Orchard hero Sinead McCleary should hopefully be fit for Armagh’s National League Division Two final against Donegal at Parnell Park this Saturday (2pm, live on TG4).
The Clann Eireann stalwart bravely battled through the pain barrier as Armagh overcame Cavan in the semi-final in Clones, resuming after lengthy treatment for an ankle injury sustained in the first few minutes when she appeared to be taken out off the ball.
Finally withdrawn when Armagh established an unassailable lead in the second half, McCleary was still hobbling badly leaving the ground but the completely professional Lurgan girl will have rehabbed diligently to be ready for the final.
The versatile, experienced campaigner has recently returned to the No 6 jersey she wore as a 17-year-old newcomer in the corresponding game a decade ago when Armagh’s 1-8 to 1-7 win over Donegal in the 2005 NFL Division Two final will hopefully prove a good omen. Her newly-married clubmate Mags McAlinden, who subsequently skippered Armagh, may miss out on the initial line up this time having also started the historic clash 10 years back when the Orchard crew reached the league’s top flight for the first time.
Current captain Caroline O’Hanlon won Player of the Match that afternoon in Mullingar when five superb second half points from current coach Aileen Matthews were instrumental to Armagh’s fightback from five down at the break.
With legendary leader Bronagh O’Donnell not starting having just returned from a period in Australia, Clann Eireann goalkeeper Denise Hagan captained Armagh that day. McCleary may be the Lurgan club’s only starter this Saturday as regular Niamh Henderson has missed most of the season so far due to being away with academic commitments, but having her for the bench is a big bonus for Armagh manager James Daly.
The final will be Daly’s 50th competitive match at the Orchard helm and an Armagh win would clinch the fifth trophy of his tenure along with that all-important promotion.
This Dublin decider brings together the two teams who were new to the second division this season, though newly-promoted Armagh and recently relegated Donegal are well-matched.
The North West women topped the table unbeaten while Armagh lost their regular league games to Donegal and Cavan but the knockout stages give them the opportunity to avenge both defeats.
They crushed Cavan 2-20 to 1-8 while Donegal eased past Westmeath 3-10 to 1-4 in the other semi to set up this showdown between what are widely regarded as the section’s top two teams.