February 15th, 2024


Cork 1-7 Armagh 1-8

Armagh will welcome Galway to the Athletic Grounds this Sunday (2pm) after a first ever away win against Cork made it two from two for Greg McGonigle’s side on the Orchard’s return to NFL Division One after a six-season absence.

Young gun Emily Druse and debutant Niamh Murray scored their first Armagh points as the Orchard outfit followed up their victory over Waterford with a 1-8 to 1-6 triumph at Pairc Ui Rinn against hosts who had got their campaign underway with a win against Galway.

Star forward Aimee Mackin again topped the Orchard chart, this time with 1-3 including converting an early penalty, while five players chipped in with a point apiece including legends Caroline O’Hanlon, Lauren McConville and Aoife McCoy.

So too did the 20-year-old Druse and renowned musician Murray, who has been brought into her club boss McGonigle’s county panel on the back of impressing in Clann Eireann’s run to an unprecedented Ulster Senior Championship success last autumn.

New manager McGonigle has said the challenge of stepping up from Division Two shouldn’t be under-estimated but Armagh are really relishing life back at the National League’s top table for the first time since 2017 and he was pleased with this hard-earned win.

“Work-rate is going to be key for a lot of the games, especially with winter football.  We had to dig in but defensively I thought we played very well.  It’s never easy for teams to get the win points down here and we really had to earn them,” reflected McGonigle.

Recently appointed captain Clodagh McCambridge had spoken of a desire to avenge last July’s All Ireland quarter-final loss to the Rebelettes in the Athletic Grounds and this first ever away win against Cork was one to savour.

Last time Armagh made the long journey to Cork for an NFL fixture it fell foul of the weather and a narrow loss in the rearranged game at Abbotstown meant missing out on the first division semi-finals in 2016 by a whisker on scoring difference.

The orangewomen were just back in Division One that year after a lengthy absence, briefly topping the table after winning their first three matches under new manager Ronan Clarke, and the hope will be that history repeats itself at the start of McGonigle’s reign.

Galway will arrive in the ancient cathedral city this Sunday still pointless after following up their initial loss away to Cork with a narrow derby defeat at home to Connacht rivals Mayo at the weekend so Armagh will be confident of continuing their winning run.

McGonigle’s women will be looking forward to playing in the Athletic Grounds for the first time this season, but memories of Galway winning at Orchard headquarters eight years ago when Armagh two players sinbinned should help ensure no chickens are counted.

But belief should be high after what was only the third victory over Cork in Orchard history following the historic triumph in a league match at Clonmore seven years ago and Armagh’s win in a pulsating 2019 All Ireland group game in Tullamore.

Although Cork are currently missing star sisters Ciara and Doireann O’Sullivan, Armagh have had to manage without three top players of their own, Blaithin Mackin and siblings Niamh and Catherine Marley, on their return to Division One.

Key markswoman Aimee Mackin missed last summer’s All Ireland quarter-final defeat through injury but her penalty after dual star Libby Coppinger fouled her club skipper Louise Kenny gave Armagh the perfect start on Sunday.

Another notable Cork camog Hannah Looney soon set up Daire Kiely for an equalising goal on an afternoon when the hosts were never in front, and Mackin nudged Armagh ahead again with a free before kicking the first of her two points from play.

Katie Quirke, who had notched Cork’s entire tally of 1-6 against Galway the week before, pulled a point back on 12 minutes but it was cancelled out by a superb score from Mackin and indeed Armagh might have had a goal in between.

Playing the 96th match of her Orchard career without ever having been injured or dropped, centre half back McConville drove forward but Cork goalkeeper Sarah Murphy picked off her pass for converted attacker Kenny.

Points from Sadhbh O’Leary and Quirke got Cork back on even terms again but midfield maestro O’Hanlon’s first point of her 23rd inter-county season ensured that Armagh had their noses in front at the interval.

Harps prospect Druse scored the first point of her Orchard career at the start of the second half whereas Cork failed to take any of three opportunities in the opening five minutes and were then grateful for Melissa Duggan blocking Kenny’s shot at goal.

Quirke kicked a point from play and landed a free either side of a visiting score from Crossmaglen’s McConville and then Murray, who had come on for Kenny midway through the half, marked her first Armagh appearance by raising a white flag.

McGonigle’s other two substitutions saw Ballyhegan’s Eve Lavery replace Clonmore’s Sarah Quigley, who had got her first start against Waterford, and Moya Feehan of Shane O’Neills make her first Armagh appearance for some time when coming on for Druse near the end.

Having done well to deny Kelly Mallon a goal late in the first half, Cork keeper Murphy did so again with an even better save in the closing stages as Kiely and Dromintee stalwart McCoy traded points to leave two between the teams at the final whistle.

During the Orchard crew’s prolonged period in Division Two they were frustrated by the LGFA’s failure to adopt a two-up, two-down model like in the men’s National League so it is ironic that change has come this season now that Armagh are in the elite section.

So picking up points early in the campaign should help stave off fears of relegation and, while a home win over Waterford was seen as non-negotiable, backing that up by beating Cork in their own backyard is an impressive result.

As shown with Clann Eireann last season, experienced campaigner McGonigle is good at persuading players to set their horizons higher and McCambridge has stated Armagh’s ambition to win every league game this term.

After facing Galway, Armagh have a free weekend before a trip to Ashbourne to take on their former manager Shane McCormack’s Meath, who have begun with an away win over Mayo followed by beating All Ireland champions Dublin 2-5 to 0-7 on Sunday.

Having already been beaten by National League title holders Kerry in a repeat of last August’s All Ireland final, that was a second defeat for Dublin, though Waterford are bottom of the three winless sides on scoring difference.

Last season’s All Ireland Player of the Year, Louise Ni Mhuircheartaigh came off the bench to score 1-4 for Kerry at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney as the Kingdom won by six points, just one more than Armagh’s margin against Waterford the previous Sunday.

ARMAGH: A Carr; G Ferguson, C McCambridge (capt), R Mulligan; C Towe, L McConville (0-1), D Coleman; N Coleman, C O’Hanlon (0-1); E Druse (0-1), A McCoy (0-1), S Quigley; A Mackin (1-3; 1-0pen, 1f), L Kenny, K Mallon.  Subs used: N Murray (0-1) for Kenny (45mins), E Lavery for Quigley (55), M Feehan for Druse (59).

CORK: S Murphy; M Duggan, L Coppinger, D Kiniry; A McDonagh, M O’Callaghan (capt), D Kiely (1-1); A Healy, S Leahy; E Jack, K Quirke (0-4; 1f), S O’Leary (0-1); L McDonagh, H Looney, E Cleary.  Subs used: S Cronin for L McDonagh (41), E Hurley for O’Leary (52), K O’Driscoll for Leahy (56).

Referee: Patrick Smith (Waterford).


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