HARPS END LONG WAIT FOR LEAGUE TITLE
A hat-trick of goals from their only current county player Kelly Mallon helped Armagh Harps to the club’s first all-county league title for a quarter of a century.
Fresh from Armagh’s famous upset of Cork and 48 hours before captaining Madden to victory in the club championship camogie semi-final, Mallon led the way with 3-2 as Harps won 6-17 to 3-12 at Grange to be crowned Division One champions.
Harps skipper Fionnuala McKenna scored 1-4 with six points from Aoife Lennon, while exciting prospect Casey Mullan chipped in with a quickfire 1-2 in the second quarter.
So the usual suspects did the damage up front for the league champions elect, for whom Eimear O’Kane also raised a green flag along with two points from former Armagh forward Siobhan Feeney and one for young Emily Druse, but the evening was most special for the Harps stalwart at the other end of the field who is the sole survivor from their last title triumph in 1994.
Former Armagh midfielder Paula Powell, now Enright, has filled numerous roles for the city club off the field as coach and administrator and now plays in nets for Paddy McShane’s side as her playing career winds down.
The veteran, who turns 40 next month, showed her goalkeeping prowess with one sharp save late in the first half from a stinging shot by Aideen Toal on the turn when a Grange goal would have narrowed the home deficit to four points.
This hard-hitting derby battle was still just about alive as a contest at the break but lethal Harps pulled away with three goals in the first six minutes of the second half and it could have been four but for Armagh’s Colleen McKenna blocking a Feeney shot.
It was a gloomy evening though the black clouds didn’t deliver the torrential rain an excellent crowd would have feared and the weather was fine for the excited celebrations by the Harps players and supporters.
Neighbours Grange and Harps have had a good rivalry in recent years so although the league leaders came out of town as favourites to complete the job they knew not to expect any favours.
The home team twice went ahead in the first half after Harps had missed two good goal chances but in the 13th minute Mallon ran half the length of the field down the right and cut in for a goal which gave the visitors a lead they never lost.
It was 2-12 to 1-8 at the break when Grange, for whom former county star Siobhan Mackle kicked eight points, sent on newly qualified doctor Eimear Hayes for the Armagh camogie star’s first appearance in a couple of years but the game was soon over as a contest.
There were still plenty of physical challenges on both sides but Harps had a comfortable cushion on the scoreboard and McShane took the opportunity to give plenty of subs a run.
The only note of concern from the evening was the shoulder injury which forced former county panellist Cailin Duffy off midway through the first half but she hopes to be fit for Harps’ Senior Championship campaign.
Harps will be expected to face Clann Eireann in next month’s county final having taken the Lurgan club’s league title courtesy of a consistent campaign, helped by the regular availablity of McKenna and Lennon, who are real luxuries at club level.
They were beaten at home by Clann Eireann but avenged that result in the return game and a draw at Carrickcruppen proved costly for the Lurgan club because Harps beat everyone else twice.
Harps have waited a long time to get their hands on silverware again and lifting the trophy was a nice moment for McKenna, who has taken a year off from Orchard duty and hence had to watch with mixed feelings from afar as Armagh shocked Cork.