TG4 Ulster Senior Championship Final: Armagh (holders) v Donegal (tomorrow, St Tiernach’s Park, Clones, 3.45pm)
ULSTER champions Armagh take on title hopefuls Donegal in tomorrow’s tantalizing Senior Provincial Championship final at St Tiernach’s Park, Clones.
The stakes are high as Division One runners-up Donegal aim to close a three-year gap since their last Ulster crown while Armagh will be keen to retain it for another year and complete a historic hat-trick of back-to-back titles and match Donegal’s achievement. from 2017 to 2019.
Between them, tomorrow’s finalists have appeared in the last six finals – for Armagh it’s the fifth consecutive final, while Donegal are in their fifth final in six years – 2020, despite not appearing in the provincial championship, the anomaly.
It’s fair to say that the two counties have dominated the inter-county scene in Ulster for the past few years, 2016 the last time another county – Monaghan – got their hands on the provincial title.
It’s a repeat of last year’s finale in what turned out to be an epic battle and an even bigger one is on the cards this time around. Only one point separated them last August, Fionnuala McKenna’s points six minutes from time, edging Armagh 3-12 to 3-11 as they finally got the better of their opponents on the third attempt after the defeat in 2018 and 2019. The match was level four. times throughout the 60 minutes and that was with Donegal facing a nine-point deficit in the second quarter.
They reached the final with relative ease, Armagh putting up 5-21 against Monaghan and conceding just five points while Donegal beat Cavan 3-19 to 1-11.
Both managers – Maxi Curran of Donegal and his Orchard County counterpart Ronan Murphy, while trying to stay focused on themselves and playing to their own game plan and strengths, will also be determined to get the right games . It’s a great balancing act.
Nullifying, as much as possible, the threat of Aimee Mackin of Armagh on one side and Geraldine McLaughlin for Donegal on the other side will be high on the list of priorities for both opposition managers, but there is plenty of other players on either side who can step in – Eve Lavery was very impressive for Armagh against Monaghan, captain Kelly Mallon grabbed a few goals.
Suzi White started in place of injured Karen Guthrie against Cavan in the semi-finals at 2-3 and could start well for Maxi Curran’s side. Guthrie should also be fit to make a comeback and with Yvonne Bonner grabbing 1-4 and McLaughlin finishing with nine points, Donegal have plenty of goalscorers too.
The battle in midfield could well have a real impact on the outcome of this game, as well as runs from the half-back line on the counter-attack, particularly from former Armagh striker Lauren McConville and Niamh Marley with Nicole McLaughlin, who is set to make her 100th appearance. for Donegal tomorrow, and Amy Boyle Carr doing the same for the Tir Chonaill side.
Blaithin Mackin and Caroline O’Hanlon will likely form Armagh’s midfield partnership and take on Donegal captain Niamh McLaughlin and Katy Herron with a small pair ready to give each other a thumbs up.
Armagh boss Ronan Murphy is hoping for big support in Clones to get behind the champions as they bid to make history.
“It has everything to be a brilliant game. We go three in a row and Donegal will want to dethrone us. It’s a good contest and we’re looking forward to it,” he said.
“It gives us a quality game against very, very good opposition heading into the All-Ireland series. Donegal are a fantastic side and were unlucky to have been beaten by Meath in the Division 1 Final. Sunday will be a 50-50 game and hopefully we can shade it again this year.
However, he added: “It’s a shame that our players aren’t getting free tickets for the game for their families.”
His Donegal counterpart, Maxi Curran, agrees his team will need to be at their best to beat the champions.
“Both teams went to the National League final and failed. I’m sure they were as disappointed as we were, they had been trying to get out of Division Two and had been for a while. They reached an All-Ireland semi-final a few years ago, they are a team that love each other and will have no fear that we get into this one,” he said.
“We haven’t hidden anything about it, our aspirations are also high and we believe this team is capable of beating anyone on any given day and to do that we have to be able to win games like this. this.”