December 1st, 2021


Richard Bullick

Armagh manager Ronan Murphy will be back at the Orchard helm for a third campaign, the Ulster Gazette can confirm, making the Tyrone native the ladies gaelic county team’s longest-serving gaffer since James Daly.

A new deal for Edendork man Murphy is no surprise considering that he became the first individual to have steered the orangwomen to back-to-back Ulster title triumphs when Armagh defeated Donegal in Omagh’s Healy Park in August to retain their provincial crown.

Murphy heads up a familiar management team for the season ahead as the Orchard outfit target promotion to the top flight of the National League, aim to complete a hat-trick of Ulster Senior Championship successes and chase All Ireland glory.

Former Kildare goalkeeper Shane McCormack continues as Murphy’s number two with Killeavy’s Shane Bannon also still there in a coaching capacity as is goalkeeping specialist Denise Hagan Jordan.

Highly-regarded strength and conditioning coach Ruairi Grimes remains on the ticket as does top-class stats specialist Colin Trainor, a formidable businessman who also works with the Kerry men’s county team.

Several players have highlighted the fantastic contributions of Grimes and Trainor and now the Orchard’s backroom team has been bolstered by the addition of sports psychologist Bernie Durcan.

Dermot Bellew, whose wife Aveen Bellew, the Crossmaglen club captain, sat out most of the 2021 Orchard campaign while expecting the couple’s first child, continues as physio supplemented by masseur Patrick Garvey and masseuse Eileen McConville.

With new mum Sinead McCoy Kerr and Moya O’Gorman from Ballyhegan both stepping back from their liaison officer roles, former Armagh stalwart Sharon Reel is set to join another retired Orchard hero Maebh Moriarty in performing that function.

Having led the team to those back-to-back Ulster title triumphs and been repeatedly praised by her players, skipper Kelly Mallon, who Armagh LGFA Chairperson Sinead Reel has hailed as the best-ever Orchard captain, will be expected to continue in her role.

The 32-year-old hopes to be fit for the start of the 2022 inter-county campaign after breaking her leg in a club camogie match for Madden this autumn, though exactly when the opening game will be has yet to be confirmed for definite.

Based upon the proposed schedule recently circulated to counties by the LGFA, the National League will get underway on the second weekend of February but that could be brought forward if opposition to the condensed format favoured by the governing body bears fruit.

Armagh are among numerous counties understood to favour a return to a full NFL fixture list whereby all eight teams in each division face each other rather than being split into two sections of four as was rendered necessary by this past season starting late.

Going back to the old format would be best but, whatever happens, securing the Division Two title and all-important promotion back to the top table at the fifth attempt will be an important priority for Armagh next spring.

Beaten semi-finalists in 2018 and 2019 under Lorraine McCaffrey and Fionnuala McAtamney, Armagh have had finished in the bottom half of Division Two in both of Murphy’s first two seasons in charge.

By contrast, Armagh have a brilliant record under Murphy, a teacher at Ballynahinch’s Assumption Grammar, in championship matches including five victories from five games in the provincial competition on their way to securing consecutive Ulster titles.

The Orchard’s overall return is 10 wins from 12 matches, with the only two defeats coming against the teams who went on to be crowned All Ireland champions in the respective seasons, Dublin last year and Meath this past season.

It has been announced in the past week that Mick Bohan will continue as Dublin boss for a fifth season as they seek to reclaim the Brendan Martin Cup from Meath, while Maxi Curran has also been reappointed Donegal manager in recent days.

Since Dromintee man Daly finished his successful four-season spell in charge at the end of 2015 after a second successive All Ireland semi-final appearance, Armagh had new management tickets in each of the following three seasons.

Orchard hero Ronan Clarke had a single season at the helm, as did much-travelled Tyrone man Sean O’Kane before McCaffrey and McAtamney took over for the following two years ahead of Murphy’s present period in charge.

In breaking news of Murphy’s reappointment through the Ulster Gazette, Armagh LGFA Chairperson Sinead Reel highlights the benefits of attempt to build on firm foundations already laid rather than having to start from scratch again.

“Armagh are delighted to welcome back Ronan Murphy and his assistant manager Shane McCormack along with a great backroom team.  Winning back-to-back Ulster titles is no mean feat and having continuity in the camp can hopefully lead to more success,” she says.