Armagh made it three wins out of three this season as they retained top place in NFL Division Two with a convincing victory over worthy Waterford opponents.
WATERFORD 1-8 ARMAGH 3-14
The hosts had begun the weekend in second spot in the table and knew a third consecutive victory against Armagh would have been enough to leap-frog their visitors into first.
But in spite of having to make their longest journey of this league campaign on match morning at the end of an emotional week, Armagh hit the ground running, going four up in the first eight minutes and scoring a goal soon afterwards.
There had been a minute’s silence before the match in honour of Armagh panellist Niamh Murphy’s mum, former county camog Ann (McCone), who had passed away during the week, with the squad gathering to pay their respects on Thursday evening rather than training.
Aimee Mackin kicked Armagh’s opening point after just a minute with Caroline O’Hanlon, Niamh Coleman and skipper Kelly Mallon also scoring from play before Waterford opened their account.
Armagh’s response to that Liz Devine point was swift, with Blaithin Mackin netting the Orchard’s opening goal within a minute and raising a white flag with a huge effort from play shortly afterwards.
Maria Delahunty landed two frees for Waterford in the middle of the half but the orangewomen were seven clear at the interval thanks to another O’Hanlon point and a free from captain Mallon.
Second half sinbinnings for Shauna Grey and O’Hanlon meant Armagh playing with 14 for 20 minutes and scoreboard honours were even in the third quarter, with both teams posting 1-4.
Aimee Mackin hadn’t added to her first minute point in the opening period but in the second she quickly followed up her early score with Armagh’s second goal, though Eimear Fennell replied in kind for Waterford.
The towering Michelle Ryan, Waterford’s famed forward embarking upon her 19th inter-county season, finally notched her first point of the game a minute into the second half having been kept scoreless up until then by Clodagh McCambridge.
With Crossmaglen captain Aveen Donaldson dropping out of a reshuffled side to accommodate a fit-again Niamh Marley’s return to the starting team, McCambridge was switched to corner back to counter the threat of Ryan and did a good job.
Vice-captain Maebh Moriarty marshalled the Orchard defence efficiently while Grange prospect Colleen McKenna, back in the panel after a year in America, showed her potential as a defender for the present as well as the future.
The one other personnel change to the initial line-up from the impressive victory over Cavan at Clonmore last time out saw regular net-minder Caroline O’Hare restored between the posts in place of Carrickcruppen’s Anna Carr.
After the teams scored 1-1 apiece in the first five minutes of the second half, Aoife McCoy’s only point of the afternoon and two frees from Mallon were cancelled out by another Delahunty free sandwiched by points from Aileen Wall and Fennell.
But the Orchard dominated the last quarter with Aimee Mackin adding a further 1-2 and fellow All Star O’Hanlon kicking her third point of the day before Devine had the last word with a consolation score for Waterford.
Armagh made their sole substitution of the match on 59 minutes when Silverbridge teenager Niamh Reel replaced Grey and there was no further scoreboard activity as it finished 3-14 to 1-8.
Coming into this campaign, Armagh’s main rivals for the title and sole promotion place on offer were seen, in no particular order, as recently relegated Kerry, Waterford and fellow Ulster sides Cavan and Tyrone.
After launching their campaign with a 5-13 to 1-10 away win against Laois, Armagh have comfortably beaten two of the perceived contenders by commanding margins, eclipsing their former manager James Daly’s Cavan 2-17 to 0-3 and following up with this 12-point Dungarvan victory.
The Orchard outfit’s feet will stay firmly on the ground but it has certainly been an encouraging start to the season and Armagh’s four remaining regular league games will all be on Ulster soil.
The orangewomen now take on neighbours Tyrone at Healy Park this Saturday on a double bill with a Red Hand men’s match before finishing with home fixtures against Clare, Kerry and divisional newcomers Wexford.
Tyrone will want to make amends for last Saturday’s shock 1-7 to 0-6 defeat in Wexford so Armagh are preparing for a full-blooded derby battle against their traditional rivals and won’t be taking them lightly.
They hadn’t got carried away with that comprehensive victory over Cavan as Saturday’s Dungarvan display proved and joint manager Lorraine McCaffrey was well satisfied with her team’s efforts.
“It was a good, professional performance from the team on the back of a tough week when our thoughts were very much with Niamh Murphy after her sad loss.
“She’d left the girls a lovely message this morning and they were determined to get the win for her. We felt we owed Waterford too after frustratingly losing to them at home in the league last season.
“They’d won their last two games against Armagh and are a very good side so we knew this would be our toughest test so far and we weren’t taking anything for granted after our Cavan victory.
“Complacency isn’t in Armagh’s make-up, neither (co-manager) Fionnuala (McAtamney) and I nor the players. It was a very long journey down this morning but thankfully we got off to a great start.
“We maybe made things harder than we should by being a bit wasteful with the ball in the first half and not as clinical as we should but improved in that regard in the second.
“Waterford are a well-organised side who can attack quickly but we were determined to learn from last year’s match in Lurgan and I thought the way we kept them at bay in the first 15-20 minutes was exceptional.
“We felt we were in control and, as against Cavan, our work-rate was exceptional. The two second half sinbins meant we were down to 14 players for 20 minutes but we managed the pressure well,” reflected Lorraine.
O’Hanlon hit three points and typically controlled things while Niamh Marley got around the field effectively, showing no ill-effects from the tight hamstring which had kept her out of the Cavan clash.
Aimee Mackin again topped the Orchard charts, this time with 2-4, though her fellow forwards, sibling Blaithin and McCoy, contributed too, not just on the scoreboard but by working relentlessly for the Orchard cause.
Captain Mallon landed three useful frees to go with her earlier point from play, the last two steadying the ship in the third quarter when Waterford, with a numerical advantage, were trying to get back in the game.
ARMAGH: C O’Hare; S Marley, M Moriarty, C McCambridge; M Sheridan, N Marley, C McKenna; N Coleman (0-1), C O’Hanlon (0-3); T Grimes, K Mallon (capt; 0-4, 3f), S Grey; A Mackin (2-4), A McCoy (0-1), B Mackin (1-1). Sub used: N Reel for Grey (59mins).