Armagh Camogs well and truly put their below par drawn game behind them and stormed to an outstanding win over a skillful and battling Westmeath side in Sunday’s replay. This was a game that Armagh went into knowing that the Lake County cailini were out to upset their plans of a third attempt victory in the All Ireland Junior A competition to win the Nancy Murray Cup. The Orchard girls set about their task with style, commitment and no shortage of determination and were worthy winners on a 3-13 to 3-5 scoreline.
As the large contingent of supporters donned in their respective maroon and orange regalia lined into the stand of a mist filled Ashbourne pitch the expectations were high of a humdinger of a match between two evenly matched teams that had served up an exciting encounter two weeks prior. The Armagh starting line up showed a few changes from the drawn game with Joanne Mallon entering the fray at left half forward while captain Bernie Murray returned to her midfield post and Laura Brunton dropped into centre half back with Derrynoose’s Aoibheann McKenna the casualty of these management changes as she moved to the bench.
Armagh had a dream start when Granemore’s Ciara Donnelly was the right girl in the right place to knock the ball to the Westmeath net after a Colette McSorley free had been parried by the keeper. Ciara may have had a quiet game in the first match but she showed from the start of the replayed game what her intentions were and when Ciara is on form she doesn’t miss- a great start for Ciara and for Armagh. A period of downtime then occurred just when Armagh appeared to be flying as the unfortunate Lorraine Leavy received an injury and had to leave the field. Westmeath were not daunted however by these two early setbacks and battled upfield to score two quick points in succession in the 10th minute both courtesy of frees.
The injury time stoppage seemed to have taken the wind out of Armagh’s sails and the Lake County midfield were beginning to dominate the midfield exchanges and Armagh’s half back line were conceding frees under pressure. The reshuffling of the Armagh pack was beginning to be questioned as, apart from the brilliant Niamh McGeown, Armagh appeared to be struggling with the new structure. The ever reliant Brid O’Hagan was on hand to settle nerves as she sent over a beauty of a point on the 14th minute in which both Colette McSorley and Ciara Donnelly both had a hand in setting up.
As Westmeath continued to exert pressure the 16th minute saw them receive their rewards when a long ball from midfield appeared to be sailing over for a great point but rebounded off the bar. Armagh’s defence were caught ball watching and Westmeath’s Caitriona Murtagh was quickest to react to strike past the hapless Bronagh Moen and into the corner. Armagh 1-1 Westmeath 1-2. Colette McSorley was on hand in the 20th minute to send over an excellent point from a free from all of 40yards on the right sideline. The energetic Katie O’Brien followed this up a minute later when fed by Michelle McGuigan to send over a very nice point.
Westmeath kept coming and a fine move saw Sandra Greville send over an excellent point in the 22nd minute to levels the teams at 1-3 apiece.
Brid O’Hagan showed her great skills in the 23rd minute when she scored her second point to nudge Armagh’s noses ahead once more, to the delight of the large contingent of young camogs from Brid’s club An Port Mor who echoed their applause of their hero’s skills around the pitch. A minute later and Westmeath had goaled for a second time, through poor defensive work by Armagh around the square that allowed the skillful Dinah Loughlin through for a three pointer. A Colette McSorley free in the 25th minute which had been won by the increasingly effective Bernie Murray brought the scores to Armagh 1-5 Westmeath 2-3. A point down and half time beckoning a moment of magic saw Armagh level things up when good work by Katie O’Brien and Joanne Mallon saw Colette McSorley fielding superbly, turn her player and send over an excellent point on the stroke of half time. Half time Armagh 1-6 Westmeath 2-3
Both teams received an appreciative round of applause as they left the pitch for the half time interval. Armagh were still very much in the game and had a slight breeze at their backs for the second half. The half time analysis concluded that Armagh were certainly up for the game and that, contrary to the drawn match, it was their forwards that were clicking whilst the defence was struggling to get on top. Niamh McGeown was the first half’s outstanding player and, in fairness, had saved Armagh’s skins on several occasions with her wonderful workrate and no shortage of skill. Whilst Armagh’s performance was certainly more than satisfactory McGeown appeared to turn everything she touched to good effect and was having a memorable match. Grainne Kelly was also noteworthy as she was a very steady defender and had worked good ball through to the forwards. Ann McGuigan was also commendable and her piece of defending in the 25th minute that started the move for McSorley’s pointed free was from the top drawer. Bernie Murray was her usual determined self and always ready to challenge. However it was clear that Armagh’s forward line which had been on the receiving end of any negatives in the drawn match report, were working tremendously well as a unit and were on top form. The sign of a good players is when they under perform they bounce back to play to potential and this is exactly what collectively Donnelly, McSorley, O’Brien and McGuigan were doing. All four players had not done themselves justice in their first match and were taking full use of their second bite at the cherry. Joanne Mallon was having a thrilling game putting herself about and making great use of the ball whilst the excellent Brid O’Hagan was picking up from where she left off in the drawn match and was a danger every time she touched the ball.
As the teams emerged for battle again in the second half the roars of their supporters urged them to All Ireland glory. The children from Derrymacash squealed with excitement as they saw Niamh McGeown re-emerge to the field, the young camogs from Ballymacnab cheered on Laura and Michelle, Granemore’s gaels roared approval as Bronagh, Grainne and Ciara hit the turf. Middletown’s proud supporters shouted towards the Mallon sisters Joanne and Paula and to Ann McGuigan. Derrynoose were there to encourage Caoimhe McKenna back to duty while Katie O’Brien and Clare McKinley lifted the spirits of Mullaghbawn gaels. Tullysarran’s gaels cheered on Colette as the display of sky blue jerseys hoped that their girl Brid would catch a glimpse of them! And of course the Cullyhanna contingent brimmed with pride as their player Bernie Murray, the county captain, led her team out.
The most expert of experts could not have predicted the way the second half was to pan out as a resurgent Armagh tore at Westmeath as if they’d just been let out of jail. Perhaps they considered that they had- two weeks prior, and they were going to enjoy this new freedom as never before. The next 30 minutes plus injury time of camogie was surely the best ever half hours’ camogie played by an Armagh team. Katie O’Brien in the first minute superbly fielded a cross field ball from the hard working Michelle McGuigan, turned her player and sailed the ball over the bar for the lead that Armagh were not to relinquish. Joanne Mallon got in on the act 2 minutes later with an excellent point. The supply ball from Armagh’s midfield and half back line was constant as Laura Brunton was winning everything, Grainne Kelly was completely on top and Paula Mallon had silenced her opponent. Bernie Murray and Niamh McGeown were winning everything around the middle.
Whatever had been said in the changing rooms at half time was certainly bearing fruit as every Armagh player seemed to have grown by six inches and were winning their own personal battles. It was sublime viewing for those supporters in orange.
Michelle McGuigan was the next name on the scoresheet as she scored a great point from the right wing having taken supply from the irrepressible Ciara Donnelly who was giving her marker a torrid time. It was McGuigan again that was causing problems as she collected the ball and was running goalwards with a green flag on her mind before being upended in the square. It was all Armagh as Colette McSorley stepped forward for the resulting penalty and rasped the ball over the bar to give the Orchard cailini a four point lead.
In the 11th minute a brilliant piece of play involving three of the ‘veterans’ of the team showed that there is no replacement for experience and heart. Bronagh Moen in goals superbly placed the ball directly to the hand of the unmarked Niamh McGeown in midfield who simply and effectively sent it forward for Katie O’Brien to collect and pass to the inrunning Bernie Murray to send over for an excellent point, perhaps the point of the game and one that deserved to have the names of Moen, McGeown and Murray attached to it. Whilst O’Brien certainly played her part in this great score, her three more experienced team mates will certainly share that one over manys a reminisce in the years to come.
With Armagh 5 points up and dominating the exchanges Westmeath gallantly made a number of switches to try and take the initiative back and they did manage a point from play in the 12th minute from the stick of Muireann Scally. But the Armagh girls could sense victory in their nostrils and they drove forward at every opportunity.
As Armagh continued to dominate, the green flag that had been threatened for so long finally came, from the stick of Colette McSorley courtesy of a fine Michelle McGuigan pass. As the Armagh supporters roared their approval the Armagh players clenched their fists and marched on.
Derrynooses’ Emma Farrell entered the fray for Paula Mallon mid way through the second half and immediately got into the action. Emma is another of the ‘veterans’ of this team and showed her great experience and plentiful supply of talent with an excellent outing on the Donaghmore Ashbourne park. She broke up several Westmeath attacks and send intelligent ball forward and Emma’s name will have been written on several of the end scores for Armagh.
Another of the players who was on Armagh’s last All Ireland winning team of 2006, Derrymacash’s Andrea McAlinden also entered the fray, taking over the duties from the lively Joanne Mallon. Andrea is another fine exponent of the array of camogie skills and her fast turn of pace saw no let up for the Westmeath defence.
As Westmeath threw everything but the kitchen sink at Armagh a brilliant block by Laura Brunton said no way through and who else but Ann McGuigan to step forward with assistance for the clearance. Armagh drove forward and a sweet move started by Emma Farrell who fed Katie O’Brien who in turn fed Michelle McGuigan who in turn fed Colette McSorley with a wonderful stick pass saw another green flag raise as McSorley struck, the net shook, the Armagh crowd rose to their feet. Goal for Armagh! Armagh 3-11 Westmeath 2-4 and the preparations for celebration were within the imagination. One minute later and with Armagh lording it all over the park, McGuigan won possession again and as she shook off the shackles of two players to run through for a brilliant point to crown a wonderful 2nd half display from the Nab player. With five minutes remaining Ballymacnab’s Petrina Cosgrove came on for her teammate Michelle McGuigan and got straight to business to continue Armagh’s cause.
Westmeath to their credit continued to press forward and were rewarded with a Pamela Greville point. With two minutes remaining and many painted and non painted nails being shortened by the second, Westmeath’s Pamela Greville struck a very good goal to shorten the deficit but who better than Andrea McAlinden to finish off the day’s scoring with an excellent point set up by the hard working Ciara Donnelly. A Westmeath penalty three minutes into injury time rebounded off the cross bar to signal the form of Westmeath’s day and as the referee Eamon McSweeney sounded the final whistle there were scenes of joy from the Armagh players and supporters and of heart break for the gallant players from Westmeath.
Every Armagh player wore their jersey with pride. McKinley and McKenna in the two corners were rock solid and never gave an inch, continuously hooking, robbing and clearing to make life difficult for their markers. Ann McGuigan at full back was playing like a woman possessed. She blocked, harried and chased everything and can look back on this match with a great sense of satisfaction. Paula Mallon was having a fine old tussle with her marker and her on and off the ball exertions for dominance with Westmeath’s Aoife Higgins was noticeable, with the St John’s gael coming out on top! Grainne Kelly and Laura Brunton were magnificent in the second period and defended as if lives were at stake. Time and time again, as Westmeath threatened, it was an orange jersey that came out with the ball, such was the determination of the Armagh back six. Mention must go also to Bronagh Moen in goals who kept her defensive wall as tight as possible and was as steady as a rock when called to make a stoppage or clearance. Bronagh’s clearances were excellent and her puck outs throughout the match were brilliant.
In the forward line Armagh worked as a very effective unit. Brid O’Hagan was superb and took her 2 points very well. Katie O’Brien brought smiles to anyone who was watching her throughout the match- not just because Katie smiled impishly at every Westmeath girl within sight but also because if her wonderful contribution to the game. Ciara Donnelly gave her marker a torrid time and took her goal brilliantly to set up Armagh for a wonderful afternoon in Ashbourne. She was also the supplier for many of the other scores which is the mark of a great forward. Colette McSorley had one of her best games in the Armagh jersey, taking some great scores and finishing on a personal tally of 2-4 (3f). Her finding of position for the telling passes for her two goal strikes gave Westmeath no chance and when these chances are present Colette rarely misses. Michelle McGuigan had a particularly noteworthy second half when she took 2 lovely points but throughout the game she either scored or helped created a total tally of 2-5, a fine contribution from a fine player. Joanne Mallon had a great game and really put herself about the pitch and sent over a lovely 2nd half point.
Niamh McGeown had a stormer of a game and covered every blade of grass on the pitch. Niamh’s style of camogie is to ask nothing and give nothing and if Niamh wants the ball she will work her proverbial off to get it, a great day’s camogie from a very unassuming player. Bernie Murray’s physical presence on the pitch for many would be suffice, but it is Bernie’s mental presence that sets her apart as a great player. She drives he team forward from every part of the pitch and it was fitting that the team leader should have been the one that snatched a draw out of the fire the first day out to allow the team as a whole to perform on the second.
Emma Farrell made an excellent contribution when coming into the game and no more deserving player to pickup a second All Ireland medal. Andrea McAlinden was lively and dangerous when coming on and send over the final point of the game with aplomb. Petrina Cosgrove didn’t really have many chances to show her undoubted talent but had the chance been given would surely have punished with precision.
The unbridled joy of the entire Armagh squad players was evident on the field of play as all the members of the panel hugged each other in delight. This team had worked hard for this moment and they were savouring every second of it. The management duo of Patsy Magee and Benny Brunton watched in satisfaction as the scenes of celebration unfolded- they had set out to do a job and they had done it! Well done Patsy and Benny. Armagh camogie congratulate you for the hard work, effort and commitment that you have made to this panel of players and to the wonderful style of camogie you have helped them produce. Their second half display of skill, commitment, team work and spirit was a worthy credit to you and you are to be congratulated!
Congratulations also to the two Florence Nightengales of the backroom team- Bernadine Murphy and Bebe Devlin. These two girls have done everything for this team bar put them to bed (and perhaps might have even had to do that for some of them in the early hours of Monday morning!). Their support and encouragement of the team has been second to none for the past three seasons. Bernadine’s presence along the sideline will be a memorable one for this panel of players and supporters, not because of her enthusiastic and attentive encouragement of the players, but also because of her customary hat style. Sunday’s rendition rally ‘topped’ them all- well done Bernie. You may be getting a call from Philip Treacy for some tips (designer of Princes Beatrice hat at recent Royal Wedding!). Bebe’s contribution to this team as the second Mother Hen also cannot under estimated and Bebe can take as much delight at this wonderful success for Armagh as anyone.
Martin Kelly and Noel Quinn are the remaining two members of the back room team. Their many years of analysing and watching games will no doubt have been brought to bear in Armagh’s run towards this All Ireland win, and their input to helping Armagh camogie write this new piece of history should also be recorded.
After the celebrations on the pitch had ended an excited and delighted Armagh team and supporters watched as Camogie President Joan O’Flynn presented the Nancy Murray Cup to team captain Bernie Murray. Bernie made a very eloquent speech sending words of encouragement to the disheartened Westmeath players. Armagh had been in their position twice before, in the previous two years, and knew just what it was like to lose an All Ireland final. Bernie congratulated Westmeath for the excellent game and commended her own team and management for their performance on Sunday and all through the season, indeed for a number of seasons. Bernie also stated the appreciation of all concerned for the work behind the scenes at county board level and sincerely thanked the Carrickdale Hotel who are team sponsors and who have been excellent support for Armagh senior camogs. Bernie’s delight at bringing the cup ‘Up to the North’ was greeted with a chorus of Armagh cheers and the celebrations began with the chants of ‘Championee Championee!”
Another Armagh cheer went up as Michelle McGuigan was awarded the Player of the Match award for her excellent performance, particularly in the second half. Whilst every Armagh player was tremendous and several other would no doubt also have been shortlisted, Michelle’s playmaking abilities to turn possession into scoreable chances obviously did not go unnoticed so well done Michelle
The cliché ‘a game of two halves’ is often used to describe sports matches, and the story behind Sunday’s win for Armagh was that primarily of one half- the second half, when Armagh really upped the ante and Westmeath could not go with them. They were superb in every part of the pitch, particularly in the second period, and are to be congratulated. The drawn game was a good wake up call for Armagh- and they obviously learned much more from it than their opponents did. To win an All Ireland is a great feeling, but to win it playing to your potential, playing as a team, defending as trojans and taking wonderful scores is very sweet. Of Armagh’s final tally of 3-13, just 3 points were from frees which is an indicator of the excellent performance of their attacking unit. Westmeath scored just 1-2 in the second half against Armagh’s return of 2-7 which illustrates the supremacy of Armagh’s defensive unit.
The after match team meal was a joyous affair with team and supporters mingling in mutual satisfaction at a job well done. A wonderful banquet was served at the Carrickdale Hotel and there were smiles all around as County Chairperson Fiona Shortt congratulated the team. She called on a very happy Armagh camogie President Marion McStay to present each of the panel of 29 (apart from the absent Aoibheann McKenna who unfortunately had to leave immediately after the match to catch a plane back to London) with their All Ireland medals. A fitting standing ovation was spontaneous when then popular Julie O’Neill stepped forward to receive her All Ireland medal and there was hardly a dry eye in the house. Julie has been at the backbone of this squad over a number of years and through her own personal challenges she has shown to all what courage at times of adversity means. Julie’s inspiration was no doubt a factor in the growth and development of this team particularly over the past season- a factor so well described by Bernie Murray in her captain’s speech at the meal and the delight of the team to win this cup for Julie was evident, amidst the tears.
A tribute must also go to Fiona Shortt who must surely be Armagh’s lucky mascot and certainly in the running for County Chairperson of the Country! Fiona who started out the season as County Vice Chairperson was courageous enough to step up to the plate when former Chairmen Frank McDonnell was unable to continue in the position and her mark on Armagh camogie over the past six months has been tremendous. Fiona’s affable character and her commitment to making camogie in Armagh as enjoyable and professional as possible for all has been invaluable to Armagh and she is thoroughly deserving to be the “woman at the top” at these times of great harvest for Armagh camogie. Within the past 6 weeks Fiona has presided over two All Ireland winning meals, with the county minors back at the end of September and now with the county seniors at start of October. Armagh might consider, as our next fundraiser, ‘renting Fiona out’ as county chair to other counties seeking success on the field of play! Well done Fiona, just deserves for a great gael.
The final tribute in this report goes to John McParland and the Carrickdale Hotel for their support of Armagh senior camogs over the past three years. The Carrickdale sponsorship of the team has been generous both in financial terms and in well wishes terms and John’s attention to the team at the after match function was second to none. Sincere thanks to John, to Hotel Manager Peter McConville and to their wonderful team at the Carrickdale!
2011 will go down as a wonderful year for Armagh camogie bringing home 2 All Ireland titles. Our minors have shown that the treadmill of talent into the senior ranks is well and truly turning. Our seniors have shown that on their day, they can look anyone in the eye.
Well done Armagh Seniors, and particularly to those players who have faced the agony of defeat on previous occasions and perhaps would have been forgiven for thinking their day would never come, but players like Laura Brunton, Emma Farrell, Colette McSorley, Joanne Mallon, Bronagh Moen, Grainne Kelly, Andrea McAlinden and their inspirational captain Bernie Murray had the staying power to push on, year after year, for their second All Ireland and they picked it up with style. This is a fine Armagh team with a great mix of experience and youth and with no shortage of talent. They have done themselves, their clubs and their county proud!
Armagh’s All Ireland Junior A Squad: Bronagh Moen, Clare McKinley, Ann McGuigan, Caoimhe McKenna, Paula Mallon, Laura Brunton, Grainne Kelly, Bernie Murray (capt), Niamh McGeown, Colette McSorley, Katie O’Brien, Joanne Mallon, Michelle McGuigan, Brid O’Hagan, Ciara Donnelly, Emma Farrell, Andrea McAlinden, Petrina Cosgrove, Patrica Murphy, Colleen O’Hare, Shauna McKee, Clodagh Farrell, Orla Curry, Julie O’Neill, Catherine Toner, Louise Toner, Mairead Short, Shauna Smyth
Who said “the future is bright, the future is orange and white”- this report says “the present is bright- the present is orange and white!”
Next stop- Croke Park, September 2012!