Underdogs are upbeat for final

Clann Eireann's Niamh Henderson.
Clann Eireann's Niamh Henderson.

Clann Eireann’s Sinead McCleary will be aiming to maintain her perfect record in Ulster finals when Armagh take on champions Monaghan on Sunday.

The ladies showpiece was due to be played at Omagh’s Healy Park but has been switched to Clones as a curtain-raiser (1.30pm) to the replay between the men’s teams of the respective counties.

As a teenager McCleary featured in the Armagh sides which won the Orchard county’s first two Ulster titles in 2006 and 2007 but was out of the country for the defeat by Monaghan in the team’s most recent appearance in the decider four years ago.

The Lurgan woman has also been on the winning side for Armagh in Ulster Junior and Intermediate finals and will be a key figure in the middle of the field this Sunday against a formidable Monaghan outfit fancied to win their fifth title in a row.

Her clubmate Mags McAlinden tasted defeat in 2010 after earning two winners’ medals in the noughties but top-scored with six points that day and the 30-year-old former Orchard captain will relish another outing on the big stage. Younger sister Catherine will be on the bench.

Reflecting Armagh’s compelling mix of experienced campaigners and talented youth, the third Clann Eireann representative in Sunday’s starting line-up will be teenager Niamh Henderson.

Henderson is one of seven members of the Armagh team who will be appearing in their first Ulster final but neither the big occasion nor packed crowd is likely to bother this highly adaptable, accomplished, composed player.

Armagh may be going into Sunday’s Ulster final as underdogs but so much has changed for the better since their last Senior Championship match against Monaghan, which resulted in a 24-point pasting in the 2011 quarter-final.

The Orchard outfit dropped out of senior football for the following season but, boosted by an influx of talent from his All Ireland B winning Minor team, Armagh rehabilitated themselves under new manager James Daly by taking the All Ireland Intermediate title in 2012.

Last season on their return to the senior ranks, Daly’s ladies lost their opening games in both the provincial championship and qualifiers to Tyrone and Cork respectively but only by the minimum margin in each case.

Armagh have learned from these experiences and so far this year have won all 11 games, powering to the NFL Division Three title with a 100 percent record and then beating two teams who spent the spring playing first division football.

They followed up thrashing Tyrone in the Athletic Grounds by showing character in coming from behind against Donegal but everyone recognises Monaghan, unlucky not to have won an All Ireland in recent years, will be another significant step up.