ORCHARD DELIGHTED BY CROKE PARK WIN
Boss Shane McCormack declared himself ‘absolutely thrilled’ and skipper Kelly Mallon said she was ‘absolutely delighted’ after their Armagh side secured silverware and a return to the NFL’s top flight by beating Laois in Dublin on Saturday.
After frustratingly falling short in their promotion push over the past six seasons, ambitious Armagh got over the line at Croke Park on a day when winning was everything and, now with that monkey off their backs, there is much more to come from this talented team.
There will be tougher tests ahead as Ulster champions Armagh seek to defend their provincial crown and then target All Ireland glory but this side is certainly capable of finding higher gears over the coming months.
Before that though, they were happy to have got this National League job done at headquarters with the Orchard outfit’s first victory there since the 2012 All Ireland Intermediate decider, and the celebrations continued long into the night.
“I’m absolutely thrilled. We set our stall out at the start of the year in terms of promotion being an important priority. We’re six years in Division Two and everyone says we’re a Division One team but we had to prove it and now we’re up at the top table again.
“All credit to Laois, who came at us. We got a few early goals but they battled through and we knew that was going to happen. There was only five points in it in the league game between us on a day when they didn’t take a couple of goal opportunities.
“They took them today and put us on the back foot, even with that healthy early lead. Our performance for 10-15 minutes in that second half wasn’t good but we’d learned a lot from (losing) last year’s final and we ground it out and defended well,” McCormack reflected.
“We got off to that flying start but we’d gone ahead against Kerry here last year and then kind of switched off. Kerry came back then and we knew Laois would do the same so we had to keep playing and I’m just glad to get the result.”
Armagh have won all of new manager McCormack’s eight games in charge so far but the personable former Kildare goalkeeper, who replaced Ronan Murphy at the helm, is quick to share the credit with his full management team and an impressive panel of players.
“We’ve an excellent backroom team – four from Kildare, four from Armagh and there’s a Dub stuck in the middle, but there’s great cohesion between the management and within the playing group too, so it’s working well and we’ll enjoy this success together tonight.
“It’s nice to win in Croke Park and most importantly it fulfils that goal we set at the start of the year of winning Division Two and getting promotion, but now we’ll set our sights on our next target and the Ulster Championship which is only a couple of weeks away,” he said.
Having already led Armagh to an historic hat-trick of Ulster title triumphs, Harps forward Mallon has now won a fourth trophy as Orchard captain and had the honour of skippering her county to what was a sweet and long-awaited win in Croke Park.
“I’m so delighted to get over the line. We had a tough occasion here last year and, from the moment the final whistle went then, we couldn’t wait to get back and win this title to get us up to Division One,” said the only player in the starting team to have tasted victory there before.
Now in her 15th season in the orange jersey, Mallon hadn’t been fit to start last year’s decider against Kerry as she recovered from a broken leg but took her place at the front of the pre-match parade this time and got her hands on the silverware at the end.
After being pipped at the post by Kerry last April, the Orchard crew were never going to take victory for granted on Saturday in spite of that remarkable burst of four goals early on putting the hot favourites in what might have felt like an impregnable position to outside observers.
“We got off to a dream start obviously but I never really felt like we were home and hosed. Credit to Laois, who really put it up to us and were always there or thereabouts. But we have good depth in our panel, with girls capable of coming in fresh to finish a game out.
“It’s a year behind schedule because we would like to have gone up last season, but Kerry have shown since that they’re an outstanding team. It means a lot to get back up to Division One and this success should also stand to us going into our Championship campaign.”
Unfortunately, the Madden sportswoman missed the winning team photo due to post-match media duties but this experienced player’s leadership has been a significant factor for Armagh over recent years and her contribution won’t be overlooked.
The Orchard’s hat-trick hero Aimee Mackin was the obvious choice for the Player of the Match award and the prolific forward’s sentiments were similar to those expressed by the Armagh manager and captain.
“It feels brilliant. It’s been a long year since the final last year, we’re just delighted to come here and get a win and get over the line. We’re back in Division One and that’s where we want to be.
“We’ve been in Division One before and will look forward to the challenge of playing there next season when the time comes, but we’ll enjoy tonight first of all,” exclaimed Mackin, who had top-scored in the All Stars match in Texas on Easter Sunday.
“We were lucky that we had a few goals, but it was just seven scores to six at half-time and we knew that Laois would push us right to the line. That’s the sort of game it was. We wish them all the best for championship but we’re delighted today to get the win.”