft free against Armagh captain Caoimhe Morgan with which McCarron levelled matters and the diminutive Emyvale menance nudged Monaghan in front for the first time midway through the half following another wide from McCoy.
O’Hanlon quickly equalised again after winning the ball and slotting it over but Player of the Match Ciara McAnespie pointed twice more in the space of three minutes to put Monaghan two up.
McKenna was wide with a free followed by McConville from play and, although O’Hanlon halved the Orchard deficit with a free, Monaghan were soon awarded a baffling 45 and it led to a fourth point for McAnespie, who presented a tricky challenge for Morgan and Clodagh McCambridge.
Within a minute of Blaithin Mackin somehow rolling a shot from right to left just past the far post, Rosemary Courtney rubbed salt in the orangewomen’s wounds by netting at the other end in injury-time to put five between the teams.
Armagh got the start they wanted to the second half, O’Hanlon winning the ball in defence and McConville showing her strength to round off the resulting attack with a good point while being fouled.
O’Hanlon landed a free two minutes later and a Blaithin Mackin point followed the sinbinning of Hazel Kingham for fouling McKenna, but in between Armagh goalkeeper Caroline O’Hare had to pull off a brilliant low save from McCarron.
Mallon replaced McGuinness on 37 minutes and, although the Orchard crew were really getting into their stride, Rosemary Courtney and McCarron kicked frees either side of two wides by Monaghan before young Grimes got a good score for Armagh.
Armagh suffered a big blow when a softish free against Mairead Tennyson, which was converted by McCarron, also attracted a sinbinning but before she had sat down, Blaithin Mackin had hit the Monaghan net after a good ball in by Mallon.
It was suddenly game on and, although Eimear McAnespie responded promptly with a superb run and point followed by McKenna kicking an awful wide from a straightforward free, Mallon brilliantly stole the kickout and sent McCoy racing through on goal.
She was unceremoniously upended but unfortunately O’Hanlon’s penalty went over via the crossbar rather than into the net, though the midfielder did soon set up the equalising score by winning a relatively difficult free which Mallon, taking over the responsibility from McKenna, made the most of.
Frustratingly, Maggie Farrelly blew for a free in just as Blaithin Mackin netted what would have been a second Armagh goal in the last minute of normal time and the Orchard had to settle for O’Hanlon pointing it.
A few minutes earlier the referee had stopped play with Armagh attacking deep in opposition territory, even though the Monaghan player on the ground was well away from the action and didn’t appear to have a head injury.
The Grimes miss was also an important moment as she couldn’t round off a wonderful raid from deep with Maebh Moriarty, O’Hanlon, Morgan, McCoy and Sheridan combining to set up the St Paul’s prospect.
Armagh were boosted by Tennyson’s return and she made one flying foray deep into opposition territory but Monaghan got out only for McCarron to kick a wild wide at the other end with 33 seconds to go.
Defender Josie Fitzpatrick was sinbinned, Armagh had time for one more attack and, when the bustling McConville was blatantly taken around the neck, it seemed sure to be a match-winning free but there was disbelief as O’Hanlon, so often the Orchard hero and such an influential figure all afternoon, failed to add to her tally of five points.
MONAGHAN: L Martin; J Fitzpatrick, F Courtney, R McKenna; A McAnespie, S Courtney (capt), H Kingham; E McKenna, E McAnespie (0-1); R Courtney (1-1, 1f), M Atkinson, C Courtney; C McAnespie (0-4), N Callan, E McCarron (0-5, 4f). Subs used: E Woods for E McKenna (40mins), J Drury for Atkinson (48).
ARMAGH: C O’Hare; C Morgan (capt), M Moriarty, C McCambridge, S Marley; S Reel, M Tennyson, M Sheridan; T Grimes (0-1), C O’Hanlon (0-5; 0-3f, 0-1pen); M McGuinness, F McKenna (0-2, 2f), L McConville (0-1); A McCoy, B Mackin (1-1). Subs used: K Mallon (0-1, 1f) for McGuinness (37), R O’Reilly for Tennyson (64).
Referee: Maggie Farrelly (Cavan).