Battling Armagh reach final

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ARMAGH ladies showed their battling qualities in recovering from a nightmare first quarter to squeeze past Tipperary by 3-8 to 3-6 and set up a Tesco National League Division Three final against near neighbours Down.

The Orchard outfit are now the only county team in Ireland still unbeaten in 2013 but they had to dig deep to avoid losing for the first time since Westmeath ended their promotion bid at the same stage of last year’s competition.

On that occasion, Armagh couldn’t recover from a Westmeath goal glut and there was an alarming sense of history repeating itself when Tipperary netted three times in the opening 12 minutes. Captain Caroline O’Hanlon had actually got an even earlier goal for Armagh but those three strikes quickly changed the landscape. But Armagh showed real character in getting back on level terms by the interval.

The third division table toppers still faced a tough task in playing into a very strong wind in the second half but an inspired substitution by Daly’s deputy, Lurgan man Aiden Lennon, produced a crucial goal. Sub Shauna Grey netted to put Armagh four clear and although Tipp came back again the orangewomen held on for a seventh straight victory and set up a Dublin decider against their Ulster rivals, who beat Longford in a dramatic finish in Clones, on Saturday week.

Brilliant Lurgan schoolgirl Niamh Henderson scored a hat-trick of first half points, Clann Eireann clubmate Sinead McCleary’s cool late free left Tipp needing a goal and full back Laura Brown was at the heart of the backs-to-the-wall defensive effort in the second half.

Special praise must go to goalkeeper Catherine McAlinden, who is currently taking a year out from county duty, but agreed to step in at short notice in Katie Daly’s absence and produced a blinding save to deny Tipp a fourth first half goal.