FOOTBALL: Kerry 1-12 Armagh 0-12 (Lidl NFL Division 2 Final)
By DAIRE WALSH (Kerry players celebrates with the cup after their victory. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile)
Danielle O’Leary scored 1-2 off the bench as Kerry secured the Lidl National Football League Division 2 title with a comeback victory over Armagh at Croke Park this afternoon.
Trailing by four points, and facing the prospect of a third second-tier final defeat in the space of four years, O’Leary pounced for a 44th minute goal, and this inspired the Kingdom to promotion.
The 2020 TG4 Players’ Player of the Year Aimee Mackin did finish with 0-6 to her name, but Armagh fell short on a rare visit to the Jones’ Road venue.
Kerry had stormed in front during the early exchanges with quickfire efforts from Niamh Ní Chonchúir and half-back Aishling O’Connell, but their Orchard County opponents inevitably hit a more familiar stride. Courtesy of unanswered contributions from Eve Lavery, Catherine Marley, Bláithín Mackin and the latter’s older sister Aimee, they established a two-point lead.
Armagh were 0-5 to 0-3 ahead at the first half water break after Erica McGlynn and Aimee Mackin traded points and after the dynamic Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh brought the Kingdom back on level terms, with two excellent points, the Corca Dhuibhne ace was subsequently sent to the sin-bin on 23 minutes.
While her inside partner McGlynn grabbed her second of the half, earlier points from Aimee Mackin, Marley and Niamh Coleman propelled Armagh towards a 0-8 to 0-6 interval cushion. All of seven minutes passed before the opening score of the second half arrived, another routine free for the influential Aimee Mackin.
The Shane O’Neill’s sharpshooter later scored from open play in response to a similar effort by Kerry substitute O’Leary, and her sixth of the contest in the 42nd minute stretched the Armagh lead out to four points.
Yet, just as the Orchard County appeared to hold all the aces, O’Leary superbly angled a shot into the bottom left-hand corner of their goal to leave the bare minimum between the sides.
Aoife McCoy’s impressive solo point helped Armagh to settle in advance of the second half water break, only for Ní Mhuircheartaigh (free) and Cáit Lynch to restore parity with unanswered scores inside the final-quarter.
All the momentum was now with Kerry and, as a supplement to another O’Leary point, Ní Mhuircheartaigh knocked over two close-range frees to give the Munster side the honours.
Scorers – Kerry: L Ní Mhuircheartaigh 0-5 (3f), D O’Leary 1-2, E McGlynn 0-2, A O’Connell 0-1, C Lynch 0-1, N Ní Chonchúir 0-1.
Armagh: A Mackin 0-6 (3f), C Marley 0-2, B Mackin 0-1, A McCoy 0-1, E Lavery 0-1, N Coleman 0-1.
KERRY: C Butler; C O’Brien, K Cronin, J O’Sullivan; A O’Connell, K Lynch, C Murphy; L Scanlon, E Costello; N Carmody, C Evans, A Galvin; N Ní Chonchúir, E McGlynn, L Ní Mhuircheartaigh.
Subs: D O’Leary for Evans (37), M O’Connell for Carmody (49), P McCarthy for Ní Chonchúir (57), R Dwyer for McGlynn (58), M Johnston for Murphy (60).
ARMAGH: A Carr; S Grey, C McCambridge, G Ferguson; T Grimes, L McConville, C Towe; N Marley, B Mackin; C Marley, E Lavery, N Coleman; A Mackin, A McCoy, N Reel.
Subs: C O’Hanlon for Ferguson (30), K Mallon for Reel (43), F McKenna for Coleman (46), S Marley for Lavery (54), M McCann for C Marley (58).
Referee: Jonathan Murphy (Carlow).
“Hard to put it into words, I think Ladies football in Kerry needed that boost,” said Kerry joint-manager Darragh Long.
“We needed to get back to Division 1, we needed to put ourselves back on the map. It’s third time lucky, we didn’t want it to be third time lucky, but we’re there now.
“We’re there on merit. Over the course of three years we’ve played 14, 15 national league games and we’ve lost one, that’s a fair good record.
“We came in as massive underdogs. I don’t think a lot of people, even in our own county, gave us a chance.
“The girls were brilliant, this is all about the girls today. They’re a fantastic bunch and they deserve to be playing against the best of the best on a weekly basis.”
“You have to credit Kerry,” said Armagh manager Ronan Murphy.
“They’ve been in a couple of finals and they probably weren’t going to let a third one slip away. They got their chances and they took it. Hat off to them.
“It’s a steep learning curve for us today.”