June 6th, 2024


Richard Bullick

There has been starkly contrasting news for Armagh gaelic vice-captains Lauren McConville and Aimee Mackin either side of the Orchard outfit’s Ulster Senior Championship success this month.

Crossmaglen’s McConville picked up both All Ireland Player of the Month awards for April after starring in Armagh’s historic All Ireland League title triumph last month, the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) and Ladies Gaelic Football Association (LGFA) versions.

The 29-year-old had a couple of trips to Dublin to collect her gongs ahead of the Clones showpiece in which Armagh regained the provincial crown from Donegal with an extra-time victory after being overhauled right at the end of the regulation hour.

Ace markswoman Mackin had left the field injured during the second half at St Tiernach’s Park and sickening confirmation came late last Wednesday night that the 27-year-old had suffered the second cruciate rupture of her decorated career.

She bounced back from her first, which happened in July 2019 as Armagh beat Cork in a championship match for the first time ever, by winning All Ireland Player of the Year the following season.

Orchard followers will hope she can make a triumphant return this time too but, in the short-term, it is devastating news for the player herself and a big blow to Orchard hopes of achieving All Ireland glory this season.

Armagh are seen as real contenders for the sport’s top prize but will have to adapt to being without Mackin for the remainder of a campaign which continues with All Ireland group games against Meath on Saturday week and Tipperary seven days later.

Manager Greg McGonigle will hope Aimee’s younger sister Blaithin Mackin can feature for the first time this season after recovering from a medial ligament tear but their Shane O’Neill’s club captain Louise Kenny is set to be sidelined by a shoulder injury.

The upsetting injury news has taken a little gloss off Armagh’s second silverware win of the season and seven Orchard heroes including NFL final Player of the Match McConville being honoured with a place in the ceremonial Team of Division One.

McConville subsequently followed March winner Mackin in receiving the GPA Player of the Month award and, unlike her county team-mate, the diminutive centre half back completed the double by being named LGFA Player of the Month also.

It has been a special season so far for McConville, who was followed by Orchard captain Clodagh McCambridge in making her 100th Armagh appearance during the National League, though the favourites had to dig deep to get over the line in the Ulster showpiece.

For the second year running, Donegal did a pretty good job in limiting McConville’s impact but this ferocious competitor was an influential figure in extra-time, bombing forward with purpose in baking heat and kicking a great equalising score five minutes from the end.

“I knew we needed energy in extra-time and I hadn’t been overly happy with my performance in normal time so it was an opportunity to kick on and rectify that and show a bit of leadership,” she reflected afterwards.

“We’d anticipated a real battle but it was probably a wee bit disappointing to have let a four-point lead slip after we’d had some momentum.  Credit to Donegal for coming back but that’s something that we’ll have to go away and have a look at.

“But we worked really hard in the heat and showed good character in extra-time.  We’ve talked about depth in the panel and we’re lucky with the calibre of girls coming on, including Niamh Reel landing the winning free with her first kick of the ball.”

Silverbridge’s Reel has almost felt like Armagh’s forgotten forward at times over the past couple of years but will presumably be one of those whom McGonigle looks to now to offset the unfortunate absence of the Orchard’s ace attacker.

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