Armagh look to finally get one over on the Model on biggest stage
All-Ireland Premier Junior Camogie Championship final: Armagh v Wexford (tomorrow, Croke Park, 12pm)
THREE times this season Armagh have met Wexford and each time they have come up a little short. Not much though and hope springs eternal for the Orchard County girls as they head to Croke Park to defend the All-Ireland Premier Junior title they won last December in Kingspan Breffni Park with a 0-19 to 3-7 victory over Cavan.
Since that win in December Armagh have got a new management team headed by Mattie Lennon, a wider panel of players and a clear focus on where they want to be playing.
It is fair to say that they were really lacking in confidence and focus this time last year. Winning the Premier Junior championship helped partially restore those missing elements, but the county realised that they still needed to travel a little before they moved to the next level.
This season a different Armagh has taken the field and that difference has really only come through in the past couple of games; the 1-16 to 3-8 win over Limerick in the quarter-final and then the 2-16 to 1-6 semi-final victory over Clare that takes them back to Croke Park for the first time since the 2016 final when they were beaten by Carlow.
That last visit to Headquarters was only five years ago, but seems longer because of the change in personnel in the Armagh team and also the lows they have experienced in the interim.
Mattie Lennon managed to attract a couple of more experienced players back into the fold to provide the leadership for what is overall a young squad. It has taken the pressure off main scorer Ciara Donnelly and created an environment for the likes of Ciara Hill, Bernie Murray and Eimear Smyth to attack space in the forward line rather than look for Donnelly.
The Eglish player will still provide the bulk of the points – she scored 13 in last year’s final, 12 against Limerick three weeks ago and nine more in the semi-final – but there is a bigger contribution from the rest of the forwards while her sister Leanne is still likely to burst through for a couple from midfield.
Gráinne McWilliams and Gemma McCann have tightened up the half-back line and the defence as a whole although in the Wexford games the quick break from the back has caught Armagh out and from those breaks, Wexford were able to hit the scores to force Armagh into chasing the game.
Chloe Cashe and Ciara Banville are the main players to curtail if Armagh want to be dictating the pace of the game, while Aideen Brennan’s presence and distribution from centre-half back is another area that Mattie Lennon will look to see improvement.
The main problem that can arise with Junior teams in Croke Park is that they get carried away by the occasion and the venue and there are a couple of recent examples of that. That often leads to the concession of an early score or two and then they are on the back foot.
Based on the head-to-heads this year, it is the Slaney-siders who enter Croke Park as favourites, an unusual situation against the defending champions.
Armagh must use the experience of Kingspan Breffni last December to help settle them into this game. If they manage that, they can perhaps put scores on the board and push Wexford back.