Time for Armagh to take the next step in pursuit of All-Ireland glory says Mackin

Blaithin Mackin of Armagh in action against Emma Costello of Kerry during the Lidl Ladies Football National League Division 2 Final between Armagh and Kerry at Croke Park in April. Mackin knows the Orchard girls will need to improve on their performance that day as they prepare to meet the Kingdom in the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final on Saturday in Tullamore

ARMAGH midfielder Blaithin Mackin says the time is now for the Orchard County to push on in their pursuit of All-Ireland glory.

The Ulster champions are in quarter-final action on Sunday against Kerry in Tullamore and the battlelines have been drawn as both sides aim to book their place in the last four.

Ronan Murphy’s side bowed out at this stage last year – losing to eventual champions Meath, who clinched their very first Brendan Martin Cup to rewrite the history books.

To exit once at this same stage for a second successive year is not an option according to Shane O'Neill's star Mackin

“Retaining the Ulster title was a good start to the championship, but we would really be wanting to push on with the All-Ireland at this stage,” she said.

While Armagh were disappointed to have lost out to Meath, seeing what they went on to achieve, has given Mackin optimism.

“Every year you look at where you improve as a team and we definitely looked at that after the Meath game last year. It’s a constant progression and all teams at this level are the same and you are just wanting to get better every year and now it’s just about showing it on the day," she said.

“Meath, they were brilliant last year, their work-rate and how they worked together as a unit, which was testament to them and it just shows how far that can get you, whenever there is belief in the squad.”

This quarter-final between the two is a rematch of the Division Two league final back in April which saw the Kingdom take a late 1-12 to 0-12 victory to secure the silverware but more importantly promotion back to the top table.

Mackin recalls the battle that day and knows this one will be even fiercer as both chase All-Ireland success.

“The Kerry game in the league final was a tough game. They are a very strong team and they have made improvements and have got better since then as they have moved into the championship so we know it is going to be a big challenge and we know that we have to focus on our performance and definitely try to improve on how we played in the league final.”

The 23-year-old last month signed for AFLW side Melbourne and will join up with them after Armagh’s participation in the championship ends – something she no doubt hopes will not be for a few weeks just yet and it is her native county that has her undivided attention for the foreseeable.

She is relishing continuing playing alongside some of the best players, not just in the county, but in the country, that include her sister Aimee, Caroline O’Hanlon, Lauren McConville and captain Kelly Mallon, to name just a few.

“There are brilliant players in the team and it is an honour to play beside such talent and to train with them week in and week out,” she said.

“They are all real role models for me and for Armagh ladies football in general and especially for younger players within the squad. For us and for them especially though, it is all about the team, it is a squad of girls and management to get you over the line and everyone is aware of that.

“We are really looking forward to the game, All-Ireland quarter-finals don’t come around too often. There are nerves and excitement which are good things. I try to stay as focussed as possible because the nerves are always there until the ball is thrown in and until you get your first touch, so it’s just about staying as calm as possible and getting a good warm-up done, focus on the team target and look to do exactly what the managers have asked of you.”

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