Sports

Camogs can secure Croke Park return

Thursday, 10 August 2017

THE Orchard camogs go in search of a second successive All Ireland Premier Junior Championship appearance this weekend with joint manager Paddy McArdle claiming the present panel is stronger than the squad which reached Croke Park last September.

Their impressive run last season ended a 23-year wait for an Armagh return to headquarters, though the disappointing decider defeat to Carlow left the orangewomen with a sense of unfinished business coming into 2017.

They are now only an hour of camogie away from being back at Croke Park with the opportunity to go one better but Armagh face a significant challenge this Saturday (5pm) against in-form Westmeath at Drumlane where they won last season's semi against Roscommon.

The Armagh men's and ladies footballers have already ended the Championship campaigns of their respective Westmeath counterparts but the Orchard camogs will need to be at their best to complete the hat-trick.

A draw with Westmeath was the only one of the six group games Armagh didn't win en route to last season's Premier Junior final and the Orchard crew were well beaten 1-15 to 0-8, when the teams met in National League Division Two this spring, with free-taker Dinah Loughlin lethal.

Unlike last season, when all seven teams in the third tier championship played each other on a round robin basis, this year's Premier Junior competition has nine sides split into two sections.

Armagh have bounced back well from a shock home defeat against Kerry in the Athletic Grounds in their opening game when they led all afternoon before being pipped by a winning point in injurytime.

A hat-trick of goals in the opening 18 minutes by Tullysaran ace Colette McSorley set them on course for a convincing victory away to Clare Seconds next time out and then captain Ciara Donnelly's 2-6 laid the foundations for a notable triumph at old rivals Roscommon.

A draw would have been enough for Armagh to secure runners-up place in their group at their hosts' expense but they impressively pulled clear to win by the comfortable margin of 12 points against a team they have had plenty of tight games against in recent years.

However, Westmeath won't lack confidence coming into this Armagh match having won all four fixtures in their five-team section and at this stage they are probably regarded as favourites to go all the way in the competition.

With all due respect to surprise package Kerry, who have proved their ambush of Armagh wasn't a flash in the pan, and Dublin Seconds, the Orchard outfit and Westmeath would have made a worthy pairing for next month's final.

One of them won't make it though thanks to last season's losing finalists not topping their group, though joint captain Grainne Kelly takes the view that Armagh will have to beat Westmeath at some stage if they are to lift the trophy so the hurdle may as well come now.

Whitewashed in National League Division Two, Armagh hadn't won a game this season until that Clare Seconds clash on July 15 but they have some momentum now after seeing off Roscommon.

The Orchard's core is impressively strong with official leaders Donnelly and Kelly augmented by the formidable Bernie Murray, her fellow legend McSorley and two more 2016 Soaring Star nominees, Eimear Hayes and Rachael Merry.

Young guns Leanne Donnelly, Leah McGoldrick, Caella Casey and Ciarrai Devlin have all lined out for Ulster this season and Granemore prospect Ciara Hill is another useful forward with the physical attributes to compete at this level.

In spite of some stalwarts leaving the scene since last season, McArdle is adamant that Armagh are stronger now thanks to an influx of players from Keady and the fact that the Orchard's rising stars have an extra year's valuable experience and development under their belts.

That theory is likely to be tested to the full this Saturday but Armagh have what it takes to follow their footballing brothers and sisters by condemning Westmeath to more misery at Orchard hands this summer and securing their return tickets to Croke Park.

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