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Mallon leads the way as Orchard girls seal hat-trick of Ulster titles in epic final win over Donegal

Armagh captain Kelly Mallon lifts the trophy after leading her side to victory over Donegal in Sunday's Ulster Senior Football Championship final in Clones
Picture: Brendan Monaghan 
LOUISE GUNN at CLONES

TG4 Ulster Senior Championship Final: Armagh 3-17 Donegal 2-19

KELLY Mallon played a captain’s role as her late, late extra-time goal saw Armagh snatch victory by the narrowest of margins against Donegal in an exhilarating encounter in St Tiernach’s Park, Clones yesterday.

It’s an historic three Ulster senior titles in-a-row for Armagh and this one quite possibly the sweetest yet.

With less than two minutes on the clock at the end of normal time, Armagh trailed by four points, 2-14 to 1-13, but a wayward pass by Donegal’s Roisin Rodgers was mopped up by Armagh and Aoife McCoy played in Aimee Mackin who blasted to the back of the net before her captain Mallon kept her cool and with her fifth point of the day sent over the equaliser from a free to send the game to extra-time.

It was deja-vu as the clock counted down the end of extra-time, Donegal with a 2-19 to 2-17 lead but again Armagh pressed high, Catherine Marley who was superb all day long, overturned possession, the ball ending up in the hands of Mallon who fired past Roisin McCafferty in the Donegal net to put her side one point ahead. Despite Donegal’s best efforts to find the equaliser, for the second consecutive year they lost to Armagh by a point.

Donegal manager Maxi Curran will certainly be wondering how his side lost this game - twice they were in control of their own destiny and twice they failed to see the game out, however, Armagh must be given credit for chasing down every ball and never giving up.

Armagh boss Ronan Murphy said he never thought the game was gone from them given how close it had been throughout.

“At that stage it’s in the lap of the gods. The game had ebbed and flowed so it was always a possibility,” he said.

“You never think it’s over when you have a group of girls that this who are so talented and committed. We knew the way the game was shaping up before that, that we always get our chances and our purple patches. Those situations come down to the wire, down to the players and a bit of luck as well.

“Three titles in-a-row, we are delighted. We were very disappointed that we lost the league final and didn’t show what we were worth in Croke Park so this will go some way to putting that to bed.

“The quality of football out there today was second to none. Donegal are a great team and have quality players and we knew that if we were there or thereabouts we would never be far away.”

Donegal, looking for their Ulster title since 2019, got off to the ideal start when Geraldine McLaughlin, who picked up the player of the match award, finishing with 1-11, found the back of the net in the second minute. However, four minutes later, Armagh were in front 1-2 to 1-0 thanks to an Aoife McCoy goal after Mackin intercepted a Niamh Carr hand pass out of defence.

Geraldine McLaughlin (free) and Donegal captain Niamh McLaughlin levelled the game before Armagh moved three ahead through Mallon (two frees) and Caroline O’Hanlon. The game swung back in Donegal’s favour though in the 26th minute when Niamh McLaughlin finished superbly past Anna Carr but the sides went in level, for the fourth time, at the break, 2-5 to 1-8.

Aimee Mackin of Armagh gets her shot away despite pressure fomr Nicole McLaughlin of Donegal during Sunday's Ulster senior final in Clones
Picture: Brendan Monaghan 

Karen Guthrie was introduced at half-time for Donegal and her impact was immediate as she gave them the lead again, from a free, within the first minute and Geraldine McLaughlin doubled her side’s advantage.

Armagh came back and three unanswered points, as they punished Donegal overturning possession, saw them take the lead for the third time, 1-11 to 2-7. In end-to-end action, Guthrie and Geraldine McLaughlin raised white flags again before Mallon, whose accuracy from frees from out of the top drawer, levelled the game for the seventh time in the 43rd minute, 1-112 to 2-9.

Donegal however found another level and four unanswered points, three from McLaughin and one from Yvonne Bonner who had been superbly marshalled all day by Clodagh McCambridge, put them 2-13 to 1-12 ahead with seven minutes remaining and the gap was still four with McLaughlin’s 10 point of the afternoon, this one from a ridiculous tight angle, in the 56th minute.

They looked to be in control but that wayward pass gave Armagh a lifeline with Mackin’s goal before Mallon hit the equalising point to send the game to extra-time. At half-time in extra-time, Donegal led by two, 2-17 to 2-15 and they still had that two points lead with three minutes remaining but Armagh had not thrown in the towel just yet and Mallon, who scored all of Armagh’s extra-time scores, fired home the winning goal to break Donegal’s hearts.

Armagh: A Carr; S Grey, C McCambridge, C Towe; N Marley, L McConville, G Ferguson; B Mackin, C O’Hanlon (0-1); E Lavery, N Coleman, C Marley (0-1); A Mackin (1-5, 0-2 frees), A McCoy (1-2), K Mallon (capt) (1-8, 0-8 frees)

Subs: T Grimes for Ferguson (46), N Reel for Lavery (50), F McKenna for Coleman (50)

Donegal: R McCafferty; N Carr, E McGinley, T Kennedy; S Twohig, Nicole McLaughlin, A Boyle Carr; K Heron, Niamh McLaughlin (capt) (1-1); Y Bonner (0-1), N Hegarty (0-2), S White; B McLaughlin, R Rodgers, G McLaughlin (1-11, 0-4 frees)

Subs: K Guthrie (0-4, 0-2 frees) for White (ht), T Hegarty for K Herron (h-t e-t), N Boyle for Rodgers, E McCrory for Hegarty (75), K Herron for B McLaughlin (78)

Referee: Gavin Finnegan (Down)

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