WEXFORD 1-1 ARMAGH 4-18
Armagh kept their National League promotion hopes alive with Sunday’s predictably comprehensive 26-point victory over Division Two table-proppers Wexford in Enniscorthy.
The relegation-threatened hosts had the last word with their only score of the second half, a free from Aisling Murphy, deep in injury-time but by then the visitors had already rattled up a tally of 4-18 in spite of Ronan Murphy using no fewer than 13 subs.
There were first Orchard appearances off the bench for Armagh Harps prospect Tiarna McVeigh and, in the final few minutes, for Killeavy’s Eimear O’Brien and back-up goalkeeper Nicole McKenna from Dromintee.
Teenagers Edel Hagney of Granemore, making her full debut, and Crossmaglen’s Alex Clarke, sister of men’s county star Jamie, each registered their first scores for Armagh, as did the latter’s experienced club captain Aveen Donaldson.
Niamh Marley got just the second goal of her 12-season Orchard career on an afternoon when Armagh had 10 different names on the board and registered a total of 11 scores in either half.
Triple All Star Caroline O’Hanlon led the way with 2-4 just 20 hours after helping Manchester Thunder get their defence of netball’s British SuperLeague title off to a winning start in front of a crowd of nearly 9000 at Arena Birmingham.
It was a little less glamorous occasion at a chilly St Patrick’s Park but the Armagh midfield maestro seldom lets her standards drop and she raised two green flags in the opening period as the orangewomen established a 14-point interval lead.
Armagh had 1-5 on the board by the time the opposition opened their account with a free from full forward and captain Catriona Murray which went into the net midway through the half, but that was a rare moment of joy for winless Wexford.
Home comforts haven’t meant much to Wexford this season as they shipped 6-23 to Monaghan and 5-15 to Kerry in their own backyard before going down 6-19 to 1-5 away to Cavan last time out.
So Armagh made the trip to the south east, their third long journey in this season’s first four fixtures, as firm favourites to get back to winning ways after the damaging defeat at home to Tyrone followed by falling just short away to title favourites Kerry.
The starting team in Enniscorthy showed two changes from the initial line-up in Tralee, one enforced by the fractured cheekbone sustained by Tiarna Grimes at Austin Stack Park which has since required surgery.
In the absence of Grimes, Harps skipper Fionnuala McKenna moved to midfield to partner O’Hanlon with Niamh Reel coming out to the half forward line and schoolgirl Hagney getting her chance in the corner.
The other alteration saw Donaldson handed her first start of the season at left wing back, the third starter in that position in this campaign after Dromintee’s Shauna Grey and Ballyhegan young gun Grace Ferguson.
Hagney got the game’s first point from play after a free from O’Hanlon with the latter then pointing and raising her first green flag either side of a score by skipper Kelly Mallon, who ended up with 1-4 to her name.
Silverbridge’s Niamh Reel also got in on the act with a point in the first quarter and the second saw the Orchard crew ease clear with an unanswered 2-3 as both O’Hanlon and Mallon hit the Wexford net.
The experienced pair also landed a free apiece from either side of the field and full forward Blaithin Mackin kicked a point as Armagh turned around leading by 3-8 to 1-0 at the break with the win already in the bag.
Unfortunately forward Catherine Marley had to leave the field in the first few minutes of the second half with a bloodied nose and suspected concussion, her place being taken by Ballyhegan’s Eve Lavery.
Aoife McCoy posted her only score of the afternoon, Mallon landed her second free and O’Hanlon pointed before Mackin reeled off three in a five-minute spell late in the third quarter as Murphy began ringing the changes.
Schoolgirl Corinna Doyle replaced Reel with Grey taking over from Forkhill’s Megan Sheridan in the half back line followed by Mackin giving way to Crossmaglen’s Mairead Watters after her scoring spree.
Donaldson struck her first point of an Orchard career which stretches back to 2012 with what may now be branded her cultured left foot just after Wexford midfielder Aisling Murphy had been sent to the sinbin by referee John Devlin.
The steady stream of substitutions continued, including vice-captain Sarah Marley leaving the field for the first time in an Armagh match since injury-time of the 2018 Ulster final, to accommodate the introduction of Chloe Magill.
Mullaghbawn captain Niamh Murphy, who had been in Australia throughout January, made her first appearance of the season in place of Hagney, Clarke came on for McCoy and handballer Megan McCann, back from competing in America, took over from McKenna.
Mallon hit her fourth point before Wexford were restored to 15 players and McVeigh, Armagh Minor Player of the Year for 2019, got her first Orchard chance in place of Silverbridge veteran Mairead Tennyson.
Niamh Marley finally raised the Orchard outfit’s first and only green flag of the second half on 59 minutes before former soccer star Moya Feehan made her first Armagh appearance since 2015, replacing O’Hanlon.
Deep in injury-time, O’Brien, Ferguson and Nicole McKenna came on for Mallon, Niamh Marley and Carr though the skipper returned for the last 60 seconds when Donaldson had to leave the field following a bang to the head.
That meant Clodagh McCambridge was the only Armagh player who remained on the field throughout, with all 28 squad members togged out on the day being given at least a brief taste of National League action.
Mallon wasn’t getting carried away with what was an inevitable victory but welcomed so many of the fresh faces getting game-time and also some favourable results in the other round four fixtures.
“It’s great to get back to winning ways though Wexford were poor so we’re not getting too excited, but there were some great performances from our younger girls who really took their opportunity and are giving management something to think about.
“Edel Hagney had a solid debut, Eve Lavery had a positive impact on the game after replacing Catherine Marley while Corinna and Alex came on and looked likely. Alex also scored a real clinker of a point.
“It was great to see my Harps clubmate Tiarna McVeigh coming on for the first time and she didn’t look out of place. It’s important to give these girls their chance of game-time and everyone featured today including sub keeper Nicole McKenna.
“So apart from the unfortunate injury to Catherine, there’s a bit of feel-good from today even though we were expected to beat Wexford and the results elsewhere will help keep things interesting in Division Two,” she said.
Armagh’s most realistic chance of finishing in the top two, as required by this season’s new straight final format, is for Kerry to keep winning and the Kingdom girls duly obliged by beating Tyrone 3-14 to 1-8 at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney where Louise Ni Mhuircheartaigh hit 1-9.
Monaghan’s 1-11 to 1-7 victory in the derby battle with Cavan at Breffni Park was also Armagh’s preferred result from that clash considering the Farney women have already lost to Meath and must come to the Athletic Grounds in the last round of fixtures.
The orangewomen’s next opponents Meath, who will travel to the cathedral city on Sunday week, have been something of a surprise package this season with wins against Tyrone and Monaghan so it was a bonus that they dropped points at the weekend.
Comfortably clear in the last quarter in Doonbeg, they were pegged back to a 3-12 apiece draw with hosts Clare who had lost their first three matches but scored 2-2 late on to share the spoils.
At present, Armagh are one of three teams tied on six points and occupy fifth place, between Cavan and Tyrone on scoring difference. Kerry have a perfect 12 points from four games, three ahead of Monaghan, with Meath third on seven.
Dublin’s 4-6 to 2-6 loss against Galway in a repeat of last September’s All Ireland final means they are only joint fifth in Division One, a mere point ahead of the two teams below them after Westmeath moved ahead of Donegal on scoring difference by beating them 1-11 to 1-7 in the basement battle in Mullingar.
Galway go top on scoring difference but unbeaten National League champions Cork have a match in hand after their scheduled clash with Mayo fell four of the weather.
Peter Lynch and Caoibhe Sloan’s Down are top of Division Three on points difference from Kildare after making it four wins from four with an impressive 3-13 to 0-7 victory over Roscommon, who had come to Burren with a 100 percent record this season.
ARMAGH: A Carr; S Marley, C McCambridge, M Tennyson; M Sheridan, N Marley (1-0), A Donaldson (0-1); F McKenna, C O’Hanlon (2-4, 2f); N Reel (0-1), K Mallon (capt; 1-4, 2f), A McCoy (0-1); E Hagney (0-1), B Mackin (0-4), C Marley. Subs used: E Lavery for C Marley (35mins), S Grey for Sheridan (43), C Doyle (0-1) for Reel (43), M Watters for Mackin (47), C Magill for S Marley (50), N Murphy for Hagney (51), A Clarke (0-1) for McCoy (52), M McCann for F Mc Kenna (54), T McVeigh for Tennyson (58), M Feehan for O’Hanlon (60), E O’Brien for Mallon (65), G Ferguson for N Marley (65), N McKenna for Carr (65), Mallon for Donaldson (66).