February 24th, 2023



Richard Bullick at Middletown

Skipper Kelly Mallon led the way with six points as title favourites Armagh maintained top place in NFL Division Two with their third win in three matches this season in glorious sunshine at Middletown on Sunday.

Very poor last season compared to their exceptional past, Monaghan fought hard here in a derby battle that had more edge than might have been expected in an early league game which wasn’t particularly close on the scoreboard.

With Mallon landing four frees and a monster point, supplemented by 1-1 from Alex Clarke and two nice scores by Blaithin Mackin, Armagh established an eight-point cushion for facing into the breeze in the second half.

Manager Shane McCormack had the luxury of introducing four-time All Star Aimee Mackin at half-time and the 2020 All Ireland Player of the Year recorded three of her team’s five scores in the second period, two of them from frees.

Armagh made seven substitutions but still shaded the scoring in a second half which threatened to turn ugly near the end, with a disgraceful challenge that ended Aoife McCoy’s landmark 100th appearance early not resulting in a sinbin for the culprit.

Referee Siobhan Coyle had binned another Monaghan player, Lauren Garland, at the end of the first half for catching Grace Ferguson in a flying challenge which appeared more reckless than malicious.

Monaghan captain Muireann Atkinson also saw yellow late on for dragging down Aimee Mackin after a searing attack from deep which had featured Lauren McConville and McCoy and looked like leading to an Armagh goal.

There were five changes from Armagh’s team against Roscommon the previous Sunday, with sisters Niamh and Catherine Marley making their first starts of the season and Carrickcruppen prospect Caitriona O’Hagan being given her full debut.

Shane O’Neills skipper Louise Kenny and Clarke returned to the line-up with Aimee Mackin, Eve Lavery, Emily Druse and the injured duo of Aoife Lennon, who turned 30 the day before, and Shauna Grey making way.

Although they lost the throw-in, Armagh were soon on the attack, with Clarke kicking an early wide but Mallon put her team ahead in the second minute with a free from the right of the posts in the absence of a left-footed taker.

Monaghan got away with an early clothesline tackle on Niamh Marley but Mallon landed another free in the fourth minute followed by the visiting goalkeeper tipping a Clarke shot over the bar after Niamh Coleman won their kickout and linked with McConville.

The Farney women hadn’t raised a single green flag in three matches against Armagh last season but they quickly drew level with a lovely left-footed finish to the net by full forward Chloe McBride in the fifth minute after a strong run by Jennifer Duffy.

Armagh responded promptly, Mallon completing her hat-trick of frees in just the sixth minute after a foul on Coleman and Atkinson was ticked for fouling Catherine Marley after All Star fullback Clodagh McCambridge had done well to win possession.

Blaithin Mackin had a low shot turned away for a 45 after a great run and, although Mallon didn’t try to convert it off the ground with the wind behind her, she kicked a towering point from similar distance.

Hendron and Amy Garland exchanged wides before Blaithin Mackin posted a good point and Clarke hit the Monaghan net with a nice finish in the 13th minute after McCoy had gobbled up Alanna O’Donoghue’s kickout.

Mallon surprisingly shanked what was maybe her most straightforward free and Catherine Marley had a weak shot straight at the keeper as the Orchard crew went a full 19 minutes until injury-time without scoring.

That was a free from Mallon which accompanied the sinbinning of Lauren Garland and there was time for Blaithin Mackin to score another nice point before a fiery finish to the half which showed there was some needle in this contest.

Although trailing by eight at the break, it was clear Monaghan were well up for the contest but, having replaced Hendron for the start of the second half, Aimee Mackin got her first score in just three minutes after sibling Blaithin played her in.

Blaithin Mackin soon added a lovely point from the right and Armagh had a couple of threatening moments in the Monaghan goalmouth before Druse and Dearbhla Coleman replaced Kenny and O’Hagan on 39 minutes.

Absolutely brilliant work by McCambridge on her own goal-line prevented Monaghan from finding the net, while she and Carr both showed themselves safe under the high ball like rugby fullbacks and the typically tireless McConville gobbled up another turnover in defence.

However, indiscipline by Blaithin Mackin led to Monaghan getting their first point of the afternoon as her needless late hit on Atkinson gave Monaghan a free and, although it fell short, Catherine Marley ended up knocking the ball into the path of McBride who put it over.

Clarke’s curling shot went wide after a searing burst by the Crossmaglen ace but McConville was furious about being taken out as she raced forward in an attempt to give her clubmate another option.

Monaghan’s appetite for niggle was manifested by Atkinson getting in Mallon’s face as she prepared to take a free but the Armagh skipper simply stepped back, took her time, and split the posts as usual.

A fit-again Niamh Reel replaced Clarke, Lavery came on for Blaithin Mackin and Maeve Ferguson took over from older sister Grace as McCormack continues to honour his pledge to spread the National League game-time around.

Sub Jodie McQuillan kicked two frees for Monaghan in the space of three minutes ahead of that scorching Orchard counter-attack which ended in Atkinson’s sinbinning and Aimee Mackin converting the resulting free.

A few minutes later, McCoy was disgracefully smashed to the ground by Eimear Traynor, and after receiving treatment she had to be replaced by Derrynoose youngster Maeve Lennon, fresh from collecting her Ulster Schools All Star award on Friday night.

Aimee Mackin converted the free to register what would prove the last score of the game, though there was drama from the kickout as former Culloville camogie clubmates McConville and Traynor tangled with the latter appearing to lash out on the ground.

Monaghan clearly came to Middletown determined to show some more fight than last season when humiliated by Armagh in the Ulster semi-final, but McCormack’s women weren’t going to be bullied and never looked like losing the football match.

The visitors can take some positives from this defeat but Armagh march on, remaining ahead on scoring difference of Tipperary, who also recorded their third consecutive victory by overcoming Roscommon 0-6 to 0-4 in an incredibly low-scoring game.

Armagh’s next opponents on Sunday week, Tyrone, were edged 3-8 to 3-7 by Laois while the other fixture in Division Two saw Cavan spring what may be regarded as something of a surprise by beating last season’s first division side Westmeath 2-8 to 3-4.

ARMAGH: A Carr; C Towe, C McCambridge, C O’Hagan; L Kenny, L McConville, G Ferguson; N Marley, B Mackin (0-3); N Coleman, A McCoy, C Marley; A McCoy, K Mallon (capt; 0-6, 5f), A Clarke (1-1).  Subs used: A Mackin (0-3, 2f) for Hendron (ht), E Druse for Kenny (39mins), D Coleman for O’Hagan (39), N Reel for Clarke (49), E Lavery for B Mackin (49), M Ferguson for G Ferguson (49), M Lennon for McCoy (58).


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