October 27th, 2023



Richard Bullick at the Athletic Grounds

Clann Eireann made it a dozen county title triumphs since 2006 by condemning Carrickcruppen to their fourth consecutive Buttercrane Senior Championship showpiece defeat at the Athletic Grounds on Saturday.

These traditional rivals have met in 11 deciders in the past decade and a half, with some memorable matches, but this latest clash won’t live long in the memory as Cruppen couldn’t capitalise on the wind in the opening period and Clann Eireann pulled away after the break.

The iconic Caroline O’Hanlon replied with sublime points the first two times that the holders edged ahead in a low-scoring first half but Meabh McCambridge raised her second white flag and Tiarna Grimes doubled Clann Eireann’s interval lead.

When it was their turn with the elements at their back, Greg McGonigle’s side scored 1-10 without reply in the first 20 minutes of the second half and captain Niamh Henderson had the last word after Carrickcruppen pointed twice in quick succession.

Full forward Niamh Murray, an accomplished musician, picked up Player of the Match on the back of her 1-4, which included the game’s only goal, from a penalty, and a couple of frees but young wing back Roisin Mulligan was also in the frame for the award.

Even in a team packed with household names, Mulligan caught the eye with her incisive runs and she was one of eight players in orange to get on the scoreboard along with the 15-year-old Aoibhinn Donahue.

The Henderson sisters scored Clann Eireann’s last four points between them, three by captain Niamh punctuated by younger sibling Aoibhinn’s single score, before the former lifted the Marie Hoye Cup for a second year running.

It had taken a replay in Crossmaglen last autumn before Clann Eireann got their hands on the precious silverware, on that occasion after a relative famine of three years, but there was no danger of them being overhauled in injury-time here.

Having previously played second fiddle to her brilliant big sister Clodagh, albeit as an accomplished defender in her own right, Clann Eireann vice-captain Meabh McCambridge revelled in her new forward role.

Her two points were matched by Grimes, who barely featured for Armagh this year after injury, but is fully motoring again now, while Dearbhla Coleman, who withdrew from the county panel during the season, raised a white flag in the first half.

So Clann Eireann had a good spread of eight scorers but the recrowned Orchard champions won’t be able to afford such wasteful finishing if they are to improve upon a hitherto poor record in the provincial club competition.

The hot favourites kicked five wides in the first 12 minutes, a tally which had risen to nine by the end of the half, along with hitting an upright and having several shots fade into the arms of Armagh goalkeeper Anna Carr, who also made one good save.

Clann Eireann’s conversion rate was significantly better after the break, though they still kicked a further five wides – one of which was a great goal chance for captain Henderson – and were thwarted twice in quick succession by heroics from Carr.

McGonigle’s women were also turned over quite a few times in attack in that opening period by fiercely committed Cruppen, but having to get such numbers behind the ball made it difficult for them to push forward for much-needed scores.

It could be said that the Lowe’s Lane ladies weren’t positive enough when they had the breeze behind them but taking the game to Clann Eireann isn’t easy and it must be remembered Cruppen are the only team who consistently challenge the Lurgan giants.

Harps had a spectacular purple patch at the start of this decade but have virtually imploded since whereas this was the 14th time Carrickcruppen have reached the county final in the past 16 seasons, which is even more than Clann Eireann.

They have defied the odds often enough, not least when winning their last title in 2018 as unfancied underdogs against a Clann Eireann team expected to make it three in a row, but this latest loss will be hard enough to bounce back from.

Taliswoman O’Hanlon and evergreen skipper Sharon Reel will both be 40 by the time next season’s club championship rolls round and naturally there isn’t as much coming through as from that prolific footballing factory in Lurgan.

Armagh’s rising star Caitriona O’Hagan is a beacon of hope for Cruppen but, having lost all four of her county finals as a teenager, this fine young woman who was the subject of a nationwide LGFA feature on match morning, may wonder where her medal will come from.

This isn’t Clann Eireann’s problem but leaving the Athletic Grounds on a gloomy, blustery evening, it felt that there are clouds hanging over Armagh LGFA’s flagship domestic competition, well backed by Buttercrane for the past six seasons.

There may be competitive merit in copying the men’s model in Kerry by having regionalised sides contest the county’s Senior Championship, perhaps with three teams representing South Armagh, North Armagh and Mid Armagh.

On the other hand, a club like Clann Eireann will feel entitled to keep reaping the rewards for the work which has brought such success, including another Orchard domestic double this season, and their emotional link to the Marie Hoye Cup can’t be underestimated.

Clann Eireann enjoyed a clean sweep of championship successes at age group level last year and this season have fielded THREE adult ladies sides for the first time, with their Seconds reaching the Junior final which was the opening game of Saturday’s double-header.

Several stalwarts were introduced right at the end and a few others started but the nucleus of this team is made up of women in their prime who have already won multiple medals and have plenty left in the tank.

At the end of a week in which she made the national All Stars shortlist, Clodagh McCambridge was assigned to marking O’Hagan rather than O’Hanlon but what might have been a tasty tussle didn’t really materialise due to the lack of supply.

As always, O’Hanlon was at the heart of everything for her beloved Carrickcruppen, putting her body on the line to make valuable blocks, making some wonderful runs upfield, showing good hands and kicking classic points but it was to no avail this time.

New Armagh manager McGonigle will have watched O’Hanlon’s performance with interest wearing his other hat and, along with Clann Eireann’s profligacy, she at least kept Cruppen in touch during that opening period with superb scores in the 11th and 28th minutes.

Going in level before facing into the elements in the second half would have left Cruppen vulnerable enough but McCambridge junior and Grimes ensured Clann Eireann went in ahead and they came out really firing after the break.

Clann Eireann ruthlessly added five points in the first five minutes of the second half and, although a heated tussle between O’Hanlon and Niamh Coleman showed the competitive edge was still there, it felt like a decisive surge and so it proved.

Murray kicked a point, put away the penalty to extend the lead to double-digit proportions and added a free before the Henderson sisters took over the scoring responsibility, though at least Cruppen doubled their tally late on courtesy of O’Hanlon and Ciara Garvey.

There is no doubt Carrickcruppen’s pride will be wounded by the magnitude and nature of this defeat, though the 14-point margin is put in context by recalling Clann Eireann won by 39 and 32 in the quarter and semi-finals against Grange and Ballyhegan respectively.

Those one-sided scorelines suggest the Armagh Senior Championship has a competitive problem as already reflected upon, but worthy title winners Clann Eireann can now look forward to their provincial campaign after another unbeaten domestic season.

CARRICKCRUPPEN: A Carr; M Watters, R O’Reilly, S Kelly; A McAteer, S Reel (capt), A Carroll; C Garvey (0-1), C O’Hanlon (0-3); O Garvey, M Cinnamond, K McArdle; S McCausland, C O’Hagan, N Campbell.  Subs used: O O’Callaghan for O Garvey (40mins), E Matthews for McCausland (52).

CLANN EIREANN: C Lawless; A Fleville, C McCambridge, G Carville; R Mulligan (0-1), M Moriarty, C Towe; A Henderson (0-1), N Coleman; D Coleman (0-1), N Henderson (capt; 0-3), T Grimes (0-2); M McCambridge (0-2), N Murray (1-4; 1-0pen, 2f), A Donohue (0-1).  Subs used: M McCann for Grimes (56), A McStay for D Coleman (56), L McGibbon for G Carville (60), M Carvill for Murray (60), A Hoye for Donohue (60).

Referee: Chris Lennon (Clan na Gael).