SHANES SECURE FIRST LEAGUE TITLE
There were double celebrations for birthday girl Louise Kenny last Saturday evening as her Shane O’Neills side were crowned Armagh league champions for the first time in the Camlough club’s history.
Shanes came from four behind at half-time to win their derby battle with neighbours Carrickcruppen 1-15 to 1-10 and pipped Clann Eireann to the Division One title on head-to-head criteria after the two sides finished level.
Clann Eireann, who finished with a 5-14 to 4-12 home victory over Silverbridge, had a slightly superior points difference, plus 52 to plus 50, but were edged out as a result of losing to Shanes in Lurgan earlier this month.
That 3-9 to 2-5 away win was a huge result for Shanes, who have recorded five successive victories since being beaten 3-8 to 2-4 against reigning league champions Armagh Harps at Abbey Park in the opening game of this short season in mid-July.
The return of double All Star Aimee Mackin after her torn cruciate was a huge help and the prolific forward, who came off the bench to net eight goals against Crossmaglen on the same pitch in the Senior Championship quarter-final a few weeks ago, hit 1-12 last Saturday.
Yet another huge haul from Mackin meant skipper Kenny got to lift a trophy the day she turned 24 and that has been a familiar formula through the short but silverware-laden history of Shanes.
Schoolgirl Kenny led a very youthful Shanes side starring 16-year-old scoring machine Mackin to their 2013 Armagh Junior Championship success and they went on to take the third tier Ulster title.
The same thing happened at Intermediate level three years later and, except when sidelined by two torn cruciates, teak-tough Orchard defender Kenny has captained the club throughout, with last Saturday bringing another new landmark.
“We’re delighted to win the league but probably didn’t think it would happen so soon. At one stage it didn’t look like there would even be any football this year due to coronavirus but we’re very happy the season went ahead,” reflected the beaming birthday girl.
“Carrickcruppen came out of the blocks very quickly this evening after the disappointment of losing the county final last Saturday and it was a great derby battle between us but thankfully we got there in the end.
“It was a lovely evening for football and to be celebrating with a trophy in front of our own supporters is the perfect finish to this short season, never mind my birthday!” said Kenny, who became the first skipper, male or female, to captain Shanes to an Armagh league title.
“It’s a huge honour to captain this team. We’re a big bunch of friends and most of us have been around a long time together now, yet we’re still young so the future is exciting though who knows what next season will look like if coronavirus is still around.”
Part of Armagh’s 2014 Ulster Senior Championship success while still at school, Kenny’s Orchard career has been badly limited by her two major knee injuries but, with fitness proven and confidence regained, she sounds up for a return to the orange jersey next season.
Shanes technically came second in the table based on points difference but were declared champions using the applicable criteria of head-to-head result determining placings in the event of two teams finishing joint top.
So whatever Clann Eireann did against Silverbridge was always going to be in vain if Shane O’Neills could beat their neighbours and Armagh LGFA Chairperson Sinead Reel was in Camlough to deliver the perfect present to Kenny, whose still young team will be right in the frame for further honours in the years ahead.
They only narrowly lost a pulsating Senior Championship semi-final to an Armagh Harps side who went on to claim their club’s first county title this century and duly bounced back by beating Clann Eireann in Lurgan next time out.
Shanes are worthy winners of this Division One title having defeated the two teams, Clann Eireann and Carrickcruppen, who have dominated Orchard club football for the past decade in their last two league games.
Having taken the Division Two title last season and actually lost that opening game of this condensed campaign in mid-July, Shanes have been greatly boosted by the return of Aimee Mackin from the cruciate rupture sustained during Armagh’s famous upset of Cork last summer.
She scored the first 1-10 for Shanes on Saturday evening and rounded things off with the last two points of a very competitive match which Carrickcruppen had deservedly led at the interval.
Cruppen came into the game on the back of their county final disappointment against Harps in the Athletic Grounds seven days earlier knowing that the evening would end with either noisy neighbours Shanes or traditional rivals Clann Eireann as league champions.
Like the two contenders, Cruppen had the potential to reach 10 points, in their case by beating Shanes and then winning their outstanding game against Dromahill, but unless Clann Eireann were beaten by Silverbridge, their fate was sealed.
If Carrickcruppen and Clann Eireann had finished joint first on points, the Lurgan women would have taken the title on the strength of winning at Lowe’s Lane in the opening round of fixtures when the hosts were without O’Hanlon and former Armagh stalwart Sharon Reel.
So there was no league title to play for but Cruppen were evidently up for the contest and got off to the perfect start with an opening point from O’Hanlon followed by a third minute goal by Katie McArdle, back in the team after being left out for the county final.
On many occasions throughout the opening period, committed Cruppen defended effectively with great tenacity, composure and team-work and they duly led by 1-6 to 0-5 at the interval, though the ominous sight of O’Hanlon limping was worrying.
Armagh goalkeeper Anna Carr made one brilliant save with her legs against Aimee Mackin from close range and Shanes had a possible point disallowed for the ball going over the post, though Cruppen will regret not making more chances count at the other end.
They had five wides and also lost a couple of balls in promising positions, but Ulster Schools All Star Ciara Garvey again caught the eye and there were a couple of great runs in both halves by 16-year-old midfielder Catriona O’Hagan.
Mackin hit five points in the first half to four from O’Hanlon, including two and three frees respectively, while Megan Cinnamond also raised a white flag for Carrickcruppen and Fermanagh forward Sarah McCausland got the last score to put four in it at the break.
However, Aimee Mackin soon had Shanes on even terms with four points in the first four minutes of the second half before her lethal left-footed finish low to the net delivered a crucial 38th minute goal.
McCausland made a couple of great runs right into the Shanes box but neither brought goals, though Cruppen drew level by the water break thanks to another Cinnnamond point and two frees from an increasingly incapacitated O’Hanlon.
Aimee Mackin edged Shanes ahead again and others started chipping in too, with points from Sorcha McDonnell and Rachel McCabe sandwiching a right-footed free from Blaithin Mackin, while Cruppen lost Rhia McCullough to the sinbin to make the challenge harder.
As the match moved into injury-time, visiting sub Eimear Matthews replied to a high point from Aimee Mackin, but the home markswoman rounded things off with a free just before she and Cinnamond traded wides.
O’Hanlon stayed on until the end and typically top-scored for Cruppen with six points, but her hamstring will be a cause of concern for Armagh manager Ronan Murphy just four weeks ahead of the Orchard outfit’s opening Ulster Senior Championship match.
Winning the league last season after a 25-year gap proved a stepping stone to championship success for Harps and Shane will have high hopes that this first title ever can set up a real tilt at Armagh ladies football’s top prize in 2021.
Seamus McParland is doing a good job building on the incredible base built by Peter Lynch, who stepped aside last winter to focus on his role managing Down with Caoibhe Sloan, and this Shanes side is set to go from strength to strength in the years ahead.