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Orchard come up short again

9 June 2021

Armagh’s bid for promotion back to the National League’s top-flight ended in failure for a fourth year running on Sunday as they fell to a disappointing defeat at Breffni Park.

With Cavan reduced to 13 players and Aimee Mackin converting the penalty which had also led to the second sinbinning, Armagh closed the gap from six points to one in the closing stages, but an equalising score right at the death proved elusive.

Not making the knockout stages gives Armagh more time to prepare for the defence of their provincial crown and they have plenty of work to do ahead of facing Monaghan in the Ulster Senior Championship quarter-final on Friday week.

Missing inspirational skipper Kelly Mallon and last season’s Armagh joint Player of the Year Catherine Marley through injury, the totemic Mallon is a strong target up front whose presence lets Aimee Mackin roam freely in attack to devastating effect.

On an afternoon when no other Armagh player registered more than a single score, Aimee Mackin kicked 1-8 with her haul including a penalty and five frees, but the All-Ireland Player of the Year was well-shackled.

The Orchard’s costly loss against Monaghan the previous Sunday set up a fraught final afternoon in the northern regional group with a plethora of possible permutations in the fight for the two tickets to the knockout stages.

However, what was set to be a dramatic afternoon with constant calculations needed as fortunes fluctuated in two tight games never materialised as Tyrone effectively failed to turn up in Clones, where they trailed by 19 points at the interval.

Although leading by two at the break in Breffni Park, what was happening down the road meant Armagh had to chase the game in the second half and widening the gap proved beyond the visiting team.

Instead, things just got worse with Cavan going six ahead at one point and, although the Orchard outfit finished strongly, the hosts held on in the closing stages to confirm top place in the group and will now meet Meath while Monaghan tackle Kerry in the other semi.

Armagh had three personnel changes from the Monaghan match with the return of Caroline O’Hanlon and welcome first starts of the season for the previously snubbed Niamh Marley and a fit-again Eve Lavery.

AFLW star Aisling Sheridan had put Cavan ahead after just 16 seconds, but Aimee Mackin pulled a glorious goal chance wide in the second minute after being played through by Aoife McCoy.

Lauren McVeety doubled Cavan’s lead from a free but O’Hanlon got Armagh on the scoreboard with a left-footed point and she then set up McCoy for the equalising score before Aimee Mackin nudged Armagh in front with a 20-metre free.

The same player kicked a wide and the Shane O’Neill’s star and then over-carried after O’Hanlon had won the Cavan kickout and got a free, but sibling Blaithin burst onto a ball to double the Orchard lead in the thirteenth minute.

Geraldine Sheridan promptly responded for Cavan but the Orchard crew went two ahead again with Aimee Mackin converting the free awarded when McCoy was fouled.

After the water-break, McVeety pointed for Cavan but full-back Clodagh McCambridge began a move which led to a point for Aimee Mackin only for the home team to draw level with two quickfire frees by O’Keefe.

The teams traded wides before Armagh went ahead again courtesy of Eve Lavery after both Aimee Mackin and McKenna had shots charged down and the former punished Cavan when they transgressed at their kickout for a second time.

Armagh were three clear a minute later after Blaithin Mackin’s ball into her sister ensured that a turnover at the back by McCambridge didn’t go unrewarded.

Niamh Marley was ticked for a foul on Geraldine Sheridan which O’Keefe punished with another free before a big collision which left Blaithin Mackin needing treatment was deemed accidental, so it remained 0-7 to 0-9 at half-time.

Cavan began the second half with a wide but Aimee Mackin dropped a shot short and nothing came of a brilliant run up the left from O’Hanlon before Blaithin Mackin’s backchat led to a reasonably straightforward free for McVeety being made even easier.

McKenna kicked a trademark monster point to put Armagh two ahead again and Geraldine Sheridan hit a wide at the other end after good pressure from Niamh Marley but the Orchard outfit faced a tall order in trying to push on for the required double-digit victory.

Cavan had retaken the lead with a Sinead Green goal and the Breffni women were nearly in for a second straight afterwards but keeper Anna Carr was alert to avert the danger.

O’Hanlon set up Aimee Mackin for an equalising point, but the match then took a decisive swing in Cavan’s favour as the hosts scored 1-3 in the space of four minutes.

Carr did well to thwart an initial attack but the ball ended up in the Armagh net, possibly off Orchard skipper Sarah Marley, and points followed from McVeety and Aisling Sheridan, with the former adding a free.

Now needing an impossible 18-point swing to reach the divisional semis, Armagh got a good score through Grimes, but Cavan cancelled it out in spite of having Catherine Dolan sinbinned a minute earlier.

Green joined Dolan on the naughty step after fouling O’Hanlon and Aimee Mackin converted the resulting penalty before closing the gap to two points with a free as Armagh sought to capitalise on having two extra players on the field.

Blaithin Mackin’s sinbinning undermined that Orchard numerical advantage and, although Aimee tapped over a free, she was off target trying to level the scores at the death.

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