Review of the season: Armagh

1 Spot-kick nightmare

ARMAGH fans only thought last year was bad. Armagh’s 2022 roller-coaster ride finished in a heartbreaking penalty shootout defeat to Galway in Croke Park after one of the most dramatic contests of the season.

But 2023 provided more heartache as not once, but twice, the Orchard County suffered the cruel fate of losing out on penalties. First it was the Ulster final when Kieran McGeeney’s men ended a 15-year famine with an appearance in the provincial decider and after a nip and tuck encounter with reigning champions Derry, the sides couldn’t be separated, and the Oakleaf County retained their title after a shootout. Like last year, Armagh’s summer ended in the same way as it was Monaghan this time who knocked them out of the race for Sam Maguire. It was déjà vu in Croker, another draw and another penalty defeat.

There are signs that Armagh are heading in the right direction, but perhaps they just need that wee bit of luck to make the final breakthrough and deliver some silverware.

2 Cullyhanna create history

FIVE Armagh teams tried and failed to lift the Patrick McCully Cup in the past, but Cullyhanna finally broke the glass ceiling to win the Ulster Intermediate Championship.

They certainly did it the hard way with a one-point win over Ballyhaise, thanks to a late point from their captain Pearse Casey, and the Cavan men were arguably the better team on the day. But Cullyhanna battled bravely and even when the gap widened to four points midway through the second period, Stephen Reel’s men held firm and showed serious resilience to persist and kept plugging away.

They have a fantastic blend of youth and experience and there could be some more silverware coming up before all is said and done. It’s the All-Ireland series next for the St Patrick’s men, with Johnny Doyle’s Allenwood coming up in the semi-final and Christmas will be a little different around south Armagh this year.

3 Clann Éireann ladies lengthy run

THE new Armagh manager Greg McGonigle did his CV no harm before the new season as he guided Clann Éireann to their first-ever Ulster title, and a first ever at this grade for the Orchard County.

The Lurgan ladies retained their county title this season with relative ease before dominating the provincial series with eye-catching wins over Kinawley, Moneyglass and finally Bredagh in the decider. Throughout both the county and the Ulster Championship, Clann Éireann kept six clean sheets from six outings, but unfortunately for the Armagh girls, it all ended in misery.

They hosted Waterford and Munster champions Ballymacarbry in the All-Ireland semi-final and simply didn’t turn up on the day, losing by eight-points in the end and conceding their first goal of the season. It was an impressive campaign however and no doubt they’ll be back and their success on the provincial stage can only be a good thing for Armagh going forward.

4 Five in a row

MIDDLETOWN continued their vice-like grip on the Armagh hurling scene as they completed a historic five-in-a-row of titles. It’s not the first time it’s been achieved in the Orchard County, Keady also did it from 2001-2005 but it was the first time a team from Middletown completed their drive for five.

Kevin ‘Kizzy’ Hughes’ side have been the dominant force in Armagh over the past decade eight of the last nine titles, with Keady briefly halting their stranglehold in 2018. Middletown didn’t make their dominance count on the provincial scene however as they lost to eventual Ulster Intermediate champions Setanta (Donegal) at the semi-final stage, having also lost last year’s decider to Liatroim from Down.

5 Success on the camogie front

THE Granemore and Crossmaglen camogie teams enjoyed terrific seasons, collecting Ulster Championship titles and going all the way to their respective All-Ireland finals. Unfortunately for the Rangers, they didn’t get the dream ending and Westmeath side St Munna’s proved too strong on the day, but Granemore did collect the Phil McBride Cup to end their season in the best possible way.

Rachael Merry was the star of the show for Connor Devlin’s side as she rattled off an impressive tally of 2-7 to pick up the Player of the Match award as Granemore overcame Athleague of Wicklow with seven points to spare.

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