McArdle and Armagh now on a watching brief after finishing unbeaten group campaign

Paul McConville

Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Premier Junior Championship Group One: Antrim 1-16 Armagh 1-18

ARMAGH joint captain Michelle McArdle was happy on a couple counts as she left the Dunloy pitch on Saturday with her team securing a 1-18 to 1-16 victory over Antrim in their final Glen Dimplex Premier Junior group game.

“Yes, it is really good to go through the group unbeaten and get a look at possible opponents from the other group next week. But we also needed a really hard game to see where we are at and we got that against Antrim," McArdle said.

Last year's beaten finalists finished their games a week earlier than the other teams in both groups and will no doubt focus in on the Cavan v Clare top of the table clash in Group Two as they prepare for the semi-finals against the loser on July 23.

“We had easy victories in the other three games to get to this stage. But we needed to be put to the test today. We knew coming up here we would be.”

However, at 0-12 to 0-5 behind at the break, were there questions to answer?

“We still had confidence in ourselves. We knew with that breeze especially we could hit 10 or 12 points.

“The goal came after four or five minutes and we were right back in the game. But we couldn't get away from them. They were always on our backs, always there. They just wouldn't give up. I think it was a good match for us, but it was also a good match for Antrim.

“We still have work to do,” says the Ballymacnab midfielder.

“We have work to do right through the team. But with a few weeks off, we can maybe get a few challenge games and get ourselves sorted for the semi-final.

“It is hard to say where we are in comparison to last year. There are changes in the team. Like Jenny O'Leary (Curry) is with us this year and she is a wonderful playmaker and that has let Ciara (Donnelly) away for more scores from play. So we probably are a bit better than we were this time last year in our options in going forward.

“We have a different management this year too and they have different ideas of what they want from us. But it is down to the buy-in from the players and at the minute we are really focussed.

“We are one step away from Croke Park and looking forward to the semi-finals whoever we get.”

And have Antrim also the potential to make Croke Park?

“For sure they have. They are a really tough outfit and no-one will look forward to playing them in a semi-final”

Antrim joint manager Mark 'Duck' McFadden also felt that the game showed that his team have the potential to push on.

“I am disappointed that a couple of mistakes cost us dearly, particularly at the start of the second half. The wind played a big part in the game and we were up against it in the second half. But the girls dug deep and we maybe had chances to equalise, maybe even win it.

“But listen, we will focus on the positives and we are showing well every time we go out.

“That is our third meeting with Armagh this year and I would say our best performance. We got beat by two in the league and they beat us well in the Ulster final. So we know they are a good team and it is great to perform against them.”

The 2012 All-Ireland club hurling medallist with Loughgiel agreed that the three substitutes used midway through the second half influenced the final quarter.

“They had a massive impact. As managers we tell the girls that it is a squad game, not about individuals. We have super players there, but no single player makes a team.

“We are playing Limerick next Saturday for a semi-final place and that is where we want to be. So our whole focus now is on Limerick.”

Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Premier Junior championship

Group One: Antrim 1-16 Armagh 1-18

ARMAGH were already through to the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Premier Junior semi-finals next month before they visited Dunloy, but they got their first full test of the campaign before moving into the knock-outs stages with a fourth successive victory.

Antrim chose to play with the strong breeze in the opening half but found themselves locked on 0-4 each at the end of the first quarter as last year's All-Ireland finalists seemed to be in control with Jenny Curry and Ciara Donnelly particularly sharp up front.

However points from Anna McNeill and Emma Laverty sparked a run of scores from frees for the Saffrons who went on to lead by 0-12 to 0-5 at the break. Dervla Cosgrove scored nine frees in that half, while Emma Laverty also added one from a placed ball.

It looked a decent challenge for Armagh, but they immediately went on the offensive and a misplaced pass out of the Antrim defence found Ciara Donnelly and the Eglish forward fired to the net. She quickly added a point to bring the gap down to two points with just four minutes gone.

Although Clare Kearney hit an excellent point in replay, Armagh scored over the next six points with two each from Donnelly and Rachel Merry.

Antrim sent in subs for the last quarter and all three made an impact after Sinéad Cosgrove had raced up from centre half back to score a fine point.

Caoimhe McNaughton closed the gap to the minimum on 50 minutes, but points from the Donnelly sisters and sub Bernie Murray seemed to have left Antrim with too much to do.

However in an exciting finish Fionnuala Kelly and Ciara Donnelly exchanged points before a great run from Bríd Magill put Dervla Cosgrove in the clear for a goal.

A point separated them, but the experienced Ciara Donnelly double that gap with her 10th point in the second minute of added time to shut out the home side's chance of a draw.

Nevertheless Antrim remain in second place in the group, a point ahead of Limerick on score difference. Limerick travel north for the final group game on Saturday and it basically is winner takes all.

Armagh: C Devlin, M Lenehan, N Woods, E O'Kane, G McCann capt., E Hayes, T Maguire, S McArdle capt., L Donnelly 0-2, J Curry 0-2, E Smyth, E McKee, K McComiskey, C Donnelly 1-10 (0-6 fs), R Merry 0-3.

Subs: S Quinn for K Comiskey (23), B Murray 0-1 for E McKee (45).

Antrim: Á Graham, M McGarry, E Kearns, E McShane, C Crawford, S Cosgrove 0-1, M McLarnon capt., C Kearney 0-1, Bríd Magill, C McNaughton 0-1, E Laverty 0-2 (1f), O Laverty, A McNeill 0-1, E Leech, D Cosgrove 1-9 (0-9 fs).

Subs: T O'Neill for C Crawford (41), F Kelly 0-1 for O Laverty (43), N Devlin for E Leech (54).

Referee: B Heaney (Meath)

Limerick 1-11 Down 1-7

LIMERICK gave themselves a fighting chance to qualify for the semi-finals of the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Junior Championship with this four points' win over Down in Cappamore.

Played in damp conditions with a strong cross-field wind, Limerick led 0-6 to 0-3 at half-time with Ashling Ryan on the mark on four occasions, including three from play. Limerick almost doubled their lead close to the break, but Niamh O'Toole denied Amy Burke with a fine save.

Although Down opened the second half scoring with a point, midfielder Valerie Shanahan scored a goal and two points inside three minutes and suddenly Limerick were clear at 1-9 to 0-5.

Down didn't give it up, and substitute Catherine Gorman was on hand to find the net on 46 minutes to bring the gap down to 1-10 to 1-6. However there was just a point each for the teams in the last quarter and Down now need to get something from their final group game at home against Roscommon this coming weekend to avoid finishing in bottom place.

Limerick meanwhile travel to Dunloy to face Antrim in the final round, needing a win to advance to the knockout stages.

Limerick: Valerie Shanahan 1-4 (1-0f); Ashling Ryan 0-4 (1f); Sarah Cosgrave, Clíodhna Hall, Amy Burke 0-1 each.

Down: Catherine Gorman 1-0; Frances Toner 0-2; Claire Donaldson 0-1 (f), Aoife McDowell, Kate McAleenan, Marie McNally 0-1 each.

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