If Armagh are to reach only their second ever All Ireland final next month they will have to beat the most successful side in the history of ladies gaelic football.
James Daly’s ladies have been drawn against perennial All Ireland champions Cork in Saturday week’s second semi-final at a venue yet to be announced but are relishing the prospect of their toughest test this season so far.
Up until now Armagh have won 13 matches out of 13 this year with captain Caroline O’Hanlon lifting both the NFL Division Three and Ulster Senior Championship trophies.
The Orchard outfit have emerged as All Ireland dark horses on the back of four convincing victories on the trot over teams who spent the spring playing two league levels above them.
They beat Tyrone, Donegal and Monaghan to take their third Ulster title and followed up with a 23-point pasting of outclassed Laois in this month’s All Ireland quarter-final.
All Ireland champions in a remarkable eight out of the last nine years, Cork will be much more formidable opponents but the then unfancied Armagh pushed them all the way in a qualifier last August.
Just as in their previous Championship meeting in the 2006 All Ireland final, the women in orange only lost by a single point after a titanic tussle in Birr and Daly’s side has undoubtedly developed a lot since then.
For their part Cork appear rejuvenated after faltering for a while last summer, taking the NFL Division One title and regaining the Munster Championship but they were pushed hard enough by Mayo last time out.
There is a school of thought that if Armagh are serious about actually going all the way and winning the All Ireland they’d be better facing Cork away from the final given that Croke Park on the last Sunday in September has become a real home from home for the Rebelettes.
Galway, who beat Monaghan last Saturday, or Leinster champions Dublin – quarter-final victors over Kerry – may have seemed easier opponents but Armagh have no hang-ups about facing Cork.
Although Armagh and Cork played in the first two quarter-finals they have been allocated the second semi-final date of September 6 because several Cork players will be involved in an All Ireland camogie semi-final replay this weekend.
This has caused a scheduling crisis in relation to the Armagh Senior Championship final between Clann Eireann and holders Carrickcruppen which was due to be played that weekend ahead of the Ulster Council’s cut-off date for county finals of September 7.
It is hoped that the sport’s governing body in Ulster will agree to the reasonable request to relax that deadline by a week in the circumstances.