ARMAGH 3-12 LONGFORD 1-8
Sinead McCleary made her first appearance of the season and young sub Aimee Mackin scored on her National League debut as Armagh’s promotion push continued with another convincing victory.
Armagh’s first home match of the season may have been delayed by the weather but James Daly’s side made up for lost time when Longford came to Newry last Sunday.
A fantastic first half laid the foundations for a third successive victory by the Division Three title favourites in this rearranged game which had fallen foul of the weather at the start of the month.
The artificial surface at Abbey Grammar guaranteed playable pitch conditions this time though the skiddy surface exacerbated the effects of a strong cross-wind which took numerous balls over the sidelines.
However, attack-minded Armagh adjusted sufficiently to the elements to keep the scoreboard ticking as they made light of the absence of several regulars including captain Caroline O’Hanlon and defenders Niamh Marley and Mairead Tennyson.
The Armagh starting side showed five personnel changes and numerous positional switches meant only four players were wearing the same jersey as for the previous week’s win away to Wexford.
Former captain Mags McAlinden returned from injury with her younger sister Catherine taking over in goals from the manager’s daughter Katie Daly and Shane O’Neill’s skipper Louise Kenny filling in for Tennyson at right corner back.
Sarah Marley was fit to resume at left corner back where Danielle Morgan deputised against Wexford while full back Caoimhe Morgan took over the captaincy in O’Hanlon’s absence.
With O’Hanlon away on international netball duty and her Carrickcruppen clubmate Marian McGuinness given the job of replacing Niamh Marley at centre half back, Armagh needed an entirely new midfield.
The promising pairing of Fionnuala McKenna and Niamh Henderson were both taken from the previous week’s full forward line, with the vacancies filled by the fit-again Mags McAlinden and the fourth Marley sister, schoolgirl Catherine.
Kelly Mallon moved in from the corner to full forward while Siobhan Mackle and Lauren McConville swapped jerseys from the Wexford win though the Grange girl remained in her accustomed wide role.
In spite of two great goal chances not being taken by Kelly Mallon, the hosts still led by 10 points at the interval having kept Longford to a single score in that opening half hour and won by the same margin after falling off a little in the second period.
It was sub Mackin, making her National League debut off the bench, who had the last word with the first point of what will hopefully prove a prolific Orchard career for the 16-year-old scoring sensation from Shane O’Neill’s.
Mackin’s accomplished point prevented Longford from claiming the second half spoils which would have taken some of the gloss off a satisfactory afternoon’s work, though Daly will always demand more of this talented team.
With Caitlin Malone still sidelined by injury, Armagh were fielding a particularly young midfield partnership but both Henderson and McKenna are already experienced players.
It was to be an afternoon of great encouragement for Armagh’s future as all 12 Orchard points came from players yet to celebrate their 21st birthday with one of this season’s new girls, Lauren McConville, contributing four.
The commanding McKenna top-scored again, her four points supplemented by a powerful finish to the net in the second minute of the second half after she had switched to full forward at the break.
That was to facilitate a welcome first appearance of the current campaign for McCleary, who came on alongside her Clann Eireann clubmate Henderson in midfield with Mallon making way in the reshuffle.
The impressively proactive Daly had already made one productive change in the first half, Carrickcrupen’s Caoimhe Murray replacing Lissummon youngster Catherine Marley at corner forward 10 minutes before the break and netting a great goal in injury-time.
McKenna raised the green flag again shortly after the resumption and although Longford punished a lapse in concentration by Shauna Grey with their second point, Armagh added another three to go 15 clear.
The first of those came from McConville after McKenna nearly drilled home a second goal in as many minutes and the Harps player landed a free won by the hungry Mags McAlinden, who made a forceful nuisance of herself throughout and deserved the third goal.
The elder McAlinden set the tone with a strong run in the opening minute before being penalised as Armagh made mistakes either side of the opening point from McConville.
Longford had hit the crossbar before Mackle scored Armagh’s second point on nine minutes and McConville rounded off a good team attack with her second score, though Armagh also over-elaborated on occasions.
Mallon somehow failed to hit the net from an unselfish feed by McConville just before Longford’s opening point cancelled out one from Henderson and the full forward spurned a second chance in between two points from McKenna inside the space of 60 seconds.
Good defensive work kept Longford out and the hosts stretched their lead late in the half with further points from Mackle and McConville before Murray provided the perfect finish to a more than satisfactory first period.
When Mackin came on with Armagh having just gone 15 up, it seemed the signal for the home team to really cut loose but Longford responded by scoring an unanswered 1-3 in the next seven minutes.
Stalwart Sharon Reel bravely battled on after treatment for injury but not long afterwards Kenny had to leave the field in a groggy state after being caught hard under the chin by an opponent’s arm.
With Danielle Morgan already on for Grey, Kenny’s injury meant good game-time for Roisin Murphy and Armagh made a sixth substitution in the closing stages, Cailin Duffy of Armagh Harps replacing the generally impressive Mackle.
The Kenny stoppage allowed Armagh to regroup and Mackin finally got a meaningful first touch. Although her first shot was wide she followed up with a great run which led to McAlinden hammering home the team’s third goal.
Spirited Longford added two more points in quick succession in spite of great teamwork by the eldest two Marley sisters in defence and McKenna was wide with a free which the naturally left-footed Mackin might have taken on the right.
Mackin kicked a wide from play but, after Longord scored their eighth point, the youngster’s moment came in injury-time with a sweet score which came from the combination of composure, pace and clinical finishing which make her such an exciting talent.
Armagh captain Caoimhe Morgan might have put an extra layer of icing on the cake even later but the veteran defender didn’t pull the trigger after a remarkable run nearly the length of the field from full back.
A rare point would have been deserved reward for the popular Orchard hero’s vocal leadership all afternoon on top of her defensive duties which were carried out with typical tenacity and intelligence.
The skipper still had the energy to enthuse at the end about the increasing competition for places in this Armagh team and a panel which will have considerable depth when everyone is available.
Meanwhile manager Daly conceded that having to cope without various regulars off and on during the league campaign has several silver linings including giving opportunities to others and encouraging auxiliary leaders to step up and take responsibility.
ARMAGH: C McAlinden; L Kenny, C Morgan (capt), S Marley; S Reel, M McGuinness, S Grey; F McKenna (1-4, 1f), N Henderson (0-2); A McCoy, L McConville (0-4), S Mackle (0-2); C Marley, K Mallon, M McAlinden (1-0). Subs: C Murray (1-0) for C Marley (20 mins), S McCleary for Mallon (h-t), A Mackin for McCoy (37), D Morgan for Grey (41), R Murphy for Kenny (46), C Duffy for Mackle (60).