ARMAGH ladies footballer Niamh Marley won’t forget her 24th birthday in a hurry.
A mere eight years into her intercounty career, in a crunch league clash against Dublin last weekend, Marley scored her first ever goal in the Armagh jersey.
And, as it happened, it also proved to be the decisive score in the Orchard Ladies’ first ever senior victory against the Dubs, edging matters 2-10 to 3-6.
Coincidentally, current Dublin manager Greg McGonigle gave the Lissummon club footballer her intercounty debut as a 16-year-old full-forward when he was Armagh manager.
Marley quips that she’s “all about the team” and there’s no doubt that the elation has been shared in a remarkable few months for the Armagh ladies.
Newly promoted to the top flight, Armagh weren’t expected by everyone to pose a serious threat to the Mayos and Dublins of the world, but a win against Cork in their last group fixture should be enough to snare a semi-final berth.
On her side’s historic win against Dublin, Marley said: “We were told about it after the game and it was absolutely unbelievable. It was a surreal moment.
“[Before the game] we were so focused on the game. The semi-final loss was a bit raw from last year. It was a bit of retribution!”
And on her equally historic goal, the birthday girl had a word for her team-mate Caroline O’Hanlon.
“Hats off to Caroline, she got the pass through and I was just happy to give the team such a boost, at the time we really needed it.”
Heading into the final round of fixtures, Armagh and Dublin lead a cluster of five teams that are in the hunt to join Mayo in the Division One semi-finals. Ominously, Ephie Fitzgerald’s Cork appear to be coming to the boil at the right time and hammered Galway on Sunday, but Marley says Armagh are relishing the challenge.
“I know from previous seasons that Cork usually get into their stride later on in the league but we don’t fear them. We’re coming off the back of a great win against Dublin so it’s a game we’ll relish.”
Marley also sings the praises of the Orchard County management team, Armagh footballing legend Ronan Clarke and former Fermanagh Ladies’ boss Lisa Woods.
“Ronan and Lisa are extremely positive. I’ve never had a management with so much belief in us. We’d do anything for them.
“Confidence is something that we’ve lacked in previous years but they seem to have instilled that.”