Richard Bullick reports from Tullamore
Ecstatic captain Caoimhe Morgan was overwhelmed with pride and delight after Armagh ladies shocked Cork in Tullamore on Saturday to reach the All Ireland quarter-finals.
Helped by an unbelievable burst of four cracking goals in a 10-minute purple patch, unfancied Armagh achieved only the second ever victory by an Ulster county over Cork in the Senior Championship.
This was a stunning triumph for Lorraine McCaffrey and Fionnuala McAtamney’s team but their 4-9 to 3-11 win was fully deserved on the back of an outstanding display.
After losing the opening group game against Cavan, Armagh had to beat Cork to qualify for the last eight and they duly did so with a superb performance full of fight and fine football.
It was a wonderful day for Armagh but especially so for inspirational skipper Morgan who was starting a championship match with her three sisters, Sarah, Niamh and Catherine Marley for the first time.
“I’m absolutely buzzing, not just because it’s a fantastic feeling finally beating Cork in the Championship after so many years of trying but with delight that we finally put together the performance I knew we were capable of,” she said.
“It’s been so frustrating, feeling that we’ve a big game in us but, for whatever reason, not delivering results. We had a disastrous start in the Ulster final against Donegal and then couldn’t hold onto an 11-point lead against Cavan.
“Our minimum target for this phase of the season was reaching the All Ireland quarter-finals and that objective couldn’t change just because we’d blown a winning position at Templeport.
“Losing that match made life difficult for us, knowing we had to beat an exceptional Cork team who are National League champions and arguably favourites for the All Ireland again this season.
“We weren’t expected to come close but, to us as a team, another honourable near miss would have felt like a failure and we were determined to show what we could do.
“Armagh have caused Cork problems before and we always seem to play well when our backs are against the wall. This was our last chance to do something this season and get reward for all the effort of so many months
“I told the girls at training on Thursday night that each and every one of us needed the game of our lives and I’m so proud of them all and the way we stood up to be counted.
“I can’t stop smiling because, while we’ve won nothing today and just got where we need to be, of course this result is significant for us given Cork’s record and our recent disappointments.
“We want to push on from here but everyone’s very happy this evening. We put in the effort to give ourselves a chance of winning big games and when days like this come along it’s important to enjoy them.
“And yes, it’s so special playing with my sisters but beating Cork the first time we’ve all starting together is a fairytale you couldn’t dare script and we’ll share the memories of this afternoon forever.
“Armagh played Cork this same weekend last season and three of us, myself included, were out at that stage with torn cruciates so we’ve each worked hard to be back here and it makes you appreciate each chance even more, never mind my age!” grins the 36-year old
“This win is great for the younger generation who are probably sick of hearing about Armagh’s glory years of long ago and now they’ve been part of some fresh history being made.
“But beating Cork is especially sweet for us golden oldies, myself, Caroline (O’Hanlon) and Maebh Mo (Moriarty) who go way back to that hearbreaking one point defeat in the 2006 All Ireland final.
“We also lost by a single point in a qualifier in Birr six years ago so it seems fitting that we’ve now won against them by a point,” reflects Caoimhe, a tremendous servant of the Orchard cause who has been playing county football for nearly two decades.
“Considering we were 11 ahead last time out against Cavan and lost in injury-time, when Cork came back from 10 down to within a point, it would have been easy to think history was going repeat itself.
“But we fought for everything, kept our heads, held our nerve and got over the line in a tight game against a top team which should hopefully stand to us going forward.”
Armagh meet Mayo on Saturday week and will hope prolific forward Aimee Mackin, who was forced off with a knee injury just before the interval in Tullamore, will be fit for the quarter-final.
In Aimee’s absence, sibling Blaithin stepped up with a Player of the Match performance while Northern Ireland netball captain Caroline O’Hanlon top-scored with 1-3 on her return from a gruelling World Cup campaign.