June 6th, 2024



Richard Bullick at the Athletic Grounds

All Ireland champions Dublin predictably ran riot at the Athletic Grounds on Saturday as NFL Division One table toppers Armagh used their last regular league game to assess squad depth and give back-up players exposure to this elite level of football.

There were nine Orchard changes from the team that started in the away win against Mayo six days earlier and Armagh made a dozen substitutions on an afternoon when former skipper Kelly Mallon scored their entire tally of 1-4, including four frees.

Ballyhegan prospect Caitlin McCormack and fellow teenager Millie Lavery of Granemore made their first Orchard appearances from the bench, while the third debutant, Carrickcruppen’s Ciara Garvey, was one of five players starting for the first time.

Crossmaglen’s Megan O’Callaghan got the nod at centre half forward while Killeavy pair Laura Kavanagh and Eimear O’Brien were also in from the off and it was a proud day for Ballyhegan’s Ferguson family with Maeve joining older sister Grace at corner back.

By contrast, Dublin came to the ancient cathedral city fully loaded with no fewer than 11 of the starting side from last August’s All Ireland final also in the run-on line-up here including Hannah Tyrrell, who had scored eight points in the first half of that Croke Park showpiece.

Having had to cancel no fewer than three punditry jobs because of this match being switched from Sunday for television, former rugby international Tyrrell would have been keen to make her afternoon worthwhile and she duly netted in only the second minute.

You feared that the scoreboard could get really ugly when Dublin raised their third green flag of the game with just six minutes gone but Armagh got to grips with a consciously unbalanced contest and fought hard in front of an encouraging crowd on a wet day.

It took an unfortunate own goal by a combination of full back Clodagh McCambridge, for whom this was a first defeat in seven matches as Orchard captain, and goalkeeper Anna Carr to give Dublin their sixth goal in the 53rd minute.

This was something of an afternoon to forget for Armagh’s regular rock at the back Carr, who had come on at half-time to replace understudy Brianna Mathers, but was also lobbed from long-range by Dublin sub Annabelle Timothy in the closing seconds.

The hosts were at a numerical disadvantage for much of the last quarter thanks to the rather harsh sinbinning of Maeve Ferguson, who did catch an opponent awkwardly as she went down the left flank but it appeared to be more around the shoulder than under the chin.

This was the first meeting of these counties since the then unfancied Armagh gave holders Dublin a real scare in the 2020 All Ireland Senior Championship semi-final on a November evening at Breffni Park in Cavan.

Ironically, the Orchard outfit’s first ever victory over Dublin came on their most recent visit to the Athletic Grounds when a goal by Niamh Marley on her 24th birthday helped Armagh make history against a team managed by current Armagh gaffer Greg McGonigle!

Armagh actually defeated Dublin both times in their last two-season stay in NFL Division One, following up that first triumph with an away win at Abbotstown the following spring against a team about to embark upon a run of four All Ireland titles in a row.

Current manager Mick Bohan had just taken over from McGonigle, who had presided over a hat-trick of decider defeats in Croke Park showpieces after previously taking Monaghan to two finals, but neither of these heavyweights will read much into Saturday’s mismatch.

Dublin got the win which they needed to reach the final in the event of Kerry slipping up against Galway the following day and Armagh had their own objectives for an afternoon when the visitors brought the Brendan Martin Cup with them.

Fans were able to get their photos taken with ladies gaelic’s most coveted trophy on an occasion when Armagh LGFA laid on a family fun-day and the team afterwards marked the 80th birthday of Mallon’s grandmother and most fervent supporter Susie Hughes.

Neither the stark scoreline nor the miserable weather brought much cheer but neither could dampen spirits in the Orchard camp two weeks out from the trip to Croke Park for the first National League final in Armagh’s history.

As it transpired, Dublin’s landslide win wasn’t enough for them to reach the final as Kerry saw off Galway 2-11 to 0-12 in Killarney to set up a repeat of the 2022 Division Two decider in which they defeated Armagh before going on to win the top tier title 12 months later.

In addition to the relative rookies, it was good to see two players who have featured regularly for Armagh in recent years, Niamh Reel of Silverbridge and Dromintee’s Shauna Grey, make their first Orchard appearances this season at the weekend.

McGonigle kept McCambridge and Lauren McConville, who had both been on the field for every minute of Armagh’s last 20 matches going into Saturday, as the spine of the defence for this Dublin visit while Mallon provided an experienced presence up front.

The other three common denominators from Ballina were Grace Ferguson, Granemore forward Corinna Doyle and reserve keeper Mathers while Emily Druse, who had 11 consecutive starts up until the Mayo match was back in the No 10 jersey.

Maeve Ferguson, Kavanagh, Garvey, O’Brien, Quigley, Druse, O’Callaghan, Maeve Lennon and Reel came in for Roisin Mulligan, Cait Towe, Dearbhla and Niamh Coleman, Caroline O’Hanlon, Eve Lavery, Aoife McCoy, Aimee Mackin and Niamh Henderson.

O’Hanlon was genuinely injured as she didn’t feature for Leeds Rhinos in their 51-49 British SuperLeague netball defeat to London Pulse in Hull on Friday night while McCoy didn’t tog out either.  Mackin, Towe and Lavery were unused subs but the other four came on.

It was always going to take time for an unfamiliar line-up shorn of so many frontliners to settle and Dublin didn’t give their hosts that luxury, Jennifer Dunne breaking away from the throw-in and unleashing their first shot after just 12 seconds albeit that went wide.

Tyrrell lashed home the opening goal when Kate Sullivan’s shot came back off a post and ricocheted into her path off McCambridge with captain Carla Rowe converting a free and midfielder Grace Kos pointing before a double whammy struck Armagh in the sixth minute.

Niamh Hetherton was let run right through before finishing to the net, AFLW winner Dunne surged back at Armagh from the kickout and Orlagh Nolan – one of SEVEN 2023 All Stars in this Dublin starting line-up – poked the ball home in a goalmouth scramble.

Rowe kicked another free before Mallon got Armagh on the board with two set-piece strikes in quick succession but a composed finish from the visiting skipper made it 4-3 to 0-2 by the end of the first quarter.

Tyrrell landed a free followed by two by Rowe either side of a third conversion by Mallon, who hit the left upright with another free from long-range after defender Martha Byrne had scored what would prove the last point of the half for Dublin.

McGonigle had indicated in the pre-match interview that he might make seven or eight half-time subs but it turned out to be six, with Carr, Mulligan, Grey, Niamh Coleman, Henderson and Caitriona O’Hagan on for Mathers, Kavanagh, Garvey, O’Brien, Doyle and Lennon.

Armagh got the first 1-1 of the second half, an early free from Mallon followed by her left-footed finish to the net after a shot from the Orchard’s best player McConville wasn’t held by Dublin goalkeeper Abby Shiels.

Dunne, Rowe and Sullivan were involved in a nice team goal well finished by Niamh Crowley in the 51st minute with Dunne adding a point before Moya Feehan and McCormack took over from Mallon and O’Callaghan respectively.

Young McCormack had the distinction of coming on for her Orchard debut at the same moment as Dublin’s veteran four-time All Ireland-winning skipper Sinead Aherne was introduced for the visitors.

Dearbhla Coleman replaced Quigley before Maeve Ferguson’s sinbin and Timothy scored a nice point before an attempted free from Reel fell short and the next Orchard changes were Louise Kenny, back from a facial injury, and Megan McCann on for McConville and Reel.

Mishap struck Armagh, for whom O’Hagan had kicked a couple of wides, when two of their biggest names, McCambridge and Carr, combined to deflect a Dublin shot into their own net, but replacing Druse on 55 minutes made it a special afternoon for Millie Lavery.

Dublin kicked a wide and missed a free but finished with a flourish, Caitlin Coffey’s point being followed by that speculative punt from Timothy dipping under Carr’s crossbar just before the final whistle.

ARMAGH: B Mathers; G Ferguson, C McCambridge (capt), M Ferguson; L Kavanagh, L McConville, C Garvey; E O’Brien, S Quigley; E Druse, M O’Callaghan, C Doyle; M Lennon, K Mallon (1-4, 4f), N Reel.  Subs used: R Mulligan for Kavanagh (ht), S Grey for Garvey (ht), A Carr for Mathers (ht), C O’Hagan for Lennon (ht), N Henderson for Doyle (ht), N Coleman for O’Brien (ht), M Feehan for Mallon (44mins), C McCormack for O’Callaghan (44), D Coleman for Quigley (45), L Kenny for McConville (51), M McCann for Reel (51), M Lavery for Druse (55).

DUBLIN: A Shiels; M Byrne (0-1), L Caffrey, J Tobin; N Crowley (1-0), O Carey, N Donlon; G Kos (0-1), J Dunne (0-1); O Nolan (1-0), C Rowe (capt; 1-4, 4f), C O’Connor; N Hetherton (1-0), H Tyrrell (1-1, 1f), K Sullivan.  Subs used: N Owens for O’Connor (42), H McGinnis for Tobin (42), A Timothy (1-1), S Aherne for Tyrrell (44), C Darby (1-0) for Kos (46), J Egan (0-1) for Sullivan (50), C Coffey for Dunne (51), A Nyhan for Carey (51), K Owens for Nolan (54), C Kirwan for Byrne (54), A Timothy for Donlon (54).

Referee: Siobhan Coyle (Donegal).