TIPPERARY 0-10 ARMAGH 3-12
The timeless Caroline O’Hanlon rolled back the years by netting twice in Fethard as Armagh overcame a determined Tipperary challenge to record a seventh consecutive victory in NFL Division Two and end the promotion hopes of their hosts.
Despite having a strong breeze behind them in the opening period and registering the last two points of the half, Armagh just led a tight game by 0-8 to 0-5 at the interval, but triple All Star O’Hanlon proved a very influential figure after the break.
Playing just her second game of football since last October’s county final replay, the evergreen veteran settled any Armagh nerves with a lovely score early in the second half before raising two green flags in the space of three minutes.
The 38-year-old’s first goal was adeptly palmed to the net and soon afterwards she slotted home her second from an acute angle with her left foot to put nine between the teams coming toward the end of the third quarter.
O’Hanlon’s scoreboard contribution of 2-1 was supported by six points from the boot of Aimee Mackin, including two frees, while skipper Kelly Mallon scored the third Armagh major to put the result beyond doubt.
Aimee’s younger sibling Blaithin Mackin chipped in with two points and there were one apiece from Aoife McCoy, who gets married the week after the league final, and sisters Niamh and Catherine Marley.
There was another Player of the Match performance from excellent centre half back Lauren McConville, who repeatedly put her body on the line in a feisty first half, as Tipperary fought hard in a bid to set up a showdown with Armagh at headquarters on April 15.
Given the likelihood that Laois would defeat Roscommon later in the afternoon and thus secure second place at their expense based on head-to-head result if the teams finished level, Tipperary knew they needed to draw with Armagh to secure their tickets to Croke Park.
By contrast, Shane McCormack’s women were already assured of a place in next month’s Dublin decider but the Armagh gaffer fielded a very strong team with starts for hugely experienced campaigners O’Hanlon and Niamh Marley.
Having made her seasonal debut against Laois in the Athletic Grounds, O’Hanlon then missed the win over Westmeath last time out as she was playing British SuperLeague netball for Leeds Rhinos the same afternoon.
Niamh Marley’s availability has been limited lately due to her Irish sevens rugby trial but both stalwarts remain important pieces of the Armagh jigsaw and their return to the mix means McCormack could have a few positive selection headaches coming into the showpiece.
Even with Alex Clarke and Sarah Marley long-term lay-offs, Tiarna Grimes injured too and Aoife Lennon having stepped back from Orchard duty on a temporary basis, there will be fierce competition for starting spots against Laois.
For Armagh’s final regular league game, McCormack made four personnel changes from the convincing victory over Westmeath the previous Sunday, including giving back-up goalkeeper Brianna Mathers another outing in nets in place of regular Anna Carr.
Shauna Grey slotted in at corner back for Louise Kenny, Niamh Marley replaced namesake Niamh Coleman in midfield and O’Hanlon effectively came in for her young Carrickcruppen clubmate with identical initials, Caitriona O’Hagan.
Armagh’s All Star full back Clodagh McCambridge went into the middle of the field for the throw-in though, to start what would prove an intriguing tussle throughout with Tipperary’s marquee player Aishling Moloney.
Moloney won the throw-in and soon got a free when McCambridge took the ball off her but Emily Druse snapped up possession when it was played short and Tipp’s star turn quickly found herself ticked for a challenge on Niamh Marley.
Blaithin Mackin kicked a monster opening point from way out on the left with the wind behind her and Mallon struck an upright with an early free before McConville needed treatment after the ball-carrier led with her shoulder into the Orchard defender.
After Moloney kicked an equalising free in the 12th minute, McConville was smashed hard in a high tackle as she steamed into the danger zone and Aimee Mackin converted the straightforward free which resulted.
Neassa Towey levelled with a left-footed free but Aimee Mackin put Armagh ahead again via the crossbar after Grey got a vital touch at the back, O’Hanlon launched a counter-attack from very deep and Blaithin Mackin combined with McCoy.
Niamh Martin made it all square once more with a point after the towering Moloney got above McCambridge to take a ball which bounced high on the artificial surface, and Aimee Mackin couldn’t capitalise on a lovely run by O’Hanlon.
McConville continued to set the tone in fighting fearlessly for the Orchard cause and, after Ava Fennessy was off target for Tipp, midfielder Niamh Marley got forward to drive over an important point for Armagh and Aimee Mackin added another a minute later.
A turnover from McConville led to Armagh’s third score in as many minutes, Catherine Marley – who had swapped flanks with Ballyhegan skipper Eve Lavery compared to their regular slots – pointing after a neat exchange with McCoy.
McCambridge was frustrated when she seemed to win the ball against Moloney only for the referee to give a free in which the latter converted, but Armagh quickly cancelled out that point with another nice score of their own.
O’Hanlon caught the long kickout from Mathers cleanly, got the ball back from Blaithin Mackin and found Catherine Marley with a slick pass in an Armagh attack which ended with Aimee Mackin splitting the posts.
Niamh Marley briefly left the field for running repairs late in the half just before McCoy knocked over a point off the outside of her right boot after being put through by Catherine Marley, only for Niamh Martin to reply promptly for the hosts.
There was still time before the break for a restored Niamh Marley to be caught in the face with a high tackle which was punished by a sinbin for the culprit Rosanna Kiely, though Aimee Mackin missed the accompanying free.
McCambridge won the second half throw-in and, although Blaithin Mackin immediately over-carried, Tipperary kicked a wide and O’Hanlon dictated play before scoring a sumptuous point with her cultured left foot.
Aimee Mackin was wide with a free from an acute angle on the right and Moloney missed with a speculative attempt from the sideline after McCambridge had got a great tip to deflect the ball away from the danger area.
Armagh got a fantastic score from a sweeping attack launched by Grey and carried on by O’Hanlon, McCoy, Druse, Lavery, Mallon, Blaithin Mackin and Catherine Marley before a lovely run by O’Hanlon led to Niamh Marley feeding Blaithin Mackin who pointed superbly.
Tipperary rattled the Orchard crossbar and Emma Morrissey pointed to reduce the deficit to four but McCambridge did well to block a shot for a 45 after a lateral hand-pass by Druse had been picked off.
After a long-range wide by Moloney, McConville went on a great run down the right, Aimee Mackin played the ball to captain Mallon and O’Hanlon fisted to the net for the first Armagh goal of the afternoon.
Moloney knocked over a point after turning one way then the other but O’Hanlon struck again just after Niamh Coleman replaced Druse, rolling home clinically after approach play by Niamh Marley and McCoy had created the opening.
O’Hanlon showed she is human by kicking a wide and Moloney landed a free for Tipperary, but Mallon made it three goals in eight minutes for Armagh when she slapped the ball past the keeper after a nice exchange by the Mackin sisters.
The Orchard captain picked up a knock soon afterwards and was replaced by Derrynoose schoolgirl Maeve Lennon while Aimee Mackin and Moloney exchanged frees as Armagh maintained their comfortable lead.
Aimee Mackin drew a blank after a hitherto patient Armagh attack and then hit a weak shot which faded into the goalkeeper’s arms after an intercept by O’Hanlon, but Towey was off target too with a left-footed free at the other end.
Dromintee clubmates Grey and McCoy linked well from the back before McConville came through a gap and found Grey again, who sent Aimee Mackin away for a left-footed point to which Moloney couldn’t reply as her chip went wide.
With the win now in the bag, McCormack made five changes in the closing stages with Dearbhla Coleman, Maeve Ferguson, Niamh Reel, Blathnaid Hendron and the previous Sunday’s debutant Aoibheann McConville getting the chance to stretch their legs.
Towey got what would prove the afternoon’s last score with a left-footed point, Niamh Marley made a couple of strong runs in the closing stages and the game ended with a Moloney wide shortly after she had lost out to McCambridge when a threatening ball came in.
Armagh have finished with seven victories from their seven regular league games, scoring more than any other team and conceding less. Laois beat Roscommon 2-9 to 1-5 to pip Tipp to a place in the final in spite of an inferior scoring difference and relegate their visitors.
Top-scoring in Armagh’s impressive away win was the perfect finish to the weekend for O’Hanlon, who had suffered an agonising defeat for Leeds Rhinos in Friday night’s Sky-televised British SuperLeague clash with Severn Stars in Hull.
Still seeking their first victory of a difficult campaign blighted by injuries, Rhinos had their noses ahead at each interval but needed a great turnover from O’Hanlon’s Northern Ireland team-mate Michelle Magee to draw level entering the final few minutes.
Both O’Hanlon and Antrim gaelic footballer Magee, making her 20th consecutive start for Rhinos, had great games but they ended up being edged out 53-51. The Leeds side are away to Team Bath this Friday night (Sky Sports, 7.30pm) before facing Celtic Dragons in Huddersfield on Sunday.
ARMAGH: B Mathers; C Towe, C McCambridge, S Grey; G Ferguson, L McConville, E Druse; N Marley (0-1), B Mackin (0-2); C Marley (0-1), C O’Hanlon (2-1), E Lavery; A Mackin (0-6, 2f), A McCoy (0-1), K Mallon (capt; 1-0). Subs used: N Coleman for N Marley (temp, 30-31mins), N Coleman for Druse (41), M Lennon on for Mallon (50), D Coleman for Lavery (57), M Ferguson for Grey (57), B Hendron for O’Hanlon (59), A McConville for C Marley (59), N Reel for A Mackin (59).