Championship clashes in Ulster have helped team build character and resilience says Armagh captain Ciara Donnelly
AFTER coming through two tough Ulster Intermediate championship games, Armagh captain Ciara Donnelly is delighted with the progress of the team following their extra-time win over Division Four champions Cavan in Sunday's semi-final.
“These games will build character. If you survive games when you are being put to the pin of your collar, you know the team is improving," Donnelly said.
“Against Down in the quarter-final we went behind in the second half and had to fight back and then hold on for a one-point win.
“It was the same on Sunday with Cavan. They really put it up to us in the first half, but we regrouped at half-time and fought hard to bring it to extra time.”
Armagh struggled against the physicality of Cavan in the opening half and went in 0-7 to 0-3 down at the interval. Although they scored the opening three points of the second half inside three minutes, Cavan hung on and it took a late point from Bernie Murray to send the teams to extra time.
“As the weather improved, we seemed to improve. But Cavan are a very difficult opponent. They are very strong in the tackle and they made us work for everything we got,” said the Eglish club player.
“We got a good start in extra-time, but they came back to level and I am really pleased that we responded right away to go ahead again.”
In fact it was the team captain who hit the key score; midway through the second half of extra time she latched on to a pass from a move along the end-line and lashed the sliotar to the roof of the Cavan net off the underside of the crossbar. It brought her match total to 1-4.
“I think the players who came back this year have helped a lot – Bernie (Murray), Shelly (McArdle), Gráinne (McWilliams) and Collette McSorley. We have great young players coming through, but those experienced players are needed to bring them through.
“In general though, there is fierce competition for places in the team. Like, before every game when the team is announced there is always someone you didn't expect gets a jersey and it is because Mattie (Lennon, the manager) has seen something in training.
“So everyone is on their toes and working away to stay in the team.”
Donnelly was in Croke Park on Monday at the launch of the All-Ireland Premier Junior. Armagh begin the defence of their title with a home game against Waterford on Saturday July 24th and they then take on Wexford in a repeat of the Division Three league final.
“Wexford have beaten us twice this year, once in the group stages of the league and then in the final. But we know from those games that there is nothing between us.
“These Ulster championship games have been great in keeping the momentum going and bridging the five weeks' gap between the league and All-Ireland. Hopefully we will be able to show them that we have learnt a thing or two when we meet again.”
Before that however the maths' teacher in St Catherine's College, Armagh will hope to tot up the scores in this Saturday's Ulster Intermediate final against Antrim.