February 24th, 2023



Richard Bullick

Aimee Mackin scored a hat-trick and there were two cracking goals from Aoife McCoy as Armagh romped past Tyrone at Healy Park with a fourth consecutive victory in NFL Division Two this season.

Shane McCormack’s Orchard crew, who host Laois at the Athletic Grounds this Sunday (2pm), remain on track to qualify for the final at Croke Park in mid-April with the chance to make amends for last year’s decider defeat by Kerry.

The new Armagh manager again gave game-time to 23 players, with talented Derrynoose schoolgirl Maeve Lennon marking her first start with a lovely point and back-up goalkeeper Brianna Mathers giving a superb performance in deputising for Anna Carr in nets.

Tyrone are not the force of old but it speaks volumes for Orchard squad depth that they were able to beat their neighbours by 15 points in their own backyard with hugely experienced campaigners Caroline O’Hanlon and Niamh Marley unavailable for selection.

O’Hanlon, who has yet to take the field for Armagh in her 22nd inter-county season, was playing for Leeds Rhinos against Surrey Storm in netball’s British SuperLeague on Sunday while Marley was resting ahead of the third and final week of her Irish sevens rugby trial.

Compared to the team which started in the win over Monaghan in Middletown two weeks earlier, Mathers, Emily Druse, Eve Lavery, Aimee Mackin and Maeve Lennon replaced Carr, Caitriona O’Hagan, Niamh Marley, Blathnaid Hendron and Alex Clarke.

McCormack kept the spine of Clodagh McCambridge, Lauren McConville, Blaithin Mackin, McCoy and skipper Kelly Mallon down the middle of his team intact with Grace Ferguson and Catherine Marley again operating down the left flank.

Louise Kenny, Cait Towe and Niamh Coleman were retained too, albeit in slightly different roles to the Monaghan match, and the eight substitutions included a first appearance of this Orchard campaign for Clann Eireann’s Megan McCann.

Last time Armagh played in Omagh, they needed a late Aimee Mackin penalty to snatch a one-point victory in the opening league game of 2021 but this time her spot-kick helped the visitors establish a healthy eight-point interval lead.

It would have been a double-digit advantage at the break but for a Tyrone goal in injury-time and the Red Hands were probably relieved not to be dead and buried considering title favourites Armagh hit an unanswered 1-3 in the first seven minutes.

Blaithin Mackin opened Armagh’s account after just 21 seconds and, although her elder sister Aimee badly fluffed her first free, she took a second chance a minute later and then McCoy delivered a slick soccer-style finish to the net after McConville burst forward.

That previous visit two years ago marked McConville’s return to the orange jersey after an absence of two seasons while in Australia and she was subbed at half-time that afternoon having been ticked twice after starting in her customary wing forward role.

Since then the Crossmaglen ace has started all 23 Armagh matches as a converted centre half back, picking up two All Star nominations along the way, and she combines being effective in her defensive duties with providing a real attacking threat coming from deep.

The dynamic Druse also loves to stream forward from wing back and a burst by the Harps teenager led to Blaithin Mackin putting Armagh six ahead with a fine point just before a brilliant save by the Tyrone keeper denied Lavery a goal after McCoy played her in.

Given the officiating lottery we’ve seen recently, Aimee Mackin was probably lucky not to escape stronger sanction for a shoulder charge in the 12th minute after Chloe McCaffrey had been unable to post Tyrone’s first point from a free.

McCambridge caught a Tyrone shot and made a storming run up the middle which led to Maeve Lennon winning a free which Aimee Mackin couldn’t convert from a fairly acute angle on the right.

Grainne Rafferty finally got Tyrone on the board with a good point from wide on the right early in the second quarter and Aoife Horisk doubled their score a minute later, after holding off Kenny who then bumped into team-mate McConville.

However Armagh hit back right away with a point by the excellent Niamh Coleman after good approach play featuring her and Catherine Marley, and Lavery then turned over the Tyrone kick-out and Maeve Lennon was brought down for a penalty.

Aimee Mackin converted via the underside of the crossbar and the impressive Mathers made sure Armagh gains weren’t eroded by dealing well with a dropping ball not long afterwards, though McCaffrey soon landed a free.

Armagh scored a brilliant goal in the 24th minute, with McCambridge and Druse bursting forward from the back and then Lavery, Mallon and McCoy combining before a great finish to the net from four-time All Star Aimee Mackin.

McCaffrey did well to kick a fourth Tyrone point under pressure from McConville but two minutes later the irrepressible Druse ran hard from deep, exchanged passes with Lavery and found her clubmate Mallon out on the right.

Mallon, who herself played for Derrynoose early in her career, fed the ball inside to the comfortably two-footed Maeve Lennon and this calm, capable prospect showed nice composure in slotting over with her left.

The Orchard captain kicked a free in first half injury-time, what would prove her only point of the afternoon, but Tyrone responded with a goal, Nicole Murphy doing well to finish after Mathers made a good save but Grace Ferguson knocked the ball into the Tyrone sub’s path.

Aimee Mackin had a low shot right across the face of goal just before the break after a great run by McCoy and, although the prolific forward raised a white flag in the opening minute of the second, she had her third failure from a free soon afterwards when striking an upright.

Sub Niamh Reel, who had replaced Maeve Lennon at the break, put Armagh 10 ahead with a 35th minute point and Aimee Mackin had a shot deflected to the Tyrone keeper after Coleman won the ball inside.

Wonderful persistence from McCambridge saw her dispossess McCaffrey before an over-ambitious shot by Aimee Mackin from long-range drifted wide and Maeve Ferguson replaced her Ballyhegan club captain Lavery.

The ever-alert McConville made a great interception at the back but kicked a wide up the other end and Tyrone captain Aoibhinn McHugh pointed midway through the half after Dearbhla Coleman had taken over from Druse.

Niamh Coleman chipped a shot wide after another great run by McConville and Tyrone sub Aoife McGahan kicked a point but McCormack was relaxed enough to take off skipper Mallon and the forceful Catherine Marley.

Mathers made a great save from McHugh after an attack featuring the Tyrone skipper and full forward Meabh Mallon before Aimee Mackin completed her hat-trick after she knocked a free in from Reel over the keeper and then neatly finished to the net.

The Shane O’Neills markswoman was guilty of a wild shot two minutes later but the fifth Armagh goal quickly followed, with a brilliant run by McConville, who got a return pass from sub Aoife Lennon, leading to a wonderful finish to the net by McCoy from an acute angle.

McCoy had hit a championship hat-trick against Tyrone at Halloween 2020 so no doubt Sunday’s hosts were relieved when she and Aimee Mackin were withdrawn late on along with Towe, though by then Armagh had a sixth win in a row over the Red Hands in the bag.

Niamh Coleman pointed nicely after another brilliant burst up the middle by the magnificent McConville who was full of running right until the end, which came after Reel and McGahan had posted final points for their respective sides.

Armagh are now the only unbeaten team left in Division Two thanks to Tipperary’s 3-5 to 1-12 home defeat to the Orchard’s next opponents Laois.  Visitors Cavan edged the other Ulster derby, beating Monaghan 1-10 to 2-6, and Westmeath won 3-7 to 1-11 at Roscommon.

ARMAGH: B Mathers; L Kenny, C McCambridge, C Towe; E Druse, L McConville, G Ferguson; N Coleman (0-2), B Mackin (0-2); E Lavery, A McCoy (2-0), C Marley; A Mackin (3-2; 1-0pen, 1f), K Mallon (capt; 0-1, 1f), M Lennon (0-1).  Subs used: N Reel (0-2) for M Lennon (ht), M Ferguson for Lavery (40mins), D Coleman for Druse (44), A Lennon for Mallon (48), M McCann for C Marley (48), A Clarke for A Mackin (56), C O’Hagan for Towe (56), B Hendron for McCoy (56).