By Niall Gartland
All-Ireland Championship Group One round one
Armagh v Monaghan
Saturday, Athletic Grounds, 2pm
ARMAGH have found form at the right time but Monaghan will be motivated by the prospect of early redemption.
The Orchard ladies endured a relatively disappointing league campaign, and actually lost narrowly to Monaghan in their group stage encounter, but it was a whole different story when they met in the Ulster Championship semi-final a fortnight ago.
Ronan Murphy’s side were on top form at the Athletic Grounds as they surged to a 5-14 to 1-12 victory, and it was pretty much the same story at the weekend when they claimed a semi-final victory over Tyrone by 2-20 to 1-10.
They’ve been aided by the return to fitness of captain Kelly Mallon, who scored a goal against the Red Hands, and while Aimee Mackin was named Ladies Player of the Year last season, they’re by no means overly reliant on the Shane O’Neill’s star.
Nine girls found the posts in their rout of Tyrone, including Aoife McCoy who weighed in with an impressive 1-2, and the suspicion is that their brilliant attacking resources should carry the day against the Farney.
Monaghan are an improving team and came agonisingly close to reaching the Division Two final, losing by the bare minimum to Kerry in the last four. The likes of Cora Courtney and Ciara McAnespie need no introduction, and they’ll undoubtedly be motivated by the chance to put right a few wrongs after their one-sided defeat to Armagh just a fortnight ago.
The Orchard county will be looking towards a possible tilt at the All-Ireland, and with only three group stage matches, there’s no room for error whatsoever. Monaghan’s ambitions lean more towards the other end of the scale – staying up – but they produced some stirring performances in last year’s championship so you never know how this one might pan out. Armagh should have enough strength in depth to prevail.
All-Ireland Championship Group One round one
Cavan v Mayo
Saturday, Markievicz Park, 2pm
ONLY a short time ago, the Breffni ladies were brimming with confidence, but the events of recent weeks will have dented their belief.
They won three games running in the league to set up a Division One semi-final encounter against Meath, but they lost that game by five points, and then came out a distinct second best in their Ulster Championship semi-final against Donegal.
On the whole, it’s been a promising start to Gerry Moane’s tenure whatever transpires in the All-Ireland Championship.
There’s an Ulster tint to their group as they have games against Monaghan and Armagh coming down the line, but this weekend they will face a Mayo team that operates at a high level, albeit they have struggled in recent matches against the queens of the ladies game, Dublin.
The Connacht outfit reached the Division One semi-final, falling well short against the Dubs even though they’ve been working extremely hard on their defence this season, bringing in basketball coaches to help out.
Cavan still have the potential to do damage in attack with the likes of Aishling Sheridan, Niamh Keenaghan, Laura McVeety and Roisin O’Keefe all capable of taking a score, and they’ll quietly fancy their chances of giving Mayo something to think about as they’ve been competitive in all their games this season.
All-Ireland Championship Group Three round one
Dublin v Tyrone
Saturday, Kingspan Breffni, 2pm
TO be the best you have to beat the best? Easier said than done, obviously, and Tyrone will be fearful of taking a hiding against reigning All-Ireland champions Dublin.
While the Dubs have been the standard-bearers in the All-Ireland race, claiming their fourth title in-a-row last season, they haven’t dominated to the same extent at league level.
Therefore, it’s ominous for the rest of the country that they claimed only their second-ever Division One title recently with a 2-15 to 1-13 victory over Cork.
Hannah Tyrell top scored with seven points while skipper Sinead Ahern weighed in with five, and Niamh Hetherton and Carla Rowe grabbed the goals.
They’ll be red hot favourites to do the business against a Tyrone team which has had mixed fortunes this season.
Kevin McCrystal’s team claimed a morale-boosting victory against Wexford in a relegation semi-final as they scored 11 goals on the day, but they were brought back down to earth with a bump when they lost to Armagh by 2-20 to 1-10 in an Ulster semi-final clash last Friday night.
On the plus side, they’ve welcomed Neamh Woods and Grainne Rafferty back from injury, and Trillick youngster Dearbhlie Gallagher did exceptionally well when brought on for the injured Niamh McGirr.
They’ve nothing to lose against the Dubs, and they’ll at least want to make a contest out of it, especially as they’ve been pitted in a group with only one other team, that being Waterford. They’ll recall that rivals Armagh only lost by five points when they met Dublin in last year’s All-Ireland Championship, but the Orchard County are arguably quite a bit better than Tyrone at present, so it’s hard to see the Red Hands coming any closer. The Dubs to march on, and Tyrone’s new manager Kevin McCrystal may be left with a fight on his hands to keep his side afloat in the senior championship.
All-Ireland Junior Championship round one
Antrim v Derry
Saturday, Corrigan Park, 2pm
DERRY will have a point to prove to themselves as much as anyone else when they take on Antrim this weekend.
All the talk prior to the league was that the Oak Leafers were going extremely well in training, but they’ve flattered to deceive and were heavily beaten by the Saffrons in the Ulster Junior Championship final a fortnight ago.
The Saffrons are in great form under their new management, and they’ve grabbed positive headlines for being the only county who have an all-ladies coaching team.
This is the third meeting between the sides this season as Antrim claimed a heavy victory over Derry in Division Four of the National League, and it’s fair to say it’s been a difficult start to Odhran McNeilly’s tenure as Derry boss.
The Oakleafers didn’t really threaten at all in the Ulster final, only scoring eight points while Antrim ran riot at the other end. Cathy Carey, Caitlin Carey and Meabh McCurdy all scored heavily, and Derry will realistically be happy if they can narrow the gap.