Donegal and Armagh ladies clash for Ulster senior football title
Ulster Senior Championship final: Donegal (holders) v Armagh (tomorrow, Brewster Park, 3.45pm)
DONEGAL put their Ulster senior title on the line against Armagh in an eagerly anticipated clash at Brewster Park tomorrow afternoon.
The holders will carry the favourites tag for this game but it really means very little between two evenly matched teams with stars all over the pitch.
Last year, the sides met in the semi-finals with Donegal prevailing in what turned out to be an extraordinary game.
They failed to score in the first half, playing into a strong wind, as Armagh led 1-8 to no score but hit a remarkable 1-14 in the second period to win by four points.
Donegal are appearing in their third final in four years having won it for the first time in 2015 and then again last year.
For Armagh, this is their fifth final, winning the title in 2006 and 2007 and more recently in 2014 but missing out in 2010. Incidentally, all the final victories for both teams have come over Monaghan.
The champions saw off Monaghan in last Saturday's semi-final by 14 points and indeed this is only the second time in 19 years that Farney county will not feature in the final.
Armagh defeated Cavan the a fortnight ago by three points in a closely fought game that saw them come from four points down at half-time.
For the management duo of Fionnuala McAtamney and Lorraine McCaffrey, while pleased with the second half performance against Cavan, it won't be enough if they are to see off Donegal tomorrow and they are determined to show their title intent.
“Donegal are red hot favourites but we are focusing on playing our own game. It has been four years since we were last in an Ulster final and we are not content on just being there to make up the numbers,” said McCaffrey.
“This is an ambitious group of players and if they play to their potential and how we know they can, anything can happen.
“We reviewed the Cavan game and felt we did enough to win but it won't be enough against Donegal. If we repeat that same conversion rate against Donegal we will not be in with a chance.
“There were things too from the semi-final that we were pleased with and that has come from working hard over the last six or more months and it is good to see those coming together.”
For the neutral, the plethora of stars taking to the pitch tomorrow afternoon is phenomenal.
Some of the best forwards in the country in Donegal's Geraldine McLaughlin and Yvonne Bonner, Armagh's Aimee Mackin and Aoife McCoy, will be doing everything they can to help their county to silverware.
Caroline O'Hanlon, will be playing for her netball team Manchester Thunder in London tonight against Surrey Storm before flying back to play for Armagh in this final tomorrow, and she did the same before the Cavan semi-final, having a fantastic game.
Amazingly, the average age of the Armagh starting full-back and half-back line is 30, yet the defenders Donegal will face in captain Caoimhe Morgan, her sister Sarah Marley, Marian McGuinness, Mairead Tennyson, Sharon Reel and teenager Tiarna Grimes, are formidable and they will not give an inch.
Meabh Moriarty, who played her first championship game for Armagh in seven years in the semi-final, has vast experience and will add to the depth of the Armagh forward lines.
Donegal's inside forward line that includes McLaughlin and Bonner will give the Armagh defence a real test while as a team, Donegal will break forward in attack from the heart of their defence, working to turn over ball. They have huge ball carriers in Katy Herron, Aoife McDonnell, Hegarty sisters Ciara and Niamh and captain Karen Guthrie.
Maxi Curran and Damien Devaney will have players disappointed to miss out on a starting place, but that just show the strength in depth they can call upon from the bench and this could well be a 20-player game.
Curran knows how important defence will be tomorrow and feels the job they do will determine the outcome of this game.
“I think this game will come down to which defence can handle the opposition forwards the best. Whoever can stop the others' forwards, like Aimee Mackin, Aoife McCoy, or Geraldine [McLaughlin] or Yvonne [Bonner] will probably win this,” he said.
“Both teams have very good forwards and which defence can hold best will win.”