Sport

Donegal out to halt hat-trick hunting Armagh in Ulster senior final showdown

Cavan's Laura Fitzpatrick and Donegal's Geraldine McLaughlin in action during the Ulster LGFA Football Senior Championship semi-final between Cavan and Donegal at St Tiernach's Park, Clones Picture: Philip Walsh.
LOUISE GUNN

TG4 Ulster Senior Championship Final: Armagh (holders) v Donegal (Tomorrow, St Tiernach’s Park, Clones, 3.45pm)

ULSTER champions Armagh come up against title hopefuls Donegal in tomorrow’s mouthwatering senior provincial championship final in St Tiernach’s Park, Clones.

The stakes are high as Donegal, Division One finalists, aim to bridge a three-year gap since their last Ulster crown while Armagh will want to keep hold of it for another year and complete an historic hat-trick of consecutive titles and match Donegal’s achievement of 2017 to 2019.

Between them, tomorrow’s finalists have appeared in the last six finals - for Armagh it’s final number five in-a-row, while Donegal are in their fifth final in six years - 2020, when they did not take part in the provincial championship, the anomaly.

It’s fair to say the two counties have dominated the inter-county scene in Ulster over the last handful of years, 2016 the last time another county - Monaghan - got their hands on the provincial title.

This is a repeat of last year’s final in what turned out to be an epic battle and an even bigger one is on the cards this time around. Just one point separated them last August, Fionnuala McKenna’s points six minutes from time edging Armagh 3-12 to 3-11 as they finally got the better of their opponents at the third attempt following defeat in 2018 and 2019. The game had been level four times throughout the 60-odd minutes and that was with Donegal’s facing a nine-point deficit during the second quarter.

They have reached the final with relative ease, Armagh putting up 5-21 against Monaghan and only conceding five points while Donegal saw off Cavan 3-19 to 1-11.

Both managers - Donegal’s Maxi Curran and his Orchard County counterpart Ronan Murphy, while trying to maintain focus on themselves and play to their own game plan and strengths, will be determined to get the match-ups right as well. It’s a fine balancing act.

Nullifying, as much as possible, the threat of Armagh’s Aimee Mackin on one side and Geraldine McLaughlin for Donegal on the other side will be high on the list of both opposition managers' list of priorities but there are plenty of other players on each side who can step up to the plate - Eve Lavery was very impressive for Armagh against Monaghan, captain Kelly Mallon grabbed herself a couple of goals.

Suzi White started in place of the injured Karen Guthrie against Cavan in the semi-final hitting 2-3 and could well start for Maxi Curran’s side. Guthrie too should be fit to make her return and along with Yvonne Bonner, who grabbed 1-4 and McLaughlin who finished with nine points, Donegal too have plenty of scorers.

The midfield battle could well have a real impact on the outcome of this game along with driving runs from the half-back line on the counter-attack especially from Armagh’s former forward Lauren McConville and Niamh Marley with Nicole McLaughlin, due to make her 100th appearance for Donegal tomorrow, and Amy Boyle Carr doing likewise for the Tir Chonaill side.

Blaithin Mackin and Caroline O’Hanlon will likely form Armagh’s midfield partnership and go up against Donegal captain Niamh McLaughlin and Katy Herron with little duo prepared to give the other an inch.

Armagh boss Ronan Murphy is hoping for big support in Clones to get behind the champions as they try to make history.

“It’s got the makings of being a brilliant game. We are going for three in-a-row and Donegal will want to dethrone us. It makes for a good contest and we are looking forward to it,” he said.

“It gives us a quality game against really, really good opposition in the run up to the All-Ireland series. Donegal are a fantastic team and were unlucky to have been beaten by Meath in the Division One league final. Sunday will be a 50-50 game and hopefully we can shade it again this year.

However, he added: “It’s unfortunate that our players do not receive complimentary tickets for the game for their families."

His Donegal counterpart Maxi Curran acknowledges his side will have to be at their best to overcome the champions.

“Both teams got to a National League final and came up short. I’m sure they were as disappointed as we were, they were trying to get out of Division Two and have been for a while. They got to an All-Ireland semi-final a couple of years ago, they are a team that fancy themselves and will hold no fear of us going into this one,” he said.

“We have made no bones about it, our aspirations are high as well and we feel this team is capable of beating anybody on a given day and in order to do that we have to be able to win matches like this.”

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