Armagh got out of jail in Silverbridge after leaving themselves with an awful lot to do in the final quarter of this Tesco HomeGrown National League game against Sligo.
The third division table toppers had to come from eight points down with 13 minutes remaining and needed two goals in the closing stages to maintain their 100 percent record this season. Relieved Orchard boss James Daly was fairly philosophical afterwards, acknowledging the merits of salvaging victory from such an unpromising position and in spite of not playing particularly well on an afternoon when wasteful Armagh were their own worst enemies. However he will demand an improved performance this Sunday in the final fixture away to second-placed Waterford and in the subsequent
play-offs as Armagh attempt to nail the imperative promotion that has eluded them the past two seasons.
Any team must take some satisfaction from getting over the line in such challenging circumstances and there may be benefits from having to turn round an unexpectedly tight game rather than coasting through like Armagh have in most matches in the current campaign. But the senior players pulled no punches afterwards about a patchy performance featuring too many dropped balls, misplaced passes, unsatisfactory finishing and indisciplined defending against a
spirited, physical Sligo side.
Armagh made it difficult for themselves by kicking an astonishing 13 wides in the second half alone and they also gave away far too many frees including the three which helped Sligo score four unanswered points when down to 14 players.
However the Orchard crew do deserve credit for salvaging victory in the end and remain favourites to take the Division Three title and sole promotion place available. What was in the end a devastating defeat for the visitors rules Sligo
out of contention for a play-off place though they appeared a stronger side than Armagh’s previous opponents in Silverbridge, Leitrim. It had all looked like business as usual early on when an opening point by Sinead McCleary and a thumping free from Fionnuala McKenna were followed by a trademark goal by captain Caroline O’Hanlon in the
sixth minute. The skipper strode through the Sligo defence to hit the net, but it was a ball bouncing off her which allowed the visiting team to reply in kind within a minute and they tagged on a point and a free to draw
level. Sligo went five clear by sandwiching a goal with two points in the middle of the half and, although O’Hanlon nailed her second goal and cancelled out an opposition point, things got worse for Armagh in
injury-time. Recalled goalkeeper Catherine McAlinden gave away a penalty which Sligo confidently converted to send them in with a healthy lead on a scoreline of 2-3 to 3-5.
Armagh began brightly on the resumption, Aoife McCoy and Caoimhe Murray supplying points in the first four minutes, and when Sligo lost a player to the sinbin few would have bet against the local ladies
taking control. Instead Sligo kicked a point followed by a hat-trick of frees while at a numerical disadvantage and added a further free in the 47th minute to stretch their lead to eight points.
Although Armagh had time to pull the game out of the fire they hardly helped their cause by failing to take opportunities including clear goal chances for O’Hanlon and McKenna while Marian McGuinness also
struck the cross-bar. O’Hanlon spent periods deployed on the edge of the square on an afternoon Armagh were missing two of their regular full forward line, former captain Mags McAlinden and Kelly Mallon, through injury. Young scoring sensation Aimee Mackin might have made a difference but her unknown whereabouts will fuel concerns about the international soccer star’s current commitment to the Orchard cause.
In the end, Armagh managed without her and the injured duo as they gradually reduced the arrears with two points from McKenna and one each courtesy of O’Hanlon and McCleary.
It still felt like Daly’s side would need a goal and, when McCoy duly obliged, Armagh suddenly scented blood and McKenna hit the net a minute later as a poor kickout was ruthlessly punished.
Only young Niamh Henderson, who had been brought on after unavoidably arriving late, can take much satisfaction from her personal performance, but Armagh march on and remain the team to beat in this section.
ARMAGH: C McAlinden; M Tennyson, C Morgan, S Marley; S Reel, N Marley, D Morgan; S McCleary (0-2), C O’Hanlon (capt; 2-2); M McGuinness, F McKenna (1-3, 1f), S Mackle; A McCoy (1-1), C Murray (0-1), L McConville. Subs: N Henderson for Mackle (22 mins), C Malone for Morgan (39), C Marley for Murray (48), L Kenny for McGuinness (55).