Henderson hoping Orchard County can overcome familiar foes Mayo

By Shaun Casey

ONE point was the difference between Armagh and Mayo when they clashed in the league as the Orchard County went on to secure a historic first ever Division One title, but this weekend’s meeting is of much more importance.

An All-Ireland semi-final spot is up for grabs as Mayo make the long journey north and Armagh are hoping to reach the last four of the All-Ireland race for the first time since 2020.

Mayo are familiar foes at this stage, with Sunday’s meeting being the fifth championship encounter the pair have shared in the last six seasons, with Armagh coming out on top in all of the previous games.

After beating Meath and drawing with Tipperary in the group stages, Gregory McGonigle’s side, who also captured the Ulster title along with the league crown, have been in sparkling form despite losing their best player, Aimee Mackin, to a cruciate injury.

“No championship match is going to be easy and we were expecting two hard games,” said Armagh sharpshooter Niamh Henderson.

“The Meath game was a really big test for us and thankfully we got the win in the end.

“Then the Tipperary game, we had to travel down there for the weekend to play them and we were very lucky to even get the draw in that game. We just pushed through and just about got the draw.

“That allowed us to finish at the top of the group, and we are delighted with that, and it puts us in a really good position this weekend. It’s all we could hope for with the quarter-finals coming up.”

On the league meeting with Mayo, Henderson added: “I think at half time we were up by seven or eight in that Mayo game and then they came back into it and really put it up to us in the second half. That was a tough game and thankfully we came out with a win in the end.

“We know how good Mayo can be and how strong they are up front and even in their defence too. I think it’ll be a really tight match but hopefully if we keep playing the way we’re playing, we’ll get the win in the end.”

The prize for topping the group was getting a home draw in the All-Ireland quarter-finals, and Henderson, who was Player of the Match in the Ulster final, is delighted to get another chance to showcase her skills in the BOX-IT Athletic Grounds.

“We’re just working our way through the season, and it’s been going well for us so far,” she added. “We’re absolutely delighted to be getting a home draw, it couldn’t have worked out any better, especially against Mayo because we journeyed down there in the league.

“It’s a long journey down to Mayo and even in terms of our preparation and things like that, it’s much better to get our home advantage and we’ve been able to train a few times at the Athletic Grounds leading up to the match.

“We’re just doing everything we can to prepare right for the game so we’re really looking forward to it.”

While Mackin, who kicked 1-5 against Mayo in the league, is a major miss at the attacking end of things, Armagh are also without Louise Kenny, who also picked up an injury in the Ulster final win over Donegal, at the back.

But Henderson insists the mood is good in the camp and everyone is looking forward to another big day out.

“Obviously with us drawing with Tipp in the last game, it probably wasn’t our best performance of the year.

“We were maybe slightly disappointed with our performance straight after that game, but at the end of the day we still topped the group we’re happy with that,” continued Henderson, who won an Ulster Club title with Clann Éireann last season.

“We’re just striving to be better in the game against Mayo because I think we definitely have the players within the group. Everybody believes in each other and we’re all pushing each other on in every session.

“I think having a three-week break from the Tipp match to the Mayo game has really been great too because we’ve been able to work on a lot of things in training and everybody’s pushing really hard.

“We have the likes of Aimee and Louise there on the sidelines and giving us advice and giving us motivation. They never miss a session either so it’s just great to have everybody singing off the same hymn sheet.

“Everybody is just buzzing. It’s such a big game for us so hopefully we can do ourselves justice and get the win.”

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