‘We know that there is an All-Ireland in this team’ – Armagh finish 2020 on a high with Ulster title

YESTERDAY’S ULSTER SENIOR ladies football final was a low-key one, but it ended in Armagh lifting the silver for the first time since 2014 after a two-point win over Monaghan.

The Orchard county just edged the Clones decider, running out 0-17 to 0-15 winners though pushed each and every step of the way.

Captain fantastic Kelly Mallon led the way for Ronan Murphy’s side as they ended a six-year wait for provincial glory and finished 2020 on a high after their All-Ireland semi-final exit at the hands of four-in-a-row chasing Dublin last month.

Mallon finished with 0-6 to her name en route to lifting the trophy, with Armagh’s blistering start to the second half proving decisive as they saw out the confidence-boosting victory.

“I’m absolutely elated,” she told BBC NI, who made history in broadcasting their first-ever ladies football clash, afterwards.

“So delighted to get over the line, Monaghan ran us right to the wire, right to the last kick of the ball. I’m just delighted we could get over the line in the end and it’s brilliant to finish this year off on a high.

“It’s definitely a platform going into next season. I’m not sure what the structure is going to be in terms of the league and the championship, but we have every faith in this panel.

“There’s strength in depth and the panel is frighteningly talented. I’m really looking forward to going into the 2021 season. We’re still hurting a bit from the Dublin defeat, we know that there is an All-Ireland in this team so we’re going to push on.

“But yeah, absolutely delighted to finish the season on a high.”

After back-to-back Ulster decider defeats at the hands of Donegal, Armagh will now look to build on this with some of the top ladies footballers in their ranks in the Mackin sisters, Aimee and Blaithin, and 2014 Footballer of the Year and netball star Caroline O’Hanlon.

Many will say Armagh went into the decider as favourites, having enjoyed a positive championship run with wins over Tyrone and Mayo — a first-ever — before really testing Dublin in the last four, though Monaghan had a good campaign themselves, beating Tipperary before falling just short against 2019 All-Ireland finalists Galway.

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While Armagh saw off Tyrone in their provincial semi-final, the Farney were due to face Cavan but that was postponed due to Covid-19. In the wake of Cavan manager James Daly’s departure, Monaghan progressed, while Donegal were absent from ladies football’s only provincial championship of 2020.

But Armagh got the job done in the end, despite stunning performances from one Monaghan duo in particualar, Player of the Match Cora Courtney and Ellen McCarron, who hit 0-7 each.

“We didn’t really see ourselves as favourites going into the game,” Mallon noted. “It’s an Ulster final at the end of the day, we just took it as another game, and played the occasion on the day.

“We knew that they play with people behind the ball so we wanted to have patience in our build-up. To be honest, we didn’t really do that in the first half very well. We were kicking the ball away aimlessly.

“At half time we spoke about having a wee bit more composure and faith, and putting a press on their kickouts, which we got joy out of. We went after the game instead of hanging back too much.”

Ladies football focus now turns to next Sunday’s All-Ireland senior and intermediate finals in Croke Park. Meath hope to make it third time lucky in the intermediate decider where recently-relegated Westmeath will be looking for a swift return to the senior ranks.

And arch-rivals Dublin and Cork meet for the fifth time in seven seasons in the mouth-watering senior final.

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