February 15th, 2024


Armagh got the Greg McGonigle era underway with a win as the orangewomen marked their long-awaited return to NFL Division One after a six-season absence by beating Waterford 2-8 to 2-3 in difficult conditions in Crossmaglen.

The hosts had a fresh feel with incoming manager McGonigle joined by a new captain in Clodagh McCambridge, whose young Clann Eireann clubmate Roisin Mulligan was thrown in from the off for her first Orchard appearance.

But it was two familiar figures who struck for Armagh goals in the space of less than a minute early in the second quarter, ace markswoman Aimee Mackin raising the first green flag and Aoife McCoy quickly following with a major of her own.

Those strikes proved vital in a low-scoring game which saw Armagh notch up 2-6 with the wind behind them in the opening period, but their interval lead was just six points thanks to the concession of a couple of goals.

With Armagh having to face into the elements it was still all to play for after the break but the Orchard crew restricted the visitors to just three points in the second half while adding a couple more scores of their own on an increasingly wet afternoon.

Aimee Mackin led the way with 1-2, supplemented by McCoy’s 1-1, Mallon’s three points included a couple of frees while hometown hero Lauren McConville and St Joseph’s HS Crossmaglen PE teacher Louise Kenny chipped in with a score apiece.

Last season’s Orchard corner back Kenny got a new role up front on the back of netting four times for Shane O’Neills in last autumn’s Armagh Senior Shield final and it was her storming run which set up the opening goal for clubmate Mackin.

With an AFLW campaign for Melbourne Demons under her belt since missing Armagh’s All Ireland exit last July through injury, the 26-year-old danced round the last defender and slotted home with her lethal left foot.

Moments later, Caroline O’Hanlon showed what she still has to offer at the start of her 23rd season in the orange jersey, expertly picking out Mallon with a sublime ball from a quickly-taken free and the Harps forward offloaded for the onrushing McCoy to hit the net.

Back in the ranks after a highly-successful four-season spell as county captain, Mallon had registered the opening point of this Orchard campaign after just two minutes, with the elder Mackin sister soon doubling the Armagh lead.

But Waterford went ahead with an eighth minute goal, Lauren McGregor following up when Anna Carr uncharacteristically couldn’t hold a dropping bomb from Aine O’Neill – the swirling wind didn’t help – and she netted again late in the half after the hosts posted 1-4 in between.

McGregor tucked away her second goal past Carr at her near post after Armagh appeared to be caught up field by a Waterford raid and, with the wind such a significant factor, that 27th major gave the visitors fresh hope for the second half.

New Waterford captain Kellyann Hogan, who kicked two frees, and sub Brid McMaugh had won on Orchard soil with Ballymacarbry in December’s All Ireland Senior Club Championship semi, but Sunday brought revenge for the Clann Eireann contingent.

Club boss McGonigle picked five players from Ulster champions Clann Eireann in his run-on line-up with Mulligan making her Orchard debut and the returning Dearbhla Coleman getting a first start alongside sister Niamh, new captain McCambridge and Cait Towe.

Selection rounded off a wonderful few days for Mulligan, who had found out last Thursday that she will be receiving a Gaelic Life Ulster Club All Star along with McCambridge, Towe, Niamh Coleman and their Clann Eireann captain Niamh Henderson.

With Armagh just newly promoted and Waterford arguably the weakest side in the first division on paper, this would have been a big target game for both teams and the hard-fought win will have the Orchard outfit feeling positive ahead of this weekend’s trip to Cork.

Cork edged Armagh by two points in last summer’s historic All Ireland quarter-final in the Athletic Grounds but have lost some experienced players since then, though they did start with a 1-6 to 0-5 home win against Galway on Sunday.

“It’s a good first game back in Division One, to get three points.  We’ve targeted winning our home games.  Conditions were a big factor today and Waterford defended deep but the girls put in a massive shift in the second half and we’ll get ready now for Cork,” said McGonigle.

If Armagh can take something from their long journey to Pairc Ui Rinn (Sunday, 1pm), they would fancy overcoming Galway with home advantage the following weekend before facing former manager Shane McCormack’s Meath in a mouthwatering fourth fixture.

Armagh have gone into the new season without the Marley sisters, Tiarna Grimes and Aoibheann McConville, while the injured Blaithin Mackin was listed as part of the management team rather than the playing panel on Sunday.

Sarah Quigley got her first Armagh start after firing Clonmore to Buttercrane Junior Championship success last autumn while McGonigle gave Crossmaglen’s Megan O’Callaghan gametime on her home pitch as one of three subs used.

The second was regular right half forward of recent years Eve Lavery, who came on for Dearbhla Coleman, while Killeavy’s Laura Kavanagh – last season Armagh Minors captain – made her first senior appearance for the county in the closing stages.

Along with the return of O’Hanlon and Dearbhla Coleman, Megan McCann, there are a number of fresh faces compared to last season’s squad including Mulligan, Quigley, O’Callaghan, Niamh Murray, Moya Feehan, camog Corinna Doyle and Maeve Watters.

ARMAGH: A Carr; G Ferguson, C McCambridge (capt), R Mulligan; C Towe, L McConville (0-1), D Coleman; N Coleman, C O’Hanlon; E Druse, A McCoy (1-1), S Quigley; A Mackin (1-2, 1f), L Kenny (0-1), K Mallon (0-3, 2f).  Subs used: M O’Callaghan for Quigley, E Lavery for D Coleman, L Kavanagh.

WATERFORD: E O’Brien; A McNulty, E Power, T Behan; A Murray, M O’Brien, N Power; E Murray, K Hogan (capt; 0-2, 2f); K McGrath, A O’Neill, C Carroll; C McCarthy, K Murray, L McGregor (2-1).  Subs: B McMaugh for Behan, L O’Shea for McCarthy.

Referee: Angela Gallagher.