July 5th, 2024


Richard Bullick

An equalising score by Niamh Henderson in the closing stages salvaged a share of the spoils for Armagh at Semple Stadium after two Tipperary goals midway through the second half had turned this All Ireland Senior Championship match on its head.

Having beaten recent champions Meath in their opening group game at the Athletic Grounds the previous Saturday, Armagh went into this Thurles tie as favourites for an away win which would have secured a home quarter-final at the start of next month.

Grabbing a draw means Armagh have qualified for the last eight for an eighth year running but they must now wait anxiously for the outcome of this Sunday’s showdown between Meath and Tipperary in Navan to see who will top the group.

If Tipperary were to beat Meath by two points or more, they would finish first in the table so Armagh will be hoping that their former manager Shane McComack’s Royals can secure the win which would take them through to the knockout stages as group runners-up.

The Orchard crew were one point ahead after a cagey opening period on Saturday but Tipperary had suffered a blow with the somewhat harsh sinbinning of their taliswoman Aishling Moloney shortly before the interval.

Tipp quickly levelled after the resumption but Ulster champions Armagh got the next three scores courtesy of Eve Lavery, Emily Druse and a free from Kelly Mallon to put them in the box-seat in this low-scoring game.

Their lead was soon wiped out however when Moloney lashed the ball into the Orchard net and Tipperary raised another green flag just three minutes later when Anna-Rose Kennedy drove a stinging shot through Anna Carr’s clutches after a brilliant run.

Having gone from three up to three down in such a short time, the orangewomen were rattled temporarily and Mallon’s attempt to reduce the arrears from a long-range free saw her push her effort past the far post.

Armagh lacked composure, with the ball thrown away wildly in attack and Blaithin Mackin being off target with a speculative shot before two successful frees from experienced campaigner Mallon brought them back to within a point of their hosts.

Moloney couldn’t convert a long-range free for Tipp but Aoife McCoy was blown for over-carrying and time really was ticking away when Clann Eireann captain Henderson burst through to drive over a composed point on 57 minutes.

The scores were level but there was still time for more drama, including the Tipperary goalkeeper Lauren Fitzpatrick hauling down Armagh sub Niamh Reel on halfway after she had been caught way upfield when her team coughed up possession.

Fitzpatrick was sinbinned by referee Anthony Marron but Armagh couldn’t use the time remaining to engineer a winning score, with another of their three subs used, Granemore’s Corinna Doyle, hitting a high wide when more patience was called for.

Doyle taking the shot also meant Tipperary had the opportunity to go on one last attack in search of a winning score but thankfully Lauren McConville came away with the ball and neither set of players appeared all that happy when the final whistle went moments later.

Favourites Armagh had been held to a draw by the group outsiders and not nailed down that home quarter-final while Tipperary probably felt that a golden opportunity to claim a big scalp and really boost their hopes of qualification for the knockout stages had been let slip.

National League title winners Armagh had an impressive record of nine victories from 10 matches this season ahead of facing a Tipperary team which failed to gain promotion from Division Two this spring.

However, Armagh have lost star forward Aimee Mackin to a second cruciate rupture of her career, her Shane O’Neills clubmate Louise Kenny is sidelined by a shoulder injury and the legendary Caroline O’Hanlon hasn’t been able to feature since last month’s Ulster final.

As for the Meath match seven days earlier, O’Hanlon and Reel had been named in the Armagh starting team but weren’t on the field for the throw-in, once again replaced by the fit-again Blaithin Mackin and Lavery.

Blaithin Mackin had successfully come through her seasonal debut against the Royals after recovering from a medial ligament tear while the retention of Ballyhegan’s Lavery was no surprise after her five-point haul in that Meath match.

The only change to the team that actually took the field against Meath, and a third deviation from the published line-up for the Tipperary tie, saw Meabh McCambridge brought in for her first ever Armagh start in place of Clonmore’s Sarah Quigley.

Orchard gaffer Greg McGonigle deployed Dearbhla Coleman in the middle for the throw-in to counter Moloney’s height but the former Tipp captain won possession, which led to the team in blue kicking a very early wide.

Either side of the first two trademark runs of the evening from the prominent McConville, Tipp drew first blood with a good point from Emma Morrissey but Lavery replied with a superb free from long-range that Aimee Mackin would have been proud of.

Armagh had their noses in front by the seventh minute, Druse using her pace to cut out a ball by Tipperary before bursting through an opposing player to launch an attack which resulted in a point from distance by Blaithin Mackin.

A free given away by Cait Towe was pulled wide by Morrissey and Blaithin Mackin was off target twice at the other end before the excellent Lavery scored a very sharp point reminiscent of her fifth against Meath last time out.

Morrissey converted a free early in the second quarter followed by a wide from Henderson, whose Clann Eireann clubmate Dearbhla Coleman then hooked a shot from long range past the left post low down.

But McConville doubled Armagh’s lead after being brought through the middle at pace by Henderson and Tipperary kicked another wide following a good block by Orchard captain Clodagh McCambridge on her own 45.

Lavery swung an ambitious shot into Fitzpatrick’s arms and Morrissey scored her third point of the game just before what, from the only camera angle available, was a sinbinning that Moloney could have felt a little aggrieved about.

Armagh couldn’t capitalise on their period of numerical advantage, McConville’s towering effort going just off target after a blistering attack and lively young corner back Roisin Mulligan pulling a shot wide either side of a good point from Kennedy for Tipp.

Mallon also drew a blank after another brilliant Armagh attack but the Orchard outfit finally cancelled out that Kennedy point when McConville ferociously won a ball on the opposition 65 and the lethal Lavery confidently split the posts from the resulting raid.

Tipperary showed excellent composure under siege from Armagh’s high press before finally getting a free out but captain McCambridge got two good turnovers and Henderson did well before Druse cut through for a fine point.

Lavery and Druse weren’t actually among Armagh’s 11 scorers in the Ulster final so there are plenty of players capable of contributing in the absence of Aimee Mackin albeit the Orchard’s tally of 10 points at the weekend wouldn’t win many matches.

Moloney, who had been quiet earlier by her standards, was now back on the field and, although the Armagh got the next point when Mallon punished a foul on her by nailing the free, the Tipp star soon made her presence felt.

She somehow won possession under pressure from both McCambridge and McConville, before linking with a team-mate who might have had a penalty claim against Towe but Tipperary recycled again and Moloney blasted an unstoppable shot past Carr.

Soon afterwards Kennedy somehow weaved her way through a congested Orchard defence and unleashed a thunderbolt which Carr could just parry into her own net as the hosts suddenly went three ahead.

Quigley was sent on for Druse but, either side of a Tipperary wide, a long-range free from Mallon drifted past the far post, McCoy threw a wild hand-pass in attack and that was followed by Blaithin Mackin taking a pot-shot from way out on the left.

McGonigle made what felt like a big call in replacing Lavery with Doyle, removing one of Armagh’s main threats from play along with their left-footed free-taker, but Mallon converted two set-pieces with her right boot in the space of three minutes.

By contrast, Tipp couldn’t convert two admittedly long-range frees, the second by Moloney after Clodagh McCambridge had pushed her over, and Armagh got back on level terms courtesy of Henderson with just under three minutes remaining.

Sharing the spoils secured Armagh’s ticket to the knockout stages but only time will tell whether Doyle’s late wide has cost the Orchard home comforts in the quarter-finals and left them facing tougher opponents on paper.

Hosting Galway, Mayo or Donegal would be far from an easy last-eight tie but certainly preferable to taking on All Ireland champions Dublin in their own backyard or a very long journey south to tackle Kerry or a resurgent Cork.

Any team in Ireland would miss Aimee Mackin’s cutting edge but Armagh followers will hope the three-week gap means O’Hanlon will be back fit for the quarter-final as the evergreen veteran’s composed presence remains so important to this side.

Armagh played a lot of attractive football at the weekend without much scoreboard reward, compounded by conceding goals at the other end, but Tipperary are a decent team who have spent more time in NFL Division One in recent times than the women in orange.

Despite top players like Orla O’Dwyer, Aisling McCarthy and Niamh Martin along with other leading Tipperary sportswomen Aimee-Leigh Murphy-Crowe, Dorothy Wall and Maeve Og O’Leary focusing on other codes, they will fancy their chances of reaching the quarter-finals.

Cork clinched top spot in Group Three by overcoming Galway 1-12 to 1-10, though the Connacht champions should secure runners-up place with a comfortable victory over Laois this Sunday.

After Donegal’s draw with Kerry, the outcome of Group Two was going to depend upon what both teams did against Waterford and the Kingdom outfit threw down the gauntlet to the Ulsterwomen with a superb 4-13 to 0-9 victory in Killarney.

A draw with Waterford on Sunday would secure Donegal’s passage to the knockout stages but the 17-point away win required to snatch first place in Group Two from Kerry feels like a very tall order.

Mayo’s comprehensive 2-15 to 0-5 victory over Kildare in Ballina at the weekend means they will finish as runners-up in Group Four as it is impossible to contemplate anything other than Dublin beating the Lilywhites in the final round of fixtures.

TIPPERARY: L Fitzpatrick; E Kelly, L Spillane, E Cronin; C O’Dwyer, M Curley (capt), S English; L Morrissey, AR Kennedy (1-1); C English, A Moloney (1-0), E Morrissey (0-3; 2f); M Creedon, A McGuigan, E McCarthy.  Subs used: N Towey for Creedon, K Downey for McCarthy.

ARMAGH: A Carr; G Ferguson, C McCambridge (capt), R Mulligan; C Towe, L McConville (0-1), D Coleman; N Coleman, B Mackin (0-1); E Druse (0-1), A McCoy, M McCambridge; E Lavery (0-3; 2f), N Henderson (0-1), K Mallon (0-3; 3f).  Subs used: S Quigley for Druse (46mins), C Doyle for Lavery (50), N Reel for Mackin (58).

Referee: Anthony Marron (Monaghan).

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