Champions prove just too strong for spirited Armagh

Niamh Henderson (left) of Clann Eireann on show for Armagh ladies last weekend in Longford. Pic by Sporsfile.INLM38-101
Niamh Henderson (left) of Clann Eireann on show for Armagh ladies last weekend in Longford. Pic by Sporsfile.INLM38-101

Armagh ladies’ All-Ireland dream ended in a nightmare as seemingly-invincible Cork emphatically hammered home their championship class in Saturday’s semi-final at Pearse Park.

The upstart pretenders to the throne Cork have virtually made their own for the past decade were brutally destroyed by 5-16 to 2-11 in Longford.

At one stage in the second half, Cork ominously netted twice within a minute but a final flourish from Armagh - which brought 1-3 in injury-time - reduced Cork’s winning margin to 14 points.

Defeat ended an Armagh run of 13 consecutive victories since being beaten by Cork in a qualifier last August and they can hold their heads high after a very successful season which has brought two trophies, including the Ulster Championship.

Here they were on the receiving end of an exceptional performance even by the standards of the most successful side in ladies’ gaelic football history.

Cork have eight All-Ireland titles in the trophy cabinet from the last nine years and produced a devastating display in a direct response to Armagh’s growing reputation.

When Orchard captain Caroline O’Hanlon nervelessly rolled home a ninth-minute penalty to add to her two superb points from play, which had cancelled out a brace of frees from Cork early on, things were looking highly-promising for an Armagh team playing in all-white.

But Cork showed why they are champions by biting back and a goal from ‘player of the match’ Ciara O’Sullivan set them on course for an interval lead of five points despite facing into the first-half wind.

Clann Eireann’s Niamh Henderson had kicked a point just before the break but, trailing 2-6 to 1-4, James Daly’s ladies needed a good start to the second half to have any realistic comeback chance.

The Lurgan club also had Mags McAlinden - a former Orchard County captain - and Sinead McCleary in the panel, with both players having previously represented Armagh at Croke Park in the 2006 final.

Instead Cork quickly scored twice and although Fionnuala McKenna replied with a double, sub Nollaig Cleary grabbed a crucial goal with her first touch to effectively end the Orchard challenge.

The champions ominously netted twice in a minute at one stage but, with McCleary – who kicked two points – typifying their fight, Armagh regrouped right at the end with 1-3 in injury-time to provide the crowd with a late lift before the final whistle.