CLOUDS LIFT AS ARMAGH CLAIM BIG SCALP
ARMAGH 2-10 MAYO 1-11
Richard Bullick at the Athletic Grounds
Aimee Mackin converted a penalty against Connacht champions Mayo in the last 20 seconds of injury-time to seal a glorious comeback win which has earned Armagh their first ever home-quarter-final in the All Ireland Senior Championship.
Hitting the net with her second spot-kick of the afternoon was a redemptive moment for ace markswoman Mackin, whose earlier effort had been brilliantly saved by Mayo goalkeeper Laura Brennan as Armagh trailed by five points at the interval in the Athletic Grounds.
It felt like a long way back for Shane McCormack’s side but a torrential downpour at the break meant the black clouds lifted for the second half and the introduction of Ulster rugby star Niamh Marley made a real difference for the hosts.
The Lissummon stalwart is training full-time with the Irish sevens set-up as she targets a place at next summer’s Paris Olympics but the 31-year-old has unfinished business in the orange jersey and repeatedly put her body on the line in the Orchard cause.
A brave block deflected one goal-bound shot behind for a 45, she later took a huge hit which resulted in the Mayo player being sinbinned and then crucially claimed a magnificent clean catch of the opposition kickout in the lead-up to Mackin’s match-winning penalty.
This was Armagh’s most notable triumph since last May’s Ulster final when experienced campaigner Marley had won the crucial turnover which led to skipper Kelly Mallon netting the winning goal against Donegal right at the end of extra-time.
Armagh relinquished their provincial crown with a disappointing defeat to Donegal in last month’s Ulster showpiece and, although they had got back to winning ways against Laois in their opening All Ireland group game, Mayo were much more formidable opponents.
They won the Connacht final against Galway, who subsequently beat a Cork side who in the Munster final had defeated National League title winners Kerry, who then won in the backyard of Dublin, who had beaten All Ireland champions Meath in the Leinster showpiece.
The Orchard crew were knocked out of the 2019 All Ireland Senior Championship by Mayo at the last eight stage but recorded their first competitive victory over them to reach the following season’s semi.
The Orchard came out on top again when the teams met in a 2021 group game in Ballinamore but Caroline O’Hanlon had her jaw broken by Rachel Kearns in an unnecessary collision well away from the ball and missed the following week’s quarter-final loss to Meath.
Although named to start, AFLW player Kearns didn’t feature for Mayo on Sunday in a match which eventually yielded the biggest scalp that Armagh have ever taken in the absence of the legendary O’Hanlon, who has stepped back from Orchard duty due to injury issues.
This match wasn’t do-or-die in terms of the result but winning such a big game without their long-time taliswoman should be a significant confidence boost as well as securing that historic home quarter-final for Armagh, made possible by the competition’s new format.
Skipper Kelly Mallon is now the oldest player in O’Hanlon’s absence but the captain produced her best display of the season so far on her last outing before turning 34, including kicking a couple of fine points from play.
At the other end of the age scale, her clubmate Emily Druse is enjoying a memorable breakout season and the ebullient 20-year-old showed her impressive pace as well as bringing great energy all afternoon.
The always wonderful Lauren McConville, making her 93rd Armagh appearance without ever being injured or dropped, is the beating heart of this team and the Crossmaglen star’s heroic contribution was rewarded with the Player of the Match award.
Along with full back Clodagh McCambridge, the diminutive McConville has been on the field for every minute of Armagh’s 13 matches this season and is a hugely influential figure with her compelling mix of tigerish tackling and effective forays forward.
Aimee Mackin’s return to the starting team after recovering from the injury sustained in the Ulster final was at the expense of teenager Caitriona O’Hagan rather than Niamh Reel and McCormack was rewarded for boldly going with the extra inside forward.
Just before being replaced by O’Hagan, the unsung Silverbridge player produced a brilliant finish for the afternoon’s only Armagh goal from play, which brought the hosts level after a strong start to the second half.
The third sub used by Armagh was Catherine Marley, the woman who had scored the clinching goal in that landmark 2020 victory over Mayo at Parnell Park but took no part against Laois last time out due to injury.
A quietly important player for Armagh in recent years, the fourth Marley sister to follow her dad Noel as a county footballer made her presence felt in the closing stages after taking over from Shane O’Neills skipper Louise Kenny, who had put in a good shift.
In spite of having her first penalty saved and missing a very straightforward free, Aimee Mackin top-scored with 1-5 for Armagh and she also produced a fantastic catch on the slide to set up a superb point by Eve Lavery early in the second half.
A minute before that, Aimee had done well to win a long ball in by younger sibling Blaithin and score an important point as Armagh set about reducing the arrears after trailing 1-6 to 0-4 at half-time.
The interval deficit could have been even greater but for a brilliant save at point-blank range by Anna Carr early in the second quarter, though that was balanced by opposite number Brennan doing so well to keep out that first Aimee Mackin penalty.
The elder Mackin had kicked a superb point from way out on the right with just 42 seconds gone but the impressive Sinead Cafferky quickly levelled and full forward Deirdre Doherty soon put the visitors ahead with the first of her six points.
Mayo went four up when Sinead Cafferky netted from an acute angle in the eighth minute but Armagh halved the deficit through a Mallon point from play and Aimee Mackin converting a free awarded straight afterwards.
Doherty put Mayo three ahead with a huge point from wide on the left, she scored again after Armagh got turned over and Shauna Howley raised a white flag in the 22nd minute after a nice team move.
With thunder rumbling, Kenny kicked a wide after good approach play by McConville and Druse and then Armagh were awarded a penalty when Danielle Caldwell was adjudged to have climbed on Aimee Mackin as they competed for a ball in by Blaithin Mackin.
Although the 45 resulting from the goalkeeper parrying the penalty behind was floated wide by Aimee Mackin, referee Siobhan Coyle spotted a push inside and the former All Ireland Player of the Year converted the free.
Sinead Cafferky took her first half tally to 1-2 with a point after Fiona McHale had knocked over the referee in the build-up, and Armagh had plenty to think about as the teams went into the changing rooms and the heavens opened.
Niamh Marley replaced Shauna Grey at the start of the second half and, although Armagh began with a Niamh Coleman wide, they hit the front when Mallon rounded off a three-minute purple patch which added 1-3 to the Orchard account.
Aimee Mackin had won those balls in leading to points for herself and Lavery and then came the Armagh goal after Mallon scooped up possession following a great challenge from McConville and galloped forward.
She fed Aimee Mackin to her left who made great ground down the flank before taking a return pass from Aoife McCoy and playing the ball across to Reel, who cooly slotted past the goalkeeper in spite of having two defenders all over her.
A brilliant turnover by Ballyhegan’s Grace Ferguson set McCoy running and, now with her tail up, Mallon instinctively swung over a confident point to put Armagh in front for the first time since the second minute.
It should have been 1-4 in four minutes for Armagh but, just after O’Hagan replaced Reel, Aimee Mackin fluffed an easy free when Niamh Marley was fouled after taking a return pass from McConville.
Lisa Cafferky soon equalised for Mayo after patient approach play and O’Hagan had an ambitious shot saved just under the crossbar by Brennan after a scorching break by McConville.
Cait Towe took a dropping ball like an assured rugby fullback but, after Sinead Cafferky kicked a wide, Mayo edged ahead again with a free from Doherty in what was now a really absorbing game.
Having lost the previous Armagh kickout over the sideline, Kenny competed tenaciously to come away with the next, Niamh Marley threw her body in the way of a shot at the expense of a 45 and McCoy came back to win a good turnover deep in defence.
Druse showed delicious smarts to win a free near the tunnel, leading to an equalising score by Aimee Mackin from a long ball by Coleman, and Mayo kicked two wides in quick succession before the introduction of Catherine Marley.
The sub’s first contribution was to buy a free and Mallon gave Armagh the lead again a minute later after Coleman was brought down with the referee already playing advantage for an earlier infringement.
The match took what may have seemed a decisive swing towards Mayo when the visitors scored three points in as many minutes, Lisa Cafferky from play and two Doherty frees, with the latter offence also resulting in Towe being sinbinned.
The force was with Mayo and they even claimed the next Armagh kickout but Lavery won the ball back and Niamh Marley showed huge physical courage in winning Niamh Coleman’s diagonal kick-pass as Caldwell came hard as well.
The Mayo defender was sinbinned after a stoppage while both players received treatment with exactly three minutes left on the countdown clock, and Armagh displayed patience when play resumed until Catherine Marley won a free which Mallon put over.
Niamh Marley heroically claimed Brennan’s long kickout and was fouled for her trouble, with Mayo objections resulting in the free being moved forward, and Blaithin Mackin naturally looked for her superstar sister as she played it in.
In the goalmouth mayhem, Aimee managed to get a shot away which struck an upright but Coyle had seen her jersey being pulled, pointed to the spot once again and that lethal left foot delivered just 16 seconds before the hooter sparked joyous Orchard celebrations.
This wasn’t a must-win game for Armagh in mathematical terms but felt like a psychologically vital victory after that Ulster final loss, and the orangewomen will savour the prospect of welcoming Dublin, Cork, Donegal or Meath to Orchard headquarters in mid-July.
ARMAGH: A Carr; C Towe, C McCambridge, S Grey; L Kenny, L McConville, G Ferguson; N Coleman, B Mackin; E Lavery (0-1), A McCoy, E Druse; A Mackin (1-5; 1-0pen, 2f), K Mallon (capt; 0-4, 2f), N Reel (1-0). Subs used: N Marley for Grey (ht), C O’Hagan for Reel (37), C Marley for Kenny (39).
MAYO: L Brennan; E Ronayne, C McManamon, D Caldwell; C Needham, F McHale, K Sullivan (capt); A Geraghty, S Cafferky (1-2); S Howley (0-1), T O’Connor, S Mulvihill; L Cafferky (0-2), D Doherty (0-6, 3f), S Walsh. Subs used: L Wallace for O’Connor (26), M Cannon for Howley (37), M Reilly for Mulvilhill (45), S Lally for Sullivan (53), R Flynn for Needham (54).
Referee: Siobhan Coyle (Donegal).