BY KIERAN LYNCH
ARMAGH’S Eimear Smyth says that the team are using the heartbreak of losing All-Ireland finals in 2021 and 2022 as motivation heading into the last four this time around.
The Orchard County were bested 1-14 to 1-11 in the decider by Wexford two years ago, before a Dervla Cosgrove hat trick powered the Saffrons past them last August. With the Premier Junior Championship now at the business end, Smyth says that they don’t want to experience that hurt again.
“Any defeat is hard to take, but losing an All-Ireland final is one of the worst feelings you can have; it’s a feeling you’ll never forget in your lifetime,” she said.
“After that we just had to regroup and go again. I suppose I use it as that bit of motivation to train harder and push myself on.
“I always bring it back to that feeling I got after the game. As much as it was a negative thing, you have to turn it into a positive by throwing everything at our training and our games this year, to hopefully prevent that from happening this year again.”
Armagh face Clare this Saturday in a repeat of the 2021 All-Ireland semi-final, which they won 2-13 to 1-6. Clare also reached the last four last year, but lost against Antrim in extra-time, so they will be out to go one step further this time around.
“We played Clare in the semi-final a couple of years ago, but things change that much and that quickly that it’s hard to read into that game,” said Smyth.
“But I remember them being a very strong, skilful side. Plus, they won their league campaign earlier in the season, which will be a great boost for them, and we’re expecting a hard-fought game on Saturday.”
To reach this stage, Armagh have had a straightforward path, defeating Mayo, Limerick and Offaly, with the narrowest margin of victory 15 points. Despite the winning momentum, Smyth believes that those types of games are less than ideal preparation for a big game.
“We have been going really well so far,” she said.
“Some of our wins have been quite comfortable, and whilst there are good things that come with that, it comes with some bad things too.
“As a team, you need to have some really tough challenges too in order to prepare for the bigger games that you encounter at this stage of the season.”
Armagh will have to navigate the rest of the season with Grace Gaffney and Eabha Lennon, who both suffered cruciate injuries, but Smyth says that the team will do what they can to succeed without the two important players.
“I’m really enjoying being a part of the team this year,” said Smyth.
“We have had new management in (Sean Hughes), and they bring a real professional set-up, which leads to good mutual respect between them and the players.
“In terms of numbers, we haven’t got as big of a panel as we normally would. The girls we’ve lost to injury are both crucial to us. But I find that it has nearly pushed us on as a team, seeing them unable to be out there with us.”