May 9th, 2014 | Ladies Football


Armagh meet Waterford in a Dublin decider for the second time in three seasons in Saturday’s Tesco HomeGrown National League Division Three final at Parnell Park (TG4, 12.15pm).
James Daly’s ladies clinched the All Ireland Intermediate title by beating Waterford at Croke Park in 2012 and haven’t lost in four meetings between the teams in the past two years.
They had to scramble to salvage a draw in an All Ireland Intermediate group game at Killeavy when star player Caroline O’Hanlon was on a netball tour to South Africa but easily won the subsequent play-off followed by a deserved victory in the showpiece at headquarters.
This season, Armagh travelled to face Waterford in their final regular league game last month with top place in the table still up for grabs but emerged convincing victors on a 6-12 to 1-5 scoreline thanks to five second half goals.
It should be a closer contest in the second Dublin decider between these teams in two years but Armagh go into the big game very well equipped to finally secure the promotion which has eluded them the past two seasons.
They have won all seven regular league games in 2014 before thrashing troubled Tipp 9-15 to 0-2 in a hopelessly one-sided semi-final and remain firm favourites to take the title, as they have been since before the season started.
Armagh had the best defensive record of any team in this season’s third division while also topping the scoring charts, with their 26 goals in seven league games coming from a healthy spread of 10 players.
Daly has given starts to 24 players this season with a further eight getting game-time off the bench and the Orchard dominance means match minutes have been more liberally spread around the panel than normally could be expected.
His selection for the semi-final, which featured a couple of changes to what had hitherto looked like a settled side, will have left Waterford worried about their opponents’ depth given that the hat-trick hero against them, Siobhan Mackle, was subsequently only a sub against Tipperary.
For the record, Armagh are likely to show five changes in personnel from the team which won against Waterford in Croke Park with Katie Daly having displaced Catherine McAlinden as goalkeeper and two changes in the full back line.
Clodagh McCann and Laura Brown have retired from inter-county football but are replaced by two even more experienced players in Caoimhe Morgan, who was on a maternity break back then, and converted corner back Mairead Tennyson.
Croke Park goal-scorer Shauna O’Hagan has retired and another Lurgan girl, Ciara Lennon, dropped out of the panel but replacements Mackle and Lauren McConville have emerged as two of Armagh’s most exciting prospects.
The fact Mackle is far from certain to start in spite of scoring that hat-trick of goals against Waterford last month is testament to Armagh’s developing depth and the embarrassment of riches at Daly’s disposal.
She was surprisingly benched for the semi-final against Tipperary and being sinbinned shortly after being brought on in the second half limited the gifted Grange girl’s chances of having a major impact in a game already long since settled.
Caitlin Malone’s midfield start in the semi-final was timely with Sinead McCleary’s hamstring troubling her, prompting a precautionary half-time substitution, and it is a well-stocked sector with no shortage of capable potential partners for captain Caroline O’Hanlon.
If everyone is fit, Malone may have to content herself with a place on the bench as Sharon Reel seems certain to return at wing back where she and Niamh Henderson dealt effectively with the renowned Wall sisters in the most recent clash of these teams.
Between them, formidable Orchard centre half back Niamh Marley has kept Waterford dangerwoman Michelle Ryan under wraps both in the All Ireland Intermediate final and last month’s league game so she can approach her task with confidence.
The experienced full back line of Tennyson, vice-captain Caoimhe Morgan and Sarah Marley is ferociously combative and will give good protection to keeper Katie Daly, who shone in Armagh’s most recent televised game against All Ireland champions Cork last August.
Assuming All Ireland Intermediate winning captain Mags McAlinden, Kelly Mallon and McConville make up the full forward line, Daly will have to choose between Mackle and his club colleague Aoife McCoy for the last half forward place alongside Marian McGuinness and Fionnuala McKenna.
Mackle’s credentials are strong but McCoy has had a fine first season in Armagh colours and made the Gaelic Life Team of the Week after hitting 2-1 in the semi-final against Tipp. With alternatives like that to choose from, no wonder Daly’s side are being backed to get the job done.
They are undoubtedly capable of winning in style and although the result is all that matters in a final, after what happened last year, Armagh may really go for it on Saturday rather than taking a safety first, relatively conservative approach.
With the twinkle-toed Mackle, who needs no introduction to Waterford, possibly held back to create havoc as an impact sub and Carrickcruppen’s Caoimhe Murray a genuine goal threat off the bench, Armagh could cut loose this year rather than going into their shells.
By the end of last season’s final, Armagh’s forward line looked a bit bereft but with the influx of fresh talent and a specialist attack coach in Aileen Matthews the Orchard crew certainly shouldn’t lack effective cutting edge.
The Armagh management and players would appreciate all possible support in Dublin on Saturday for a game which should be well worth watching whether at Parnell Park or on television back home.



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