Armagh scripted a spectacular chapter in the history of Ulster ladies football when they staged a dramatic comeback to edge out Donegal and claim a third successive provincial title in a titanic battle at Clones yesterday.
The passion, tension and commitment from both teams held the crowd captivated throughout and in the dramatic closing minutes Armagh’s character and staying power shone through as they inched their way over the line.
No wonder manager Ronan Murphy was overcome with emotion at the finish as he hailed his side’s euphoric feat.
“I thought my team gave everything and the way they stuck to their task was magnificent. Donegal are a very good side who we knew would prove tough opponents and I was just thankful to see the way my girls lasted the pace," said Murphy.
"This match was what sport is all about – drive, skill, commitment and pride. I am just so happy that we have landed another Ulster title and now we have to go and test ourselves on the All-Ireland stage."
The sides remained neck and neck throughout the contest, Geraldine McLaughlin’s opening minute goal for Donegal setting the tone for what proved to be a feast of superb scoring and a no holds barred effort from both teams.
When Aoife McCoy pounced for Armagh’s first goal, this served to further ignite the contest and with skipper Kelly Mallon, Caroline O’Hanlon and Aimee Mackin the driving forces within the orchard county side, even the concession of a second goal with Niamh McLaughlin hitting the net for Donegal did not seriously discomfit their opponents.
Donegal’s brace of goals allowed them to enjoy a one-point interval advantage at 2-5 to 1-8 but with Geraldine McLaughlin on fire in their attack – she scored 1-11 in all – Donegal assembled a 2-13 to 1-12 lead in the last quarter.
But Armagh’s resilience was to surface in abundance. Mackin suddenly broke clear and thundered home an out of the blue goal and when she tacked on a point suddenly it was stalemate at the final whistle with each side having scored 2-14.
If anything, the over pace and work rate intensified in the first-half of extra-time with Donegal stealing a march on the orchard girls with Karen Guthrie and Niamh Hegarty helping to ease their side into a 2-17 to 2-15.
But the second-half of extra-time will surely enjoy its own slot in the Armagh GAA manuals. If ever a captain stepped up to the mark when it was needed most, then Mallon answered the call with aplomb on this occasion.
With Donegal in front by three points (2-19 to 2-16), the mesmeric Mallon landed two points from frees before applying the coup de grace with a late, late goal that rocketed her and her side into history.
“It’s just great to be going into the All-Ireland series now,” she smiled afterwards.
Armagh: A Carr; S Grey, C McCambridge, C Towe; N Marley, L McConville, G Ferguson; B Mackin, C O’Hanlon 0-1; E Lavery, N Coleman, C Marley 0-1; A Mackin 1-5 (1f), A McCoy 1-2, K Mallon 1-8 (6f). Subs: T Grimes for Marley (51), N Reel for Lavery (54), F McKenna for Coleman (58).
Donegal: R McCafferty; N Carr, E McGinley, T Kennedy; S Twohig, N McLaughlin, A Boyle Carr; K Herron, N McLaughlin 1-1; Y Bonnar 0-1, N Hegarty 0-3, S White; B McLaughlin, R Rodgers, G McLaughlin 1-11. Subs: K Guthrie 0-3 for White (half-time), T Hegarty for Heron (62), N Boyle for Rodgers (62), E McCrory for N Hegarty (75), K Heron for B McLaughlin (77)
Referee: Gavin Finnegan (Down)