GRANGE 6-11 SILVERBRIDGE 3-12
Grange had six different goal scorers as they recorded a satisfying first victory of the new season in an entertaining game on Saturday evening which was delayed by torrential rain but ended up being played out in glorious sunshine under a blue sky.
The clouds lifted for Grange after an unexpectedly challenging opening week of this truncated campaign as they bounced back from being beaten by the amalgamated Dromahill team to see off visitors Silverbridge on a 6-11 to 3-12 scoreline.
With seven sides in Division One, Silverbridge had set out the previous Saturday’s round of fixtures so became the 25th and final adult ladies team in the Orchard county to take the field, almost four months behind schedule due to the pandemic.
They had to wait an extra 15 minutes due to an exceptional cloudburst as the ominous, menacing sky which had made it feel like three hours later gave way to an incredible downpour of biblical proportions and it was still raining heavily during the warm-ups, but by throw-in it had miraculously stopped.
Right on cue, the sun came out within a minute of the game starting and a rainbow appeared through the navy sky above the clubhouse as people emerged from their cars to enjoy the action after the lifting last Thursday of the ban on spectators.
And the match didn’t disappoint, with the scores coming thick and fast initially including a goal at either end in the opening three minutes, the first from Silverbridge’s Erin McShane, and Grange came from behind early on to lead 3-4 to 1-7 at the interval.
The two women with the navy shorts, Roisin Hughes and Aideen Toal, got the first two Grange goals and the third, following the now customary water-break, was a bonus, as the Silverbridge goalkeeper punched Hannah Duffy’s free into her own net.
The two-goal hero of St Catherine’s College’s historic All Ireland final win last year hit a couple of first half frees while young captain Niamh Reel kept the scoreboard ticking for the visitors with four frees in that opening period.
The Armagh forward drew one bad blank from close-in and there was also controversy when she hit the woodwork with another free which Silverbridge very vociferously argued had crossed the line, but the goal wasn’t given by referee Kieran McKeever.
It only took 18 seconds of the second half for Niamh Reel to level the game up with a goal and full forward Jayne Hearty, who had also impressed, put them ahead with a shot which had seemed to go outside the right post.
Keira McKinley nudged Bridge back in front after Duffy’s equaliser and a good save by the visiting goalkeeper with her feet but then Grange struck with two goals in the space of half a minute from sisters Siobhan and Louise Mackle.
Although unavailable to Armagh since 2014, Siobhan has always been a star turn up front for Grange but the return of Louise from a period in England is a considerable boost based on Saturday evening’s evidence as she repeatedly darted forward with forceful conviction.
Niamh Reel pulled back two points from frees but evergreen Grange captain Dervla Mallon, who began in midfield but later switched with her sister Toal, became the home team’s sixth player to raise a green flag after catching a ball in from Armagh’s Colleen McKenna.
A long point from Siobhan Mackle put two clear goals between the teams and, although Silverbridge eventually replied, Grange got three in the first two minutes of injury-time with points from Duffy and skipper Mallon sandwiching a free from the former.
Niamh Reel went for goal with a low free, which was blocked and cleared, and although she did raise a third green flag for Silverbridge, taking her tally to 2-7 for the evening, it was academic now and Duffy had the last word in finishing with 1-6.
Armagh LGFA haven’t publicly confirmed whether relegation will apply in this shortened season but, if so, Silverbridge already look favourites for the drop after just one game and in spite of being a reasonably strong team.
They had former county panellist Megan Burns making a welcome return to action alongside Armagh veteran Mairead Tennyson in the halfback line following a cruciate rupture which sidelined her last season, though Denise Buckley is still sidelined.
After being well beaten by what appears a formidable Dromahill, Grange will have been relieved to get this victory under their belts before sitting out the third round of fixtures this weekend and will welcome back the Hayes sisters, Ciara and Eimear, thereafter.
Leggy midfielder Alice Mackle just came off the bench for a team in which one of her siblings Leanne did a good job at full back while the other two, Siobhan and Louise, were lively half forwards.
Unfortunately for Silverbridge, their Senior Championship goose is well and truly cooked as they have to travel to face county champions Clann Eireann in the preliminary round on August 8, but Grange have home advantage against 2019 Intermediate title winners Granemore a week later in what looks an intriguing tie.