February 26th, 2020

The decision of outgoing Orchard captain Caoimhe Morgan to hang up her boots understandably dominated the headlines last month, but another flame-haired Armagh great also left the inter-county stage over the winter.

There has been no official confirmation from Maebh Moriarty that she has absolutely brought the curtain down for good on a proud Orchard career but the chances of seeing the versatile stalwart back in the orange jersey seem slim.

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Daughter of famed Orchard defender Paddy ‘Mo’ Moriarty, who played in that 1977 All Ireland final, the Derrymacash woman was part of the great revolution which put Armagh on the ladies football map in the mid-noughties.

Having featured in the 2005 second tier triumph in Croke Park, Maebh battled back from a broken leg to come off the bench the following autumn in the Orchard’s only All Ireland final appearance to date, that agonising single point loss to Cork.

Although the Orchard outfit’s fortunes fell away within a couple of years, the young Clann Eireann player was so highly regarded that she was made vice-captain to Armagh’s legendary leader Bronagh O’Donnell while still a student.

In the spring of 2008, she had the distinction of captaining Jordanstown to the first ever O’Connor Cup success by a northern university and won an interpro title with Ulster either side of Armagh reaching the NFL Division One semi-finals for the only time in their history.

“I’m forever grateful to Greg McGonigle for giving me the (captaincy) role that year.  That team and university football in general was so special.  I loved every year I got to play for Jordanstown,” she reminisces.

Although Morgan took over from the retiring O’Donnell as Orchard captain, Moriarty’s subsequent chance to lead in 2011 coincided with Armagh having problems not of Maebh’s making and the experience proved painful for such a proud professional.

Drained and disillusioned, she walked away at the end of that ill-fated Orchard campaign and subsequently spent a number of years in Melbourne where she ended up captaining the Victoria state team to their first ever Australasia Games title triumph.

By the time Moriarty came home for good, she had missed six full seasons and the entire 2018 National League campaign, but thereafter returned to the county panel and was the only player to be on the field for every single minute of Armagh’s next 18 competitive matches.

Her deployment in a deep sweeper role divided opinion among Orchard observers but Moriarty was clearly regarded as a real rock by the then Armagh management team of Lorraine McCaffrey and her former county team-mate Fionnuala McAtamney.

They made her vice-captain last season to stand-in skipper Kelly Mallon while Morgan was sidelined following cruciate surgery, so thankfully her last leadership role with Armagh wasn’t in that wretched 2011 season.

Close friends became aware early last autumn that Moriarty wouldn’t be back for the 2020 season, with personal trainer Maebh citing pressures with work and a desire to put family first rather than age as the main reasons for stepping away from Orchard duty.

“I was sad to leave but am content with my decision regarding Armagh.  I had never planned to play county football on my return from Australia so I’m very grateful that the opportunity came my way and I will cherish those last 18 months for the rest of my life.

“I just knew that level of commitment wasn’t for me any longer for I wanted to spend more time with my family, focus on work and have freedom to enjoy a few breaks but I look forward to being an enthusiastic Armagh supporter from now on,” says Maebh.

The 34-year-old has confirmed that she will continue to play club football for county champions Clann Eireann while also returning to competitive camogie with her old side, Derrymacash.

A wonderfully friendly person with a warm manner, Moriarty is a joy to deal with and rightly held in the highest esteem as a human being beyond the respect she commands as a formidable footballer worthy of a prominent place in the pantheon of Armagh greats.

In a week when the worst excesses of damaging nastiness, which can contribute to tragic consequences, have been exposed, interactions with Maebh offer a glimpse of the sort of kinder world which we should all try harder to help build.

A tough enough footballer but with a humble, gracious and gentle nature, she sets a wholesome example by speaking positively about others and reflecting with gratitude on each experience she has had.

Grange legend Dervla Mallon isn’t the gushing type but she makes an exception in paying tribute to her old county team-mate with whom she kept in touch during those years she was in exile Down Under.

“Maebh Mo is an absolute lady as well as a top footballer.  She’s just an all-round lovely girl, one of the nicest people you’ll meet, so friendly and always had time for everyone,” enthuses Dervla.

“Such a positive role model, as she always did everything professionally and to the maximum of her ability, never a stone left unturned with her, but she went about it in a quiet and unassuming manner.

“She used to sit in the seat behind me on the bus journey to games and, after Sunday matches coming back up the road we used to chat about what we would be dying to get home to eat.  Her choice still makes me laugh all these years later, it was extremely different from my unhealthy choice of treat food!

“Maebh’s just a gem of a girl, a lifelong friend from football for me, and Armagh ladies will definitely miss her (playing) presence and as a great role model in the set-up,” says two-time All Star nominee Mallon.

Those warm words are echoed by outgoing Orchard captain Morgan, who soldiered with Moriarty in those early years and really loved having her old buddy back in the Armagh set-up these past couple of seasons.

“We have always had a special bond, maybe because our fathers played together for Armagh never mind us both being ginger, but we refer to each other as sisters and she’s a great friend of mine.

“Over the years we’ve shared great highs and some lows but you won’t get better all round than Maebhy Mo.  She was one of the greats and always genuinely gave all she had for the orange jersey,” reflects Caoimhe.
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