TIPPERARY 2-7 ARMAGH 1-12
Richard Bullick reports
Armagh got their Tesco Homegrown National League campaign off to a most satisfying start with a performance full of character which delivered a notable away win in Tipperary.
Trailing to their hosts at the interval, James Daly’s depleted team turned to face into the wind with a numerical disadvantage for Carrickcruppen’s Marian McGuinness still had some eight minutes of a harsh sinbinning to serve.
But with heroic captain Caoimhe Morgan at the heart of the Armagh rearguard, the visitors somehow kept Tipp to a mere three points in the entire second half and scored twice as many at the other end to win by two.
Five of Armagh’s six second half scores came from the magnificent Fionnuala McKenna, who has just turned 20 but shouldered her responsibilities with typical composure, maturity and effectiveness in landing nine points, seven of them from frees.
In the absence of official captain Caroline O’Hanlon and Sinead McCleary, Harps star McKenna had to take the frees from both sides of the pitch but really rose to the occasion in ensuring a true team effort received deserved reward.
No other Armagh player scored twice, with former captain Mags McAlinden, Dromintee debutant Aoife McCoy and McGuinness contributing a point apiece while full forward Kelly Mallon netted a superb strike from fully 20 yards.
That still wasn’t enough to claim Armagh an interval lead, the extra goal giving Tipperary a one-point advantage on a scoreline of 2-4 to 1-6 even though the hosts had been playing into the wind in that first half.
Playing their first competitive match of the season, it had understandably taken an unfamiliar Armagh line-up time to find their feet against an ambitious Tipp team who had a league win over Wexford already under their belts.
Although the Orchard outfit are regarded as Division Three title favourites, they appeared very vulnerable going into what always looked like their toughest game on paper without the formidable midfield duo of O’Hanlon and McCleary.
It had taken an injury-time free from O’Hanlon to win the corresponding game in Silverbridge last March and Armagh had to battle back from leaking three early goals in the subsequent semi-final against Tipp.
Not having O’Hanlon and McCleary available for this fixture felt like a huge body blow, compounding the effects of the weather-related postponement of the scheduled opening game at home to Longford.
Additionally, Daly couldn’t call on young scoring sensation Aimee Mackin as his alternative left-footed free-taker as it appears the 16-year-old’s much-anticipated National League debut has been indefinitely delayed for player welfare reasons.
Armagh were really up against it going into this game and on the day itself, so to come through and win was enormously encouraging and testament to the fantastic character shown by Morgan and her colleagues.
ARMAGH: K Daly; M Tennyson, C Morgan (capt), S Marley; S Reel, N Marley, S Grey; C Malone, F McKenna (0-9, 7f); A McCoy (0-1), L McConville, M McGuinness (0-1); M McAlinden (0-1), K Mallon (1-0), S Mackle. Subs: L Kenny for N Marley (40 mins), S Feeney for McAlinden (50), D Morgan for McConville (55).