July 20th, 2021



Richard Bullick

Skipper Kelly Mallon rounded off her birthday week by weighing in with 1-5 as Armagh launched their All Ireland bid by putting Monaghan to the sword in Saturday’s opening group game at the Athletic Grounds.

Last season’s Senior Championship semi-finalists again won well without relying upon an especially prolific contribution by All Ireland Player of the Year Aimee Mackin, who hit five points, while her All Star sibling Blaithin was scoreless, though highly influential.

Armagh’s first half goal was scored just before the water-break by the other Camlough galactico Caroline O’Hanlon, who ran the show superbly in an absorbing opening period which finished with the home team leading 1-9 to 0-7.

Monaghan got back on even terms within eight minutes of the resumption, but Armagh responded superbly by maintaining their recent tradition of making a decisive surge in the third quarter of games.

Yet another purple patch paved the way for the Orchard outfit’s third double-digit margin in three championship matches this summer, having already recorded comprehensive victories over Tyrone and Monaghan in their provincial campaign.

A devastating burst of three goals in less than three minutes swung a hitherto tight game decisively in the Orchard’s favour and the first of them came from Mallon, with Ballyhegan captain Eve Lavery and rising star Alex Clarke each striking soon afterwards.

The Orchard’s Captain Fantastic hasn’t started an Armagh match due to injury since lifting the Ulster Senior Championship trophy last December after top scoring in the Clones showpiece win against Monaghan.

After cameos appearances of the bench in the Ulster quarter and semi-finals at the same venue in recent weeks, it had been expected Mallon would lead Armagh out at Orchard headquarters for the start of this All Ireland campaign two days after turning 32.

However, manager Ronan Murphy went with an unchanged side, but Mallon made her entry after just 22 minutes, being brought on as a substitute after Lissummon captain Niamh Marley pulled her hamstring.

Having plundered a goal just four minutes after being introduced against Tyrone last time out, this time Mallon’s first score came within a similar timescale but was a brilliant point with her weaker left foot from the harder side of the posts with a defender applying pressure.

Having taken over the right-footed free-taking duties from her Harps club captain Fionnuala McKenna, who had missed a couple, Mallon converted both her set-piece efforts and also raised a couple more white flags from play to supplement the 42nd minute goal.

Mallon’s major was quickly followed by green flags from Lavery and Clarke, the two women whose starting spots were, arguably, under most pressure from the return to fitness of the captain and Armagh’s joint Player of the Year for 2020, Catherine Marley.

However, they did their cause no harm here with hauls of 1-3 and 1-2 respectively, Lavery in particular catching the eye with her impressive play on an afternoon when Armagh again demonstrated their potency in attack.

After recovering from surgery on the thumb badly dislocated in a training game in mid-May, Catherine Marley made her first appearance of the season when coming on for McKenna during that Armagh goal spree.

Such is the fierce competition for places in this side, even McKenna may now be sweating about the next team announcement in spite of having led the way with eight points against Tyrone the week before, though Niamh Marley’s injury may save somebody’s bacon.

Aoife McCoy was uncharacteristically scoreless but typically lively and dangerous as was excellent converted centre half back Lauren McConville coming from deep, while midfielder Niamh Coleman split the sticks this time after fluffing shots in the previous two games.

Monaghan have plenty of forward firepower of their own but were generally shackled well by an Orchard defence built upon All Star full back Clodagh McCambridge, Ballyhegan youngster Grace Ferguson and acting captain Sarah Marley.

Veteran corner back Marley had never captained a gaelic football team at any level until this season but can now hand the metaphorical armband back with an incredible record of three victories from three championship matches by an aggregate margin of 41 points!

This was the third time these neighbours had met on this pitch in the space of 41 days, Monaghan grabbing a winning score in injury-time in the National League game at the end of May and Armagh hitting back with a convincing victory in the Ulster quarter-final.

However, the Farney women were weary and depleted that Friday evening on the back of the previous Saturday’s draining Division Two semi-final against Kerry which they had lost on a shootout of free kicks after extra-time.

By contrast, it was Monaghan who had the extra preparation time coming into this All Ireland group game given that they had last weekend off while Armagh were in Ulster semi-final action against Tyrone.

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Ciaran Murphy had named a much stronger side for Saturday’s crunch clash and, although triple All Star Ciara McAnespie was withdrawn before throw-in, the visitors had a formidable line-up led by skipper Ellen McCarron and her predecessor Cora Courtney.

Aimee Mackin had Armagh ahead inside the first minute, but she then kicked a wide from a ball in by McKenna after Ferguson had dispossessed Courtney, which enabled McCarron to kick an equalising point from long range.

McKenna put the Orchard back in front with a free from distance and Ciara McAnespie’s late replacement Jodie McQuillan levelled again before Aimee Mackin kicked a free and Lavery doubled the Orchard lead after McConville came steaming forward.

It was all square again by the 11th minute thanks to a Casey Treanor point and another McCarron free, but O’Hanlon won her Carrickcruppen clubmate Anna Carr’s kickout quite brilliantly and found Lavery, leading to a point by Clarke.

McConville and Lavery combined before the latter posted her second score of the afternoon but the comparatively quiet Cora Courtney reduced the arrears in spite of what appeared to be a throw-ball by Monaghan in the lead-up.

McKenna couldn’t punish a foul on her with a free but O’Hanlon this time won Monaghan’s kickout brilliantly and then made a run to the edge of the square to catch a ball floated in by Aimee Mackin before delivering the coolest of finishes to the Farney net.

Niamh Marley broke the Monaghan kickout but Lavery was blown-up for over-carrying just as she was about to shoot so Armagh went into the water-break leading by four points after an entertaining first quarter in perfect conditions for football.

Armagh got a free following a nice run from O’Hanlon and her ball in to Aimee Mackin but McKenna was off target again and Monaghan were awarded a questionable free at the other end with which McCarron made no mistake.

Cora Courtney kicked a wide and Casey Treanor hit the woodwork either side of McCambridge being ticked for a strong challenge and a limping Niamh Marley gaving way to Mallon, while Muireann Atkinson was also off target for the visitors.

Blaithin Mackin won a ball in defence, followed by O’Hanlon finding Lavery, who delivered a lovely pass to Coleman which led to that superb point by Mallon and the Clann Eireann woman registered a score herself a minute later after another run by Blaithin.

Lavery edged Armagh six ahead after Clarke had broken the Monaghan kickout and, although McCarron quickly cancelled it out, Armagh had claims for a penalty as the half moved into injury-time.

An attack launched by Carr which featured Ferguson twice, Blaithin Mackin and Coleman saw O’Hanlon ghosting through the middle before really stepping on the gas and then offloading to Clarke whose shot appeared to be blocked by a Farney defender’s foot.

McConville and McCambridge came up with important turnovers in defence to ensure the orangewomen went into the interval five ahead, but Monaghan closed the gap to three with McCarron and McEnaney points in the opening minute of the second half.

When Armagh were awarded a straightforward free, Mallon took the ball from McKenna but then the Orchard captain had it taken off her for no apparent reason by referee Maggie Farrelly.

Following a McCarron wide, Mallon had another opportunity two minutes later when she fed Aimee Mackin from McKenna’s huge ball in and the triple All Star was chopped down going through on goal by a foul which left her needing treatment but didn’t attract a sinbin.

Thankfully, the elder Mackin was fit to continue and McCambridge blocked an attempt at the other end, but McEnaney managed to roll in a Monaghan goal after a scramble in the 37th minute.

McCarron followed up with an equalising score, but Aimee Mackin edged Armagh back in front with a free after a foul on Clarke and Mallon doubled the Orchard lead by punishing a poor visiting kickout with a point.

Blaithin Mackin, McConville and McCoy combined but Clarke took a poor option of shooting from long range and, although play was called back for a free, Aimee Mackin surprisingly took it short and the ball was intercepted.

However, Monaghan gave away possession trying to come out of defence and O’Hanlon linked with McCoy who set up Mallon for a goal which restored the Orchard’s interval lead of five points.


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Things got even better as Ferguson came forward from defence and Clarke made a brilliant break right into the Monaghan goalmouth before unselfishly laying off for her colleague Lavery to finish to the Farney net.

Ironically, Clarke was the beneficiary in similar circumstances less than a minute later after Armagh were penalised in attack, but Blaithin Mackin won a great turnover down the field and went on a long, weaving run.

McCoy seemed perfectly placed to bag herself a deserved goal but she selflessly offloaded the ball to her right for Clarke to drive home, meaning Armagh suddenly led by 11 points a game which had been in the balance a few minutes before.

Dromintee dynamo McCoy might have had a goal again two minutes later, but this time Monaghan keeper Edel Corrigan pulled off a good save.  Catherine Marley took a big hit winning the ball back for Aimee Mackin to fist over a point and the culprit was sinbinned.

Monaghan were lucky that Aimee Mackin just opted to take a point when she was delightfully played through on goal by Mallon and McCoy, and the Orchard’s star forward then somehow failed to hit the net after a ball popped to her by the captain.

Clann Eireann’s Aoibhinn Henderson replaced Lavery and Niamh Reel of Silverbridge took over from Aimee Mackin soon afterwards, with Monaghan also making a couple of substitutions.

McConville grabbed the rebound when a McCarron free hit the crossbar and Mallon showed she has shaken off any rustiness by pulling down an O’Hanlon pass from above her head and banging over a well-struck point.

McCarron and Mallon exchanged frees before O’Hanlon gave way to Forkhill’s Megan Sheridan and Casey Treanor pulled back another point for the team in blue after Reel had hit a wide at the other end.

Armagh began keeping possession like a training exercise rather than seeking any more scores and Lauren Garland was sinbinned for a bad hit on Catherine Marley, who had already been in the wars.

A shot from McConville was deflected for a 45 and her Crossmaglen clubmate Clarke kicked a wide, but the former won another turnover in defence and launched an attack which was rounded off by the latter registering the last score of the game.

ARMAGH: A Carr; S Marley (capt), C McCambridge, G Ferguson; T Grimes, L McConville, B Mackin; N Marley, N Coleman (0-1); E Lavery (1-3), C O’Hanlon (1-0), F McKenna (0-1, 1f); A Mackin (0-5, 1f), A McCoy, A Clarke (1-2).  Subs used: K Mallon (1-5, 2f) for N Marley (22mins), C Marley for McKenna (42), A Henderson for Lavery (50), N Reel for A Mackin (52), M Sheridan for O’Hanlon (60).

MONAGHAN: E Corrigan; M Monaghan, N Fahy, A McAnespie; S Coyle, A McCarey, E Treanor; C Courtney (0-1), M Atkinson; L McEneaney (1-1), E McCarron (capt; 0-7, 2f), L Garland; C Treanor (0-2), J McQuillan (0-1), A Garland.  Subs used: L Jones for McQuillan (ht), J Duffy for A Garland (46), K Maguire for E Treanor (48), A Newell for Coyle (52), N Brennan for Atkinson (54).

Referee: Maggie Farrelly (Cavan).