HARPS PUSHING FOR DOMESTIC DOUBLE
League title winners Armagh Harps launch their bid to complete an Orchard domestic double with a trip to face Crossmaglen in tomorrow (Wed) night’s Buttercrane Senior Championship quarter-final (7pm).
Having just ended one barren spell stretching back to last century, the cathedral city club have their sights set on doing the same in the knockout competition.
They reached the Athletic Grounds decider in 2015 after a 17-year gap but lost out to Carrickcruppen and their form dipped again the following two seasons.
However last year they were level with Cruppen coming into injury-time of a pulsating quarter-final at Abbey Park and, with the established Big Two on the same side of the draw this time, are tipped to reach next month’s showpiece.
Crossmaglen away won’t be a straightforward fixture, though the fact their star player Lauren McConville is in Australia greatly reduces the chances of the hosts causing an upset.
Maria O’Donnell and Peter McMahon, the outstanding local candidates to become Armagh’s next management team, have done a great job with Cross, who secured a surprise Intermediate title in 2017 and won at Silverbridge last season before being blitzed by Cruppen in the semis.
The hosts have actually two current county panellists, captain Aveen Donaldson and one of Armagh’s goal scorers in the recent victory over Cork, Mairead Watters, in their ranks compared to just Kelly Mallon in the Harps side.
However visiting captain Fionnuala McKenna and soccer star Aoife Lennon are top performers who along with Mallon and hot prospect Casey Mullan will be a handful for the Cross defence.
Cross have rising stars of their own in Jamie Clarke’s young sister Alex along with dual players Aislinn McMahon and Faye Fitzpatrick, who have recently made their debuts at adult level for Armagh camogs.
McMahon and O’Donnell may be the Armagh management by then, but these clubs could meet again in league games next season for Cross are still in contention to take the Division Two title at the expense of favourites Shane O’Neills.
Crossmaglen generously agreed to bring this tie forward from Saturday because Mallon will be playing in Sunday’s camogie county final as captain of Madden, who saw off Cross in the semis!
Saturday evening will feature a derby battle in which last season’s Intermediate champions Dromintee, who have yet to win a single game this season and are bottom of Division One, will host Silverbridge (7pm).
Aoife McCoy is an exceptional player but Dromintee will miss Shauna Grey, who is in America for the summer while last season’s victorious skipper Katie Daly moved to her native United States after that triumph.
Visitors Silverbridge will look to their own county forward Niamh Reel and former All Star Mairead Tennyson who is sure to be well up for this club campaign now that she has no county commitments.
Early season form may make Silverbridge marginal favourites but a home win wouldn’t be an upset as such and this should be a cracking game with the winners meeting Harps or Cross in the semis.
The Buttercrane Junior Championships also get underway this weekend with title favourites Clonmore, playing under the name Naomh Labhaoise, hosting St Paul’s of Lurgan in the quarter-finals (all Saturday, 7pm).
Although just formed ahead of last season, the Clonmore ladies side reached the Armagh Junior final at the first attempt, have a 100 percent record in Division Four this term and can field two current county panellists in teenagers Sarah Quigley and Emma Conlon.
St Paul’s have finished third in the fourth division while bottom tier runners-up Eire Og go to neighbours Clan na Gael, who play one league level higher than them.
Saturday’s other last eight tie in Lurgan sees struggling St Peter’s with home advantage against the amalgamated Middletown-Derrynoose side, Craobh Ciaran.
Pearse Og against Tir na nOg was originally intended to be a preliminary round tie but now becomes a straight quarter-final following Corrinshego’s plans to field an adult team this season falling through.
Having won the Division Four title last season, Portadown outfit Tir na nOg will return to the basement section in 2020 after only one victory in their 10 league games.
However, with home advantage they should see off Pearse Og and set up a semi-final against Clan na Gael with Clonmore hot favourites against Craobh Ciaran in the other.