ARMAGH HARPS 8-14 SILVERBRIDGE 2-11
Former Northern Ireland international soccer player Aoife Lennon hit a stunning double hat-trick at Lowe’s Lane as Armagh Harps powered into the Buttercrane Senior Championship showpiece at the expense of Silverbridge.
The cathedral city club booked what will be only their second county final appearance this century with a 21-point victory over opponents hard hit by internal turmoil mid-season and the absence of several leading lights.
One former Armagh player Roisin Murphy was in Holland as physio for the Irish hockey team at the European Championships and two more, Megan Burns and Denise Buckley, are long-term lay-offs with torn cruciates.
Silverbridge’s best spell came early in the second quarter when an unanswered 1-2 brought them to within a goal of their opponents but Lennon netted again almost immediately and Harps were seven up at the break.
Earlier the underdogs had got off to the perfect start with young Aoife Reel hitting Paula Enright’s net after just 59 seconds but Paddy McShane’s Harps hit the front by the fourth minute courtesy of a Lennon point and the same player’s penalty.
The soccer star’s spot-kick was clinically tucked away but many felt there should have been a free out instead considering Casey Mullan clattered into the goalkeeper in the lead-up to the penalty award.
Although Armagh forward Niamh Reel, who finished with seven points, kicked an equalising free for the team in yellow and blue in the seventh minute, Harps soon surged clear.
In the space of two minutes, captain Fionnuala McKenna kicked a free and Lennon pointed before the latter lashed in her second goal and the chances kept coming.
McKenna went through on goal with the referee playing advantage initially but he subsequently blew her up for over-carrying and Lennon then hit a wide but the 26-year-old completed her hat-trick in just the 13th minute after being played right through.
Niamh Reel and McKenna traded frees at the end of the first quarter and, although the former was guilty of a bad low wide, then came that Silverbridge burst comprised of Aoife Reel’s second goal and two points from 2014 All Star Mairead Tennyson.
Former county captain Tennyson had only been brought on at half-time in the quarter-final victory over Dromintee for reasons not obvious but featured from the off against Harps and her second point made it 2-4 to 3-4.
That was the cue for Lennon’s fourth goal, a soccer-style free kick whick hit the back of Orla Casey’s net but Harps were guilty of profligate finishing with McKenna, from a free, and Kelly Mallon kicking wides while Lennon picked the wrong pass when Mullan was available inside her.
However at the other end, Niamh Reel was off target from play and with a free either side of Chloe Murphy drawing a blank and when the teams found their shooting boots again it was Harps who went further ahead.
Former county panellist Laura Murphy was incredibly lucky not to be sinbinned for hauling down McKenna, who kicked the resulting free, and although Niamh Reel replied in kind at the other end, Lennon stroked over a point with her left foot.
That restored the seven-point gap but Silverbridge could have had the last words of the half, hitting the post in injury-time, then having a shot charged down for a 45 and finally Niamh Reel failing to convert a free.
A McKenna free and goal from former Armagh forward Siobhan Feeney extended the Harps advantage to double-digit proportions before Niamh Reel kicked two frees in the space of a minute.
Feeney responded for Harps but they hit three wides before Erin McShane and Mallon raised white flags at either end, with two more Niamh Reel frees punctuating a free from Feeney and two more points by Lennon.
Harps produced a purple patch of three goals in two minutes, Mullan’s major sandwiched by two more from Lennon, the second of them from the penalty spot.
Mallon had a shot tipped over the bar and Erin McShane hit another for Silverbridge but fittingly Lennon had the final word with one last point in injury-time to leave her tally just one short of Caroline O’Hanlon’s 7-4 for host club Carrickcruppen on the same pitch in last season’s semi against Crossmaglen.
Lennon was supplemented here by Feeney’s 1-2, skipper McKenna’s four frees, the Mullan goal and two points from Mallon while, for Silverbridge, Niamh Reel registered seven frees supported by two goals from younger sister Aoife while Tennyson and McShane each raised two white flags.
In Sunday week’s Athletic Grounds decider, Harps will play Clann Eireann, who have won the county title nine times in the past 13 seasons and reached yet another final by beating Shane O’Neills 3-21 to 2-5 in Portadown on Sunday night.
Blaithin Mackin got all but a Louise Kenny point of the Camlough club’s tally but they couldn’t topple the Lurgan giants, who matched the Shanes score for the entire evening with a late flourish which yielded 2-5 in the last five minutes.
Meanwhile, this season’s Buttercrane Junior Championship final on Saturday week will be between last season’s runners-up Clonmore, who saw off Craobh Ciaran 1-12 to 0-9 at Granemore and Lurgan’s Clan na Gael, who had a comprehensive 8-16 to 3-5 victory at Pearse Og, having scored exactly half their tally in the opening period to lead by 14 at the break.