Armagh out to dethrone Kerry in Croke showdown

The Orchard county were impressive in their league campaign, winning their first six games

Niamh Carmody of Kerry
Niamh Carmody will be a player for Armagh to watch. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile (Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

Lidl Ladies’ NFL Division One final

Armagh v Kerry (tomorrow, Croke Park, 3pm, live on TG4)

ARMAGH are appearing in their first-ever Division One final hoping to dethrone champions Kerry when they meet in tomorrow’s decider.

The Kingdom are vying for back-to-back titles and a 13th Division One crown overall but they are coming up against high-flying opposition as Armagh have taken their return to the top division in their stride.

The quality of Armagh suggests they are not punching above their weight and as a team with ambitions to break into the top four in the country, reaching the top tier league final, should be a natural step in that progression.

Granted, Armagh will have started off 2024, having returned to Division One for the first time since 2017, with the simple goal of staying up, but after just a few rounds with that guaranteed and a winning habit formed, their thoughts rightly turned to competing for a top-two finish and a place in a Division One final.

Gregory McGonigle’s side topped the table with six wins and one defeat, that loss in the final game against Dublin, but before that game, the league final place had already been secured.

It was a heavy defeat and while McGonigle rung the changes, giving fringe players their opportunity to play against one of the top teams in the country, it was not the ideal end to the regulation stage of the league.

However, ultimately their eyes were already on the bigger prize and they won’t dwell on that result. But there will have been things to take away from that game and they can work on and aim to bring to the table against Kerry knowing that they must bring a top-drawer performance.

Armagh already have a victory over their opponents this year, that coming in round five of the league, with the Orchard County impressing in a 3-14 to 1-13 win.

That was an important win, psychologically especially, as Kerry have held the upper hand over the Ulster side in recent meetings, including a Division Two final in 2022, which was in the melting pot right until the final minutes before Kerry won 1-12 to 0-12.

That game will be remembered for substitute Danielle O’Leary impact, as she almost single-handled ly turned the game in Kerry’s favour, scoring the decisive goal.

In the All-Ireland senior championship that same year, Kerry ended Armagh’s hopes at the quarter-final stages. For Armagh to put Kerry to the sword in this one will be another huge psychological boost for them.

Kerry’s defeat to Armagh in the league was their only loss but they also dropped points in their draw with Mayo to finish runners-up, with their final game against Galway a must-win if they were to reach the final especially with Dublin’s win over Armagh.

This is an eagerly awaited and mouth-watering clash and for both sides an excellent opportunity for one more tough challenge before the championship season.

Both finalists are evenly matched with some fantastic talent on display, not least in two of the best forwards in the country – Aimee Mackin and Louise Ni Mhuircheartaigh – and it may well come down to a shoot-out between these two Allstar players.

Hannah O’Donoghue, Niamh Carmody, Danielle O’Leary, Emma Dineen, Niamh Ní Chonchúir and Katie Brosnan have had a brilliant league campaign for Kerry.

Equally for Armagh, Kelly Mallon, Aoife McCoy, Niamh Henderson and Niamh Coleman have been impressive, as has veteran Caroline O’Hanlon, whose presence on the pitch with her experience and calmness is enough to give Kerry an extra headache and something Armagh can use to their advantage.

In captain and full-back Clodagh McCambridge, they have one of the best defenders in the game and she will likely be given the task of picking up Ni Mhuircheartaigh.

Both sides will certainly go for it, the opportunity to win silverware each year is not always guaranteed. It would provide a huge boost going into the championship as both ultimately target provincial and All-Ireland glory.