By Shaun Casey
IT’S been four years since Armagh and Cork last crossed paths in the All-Ireland series, and that was a day when the Orchard County laid down a serious marker and announced themselves as contenders for the biggest prize.
Cork had been the dominant force in Ladies football in the not-too-distant past, winning all but one of the All-Ireland titles between 2005-2016, while Armagh were an emerging side bursting with talent.
Aimee Mackin limped off the field of play and didn’t reappear for the second half, having suffered the dreaded torn ACL injury that would keep her out of action for a year, but yet Armagh had enough quality to qualify for the knockout stages.
Caroline O’Hanlon and Blaithin Mackin both rattled the net as the ladies in orange and white edged through by the minimum of margins, 4-9 to 3-11 to reach the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
Since then, Armagh have made their way to at least the last eight of the All-Ireland series each season, collected three Ulster Championship title in-a-row, although they loosened their grip on the provincial silverware this season, and earned promotion to the top tier.
Aoife McCoy was corner-forward that day against the Rebels and the Dromintee sharpshooter remains one of the best attacking options in Armagh’s armoury having struck 8-6 across league and championship this year.
“I don’t remember too much about the game itself, I just know we were the underdogs going into that game and came out with a win which surprised a lot of people.,” recalls McCoy of the 2019 battle with Cork.
“Cork were the National League winners that year and no one really gave a chance. It’s the first championship win against Cork I was involved in, and it was a great feeling to win that game.
“I wouldn’t say that game in particular gave us that belief (of being a top team), we’ve always had it within the camp. I think that game was important for us because we were finally able to deliver a performance against a big team that we always knew we were capable of.”
This weekend, Armagh face the Rebels once again and they have been operating at a higher level in the league, have competed in Division One, finishing midtable with four wins from their seven outings.
But Shane McCormack’s side head into Saturday’s showdown as top seeds, having won both their group ties against Laois and Mayo, while Cork suffered defeat to Galway while also overcoming Tipperary.
Armagh displayed serious character and a will to win the last day out, at the BOX-IT Athletic Grounds, to come from behind and see off Mayo to claim top spot in Group One. A late Aimee Mackin penalty saw the hosts through by just two points.
Armagh will once again enjoy the comforts that come with home advantage, which could prove a major boost. “We really enjoy playing in the Athletic Grounds,” added McCoy.
“It’s a fantastic venue so we’re very grateful that we have home advantage this weekend. Hopefully a big Armagh crowd will come out and support us on Saturday.
“I think it’s definitely an area of our game that we’ve improved in over the past couple of years (fighting spirit). We weren’t happy with how we performed in the fast half against Mayo, and we had a big 15 minutes at the start of the second half. We stayed in the game and held our nerve to the end to grind out a result.”
While Armagh’s stock has risen considerably since that faithful day in 2019, they still haven’t been able to record a major breakthrough victory during the knockout stages of the All-Ireland Championship.
Mayo ended their run that year at the quarter-final stage while Dublin proved too strong in the 2020 semi-final.
Meath and Kerry were a step too far in the last two seasons, both at the last-eight juncture, so McCoy insists the Orchard ladies won’t be getting ahead of themselves and all their focus and attention is fully on the task at hand on Saturday.
“It’s pretty cliche to say, but for us we are just taking it one game at a time. Obviously, the end goal is an All-Ireland final win, but we aren’t getting ahead of ourselves,” continued McCoy. “We haven’t progressed to a semi-final since 2020 so that’s the first thing we’re aiming towards with a result on Saturday.”