By Shaun Casey
Armagh secured Division One football for another season at least with an impressive playoff win over Roscommon. This came off the back of encouraging performances against Monaghan, Tyrone and Donegal in the mini-Ulster series of Division One North.
In doing so, Kieran McGeeney’s men have guaranteed big days out for their supporters, if restrictions allow, starting with an away trip to Croke Park on the opening day of the season. 2021 was the first time the Orchard competed at the top level since 2012 and they’ll hope to remain there for the next few years.
The Championship failed to go to plan after expectedly overcoming Antrim with four goals to spare. It was the concession of four three-pointers that ultimately ended Armagh’s hope of returning to the Ulster final for the first time since 2008. Goals from super subs Conor Turbitt and Tiernan Kelly weren’t enough to earn a spot in the provincial showpiece.
2. Armagh Ladies
Armagh ladies had such an incredible 2020 and looked to build on that this season, but like the rest of the country were taken by surprise by the eventual champions Meath, in the All-Ireland quarter final.
Ronan Murphy’s side bettered Cavan, Monaghan and Mayo to top their group and book their place in the last eight. Three goals from the Royals ended Armagh’s campaign but like last season, they finished the year on a high.
The Ulster championship provided a safety net as Armagh qualified for the decider following wins over Monaghan and Tyrone. Three goals from Niamh Reel and the unstoppable Aimee Mackin (2) crown the Orchard provincial champions for the second year in a row. The league campaign failed to go as planned, but Armagh will once again hope to achieve promotion from Division Two this season.
3. Armagh Camogie
Back-to-back All-Ireland final appearances don’t come along too often, but the Armagh Camogie team won’t have much interest in runners up medals. Ciara Donnelly inspired the side to Junior glory last season and the Eglish star helped get Armagh back to the decider.
They came up against a good Wexford team, for the fourth time of the season, and tasted defeat for the fourth time as well. The Yellow bellies beat Mattie Lennon’s ladies twice in the league, including the league final, and twice in the All-Ireland series.
The Camogs didn’t leave 2021 empty handed however as they picked up the Ulster Intermediate crown along the way with a handsome 6-33 to 0-6 win over Antrim 2nds in July.
4. Clann Eireann
For years Crossmaglen dominated the Armagh club scene, but there seems to have been a changing of the guard over the last few seasons. Maghery have twice been crowned champions (2016 and 2020), Armagh Harps won the 2017 championship and Clann Eireann can be added to the list of newbies.
Tommy Coleman, who has recently stepped down, managed the Lurgan lads to the promised land and did so the hard way, seeing off Grange, Maghery, Ballymacnab and Crossmaglen to bring the Gerry Fegan Cup back home.
They had the added bonus of stumbling past Creggan in the opening round of Ulster, after extra time, but Derrygonnelly finally ended their spirited run in the provincial semi-final.
While Coleman leaves the stage, this youthful, exciting Clann Eireann team could be around for years to come, and the Armagh club championship looks to be in a great place at the moment.
5. Craobh Rua
Craobh Rua created history this year when they became the first ever Armagh side to win the Ulster Junior Hurling title. They tried and failed in 2013, as did St Malachy’s Portadown in 2004, but it was third time lucky for the Orchard men.
Paul Cunningham’s side picked up back-to-back junior crowns in Armagh before having a tilt at the provincial title. Wins over St Eunan’s and Con Magee’s sent Craobh Rua through to the showpiece.
Connor McKevitt’s goal in the second minute provided the perfect platform to push on in the showpiece and the Camlough men eventually saw out a five-point victory over Carrickmacross. Their season doesn’t end there as they now enter the All-Ireland series and are up against the English champions Fullen Gaels in the New Year