Confident Daly leading Armagh revolution
By Richard Bullick
Armagh manager James Daly has revealed that the schedule he handed his players at the start of the year went right through to the end of September.
In the event the season has lasted a week longer than the Dromintee clubman had planned, but only because the ladies All Ireland finals day had to be put back from last Sunday due to the hurling replay.
“Reaching Croke Park has been our objective from the beginning of the year and we weren’t afraid of setting that as our target,” says the man who has already done much to get Armagh ladies football back on an upward curve after a few lean years.
Dropping down to Intermediate football over the winter was something newly appointed boss Daly embraced, with the silver lining being a realistic chance of getting to Croker at the end of the season.
Becoming a second tier team after being contenders at the top table wouldn’t be a natural ambition but relegation set up a year of opportunity as a welcome change following several seasons of dispiriting struggle in the senior ranks.
Intermediate football allowed Armagh to set tangible targets of silverware and also some scope to introduce and develop the talent which will hopefully help ladies football blossom again in the Orchard County.
“Armagh had a poor season last year, with only one win in 14 matches, and I was supportive of the County Board’s view that we would be better served taking a step back,” reflects Daly.
“I knew we could compete well at this level and that it would be a chance to bring through some of the good young players I had worked with as Armagh Minor manager.
“Thankfully our real stalwarts, who have tasted success at the highest level, were prepared to be part of the rebuilding and the panel has had a great mix of youth and experience.”
This year has brought a different type of pressure with Armagh suddenly favourites for most matches and there to be shot at as a prized scalp for other teams.
There were no guarantees of instant success and indeed defeat by Westmeath in the Division Three semi-final meant Armagh failed to reverse last year’s relegation in the National League.
“I think most people are realistic about where we were at the start of this season and that continuing to measure everything against that very strong team of a few years ago had become counter-productive.
“The main pressure (for fresh success) was coming from ourselves and everyone was clear about what we wanted from 2012 – to get to the All Ireland Intermediate final and give ourselves a shot at silverware.
“It was a bit disappointing not to gain promotion in the league but that was still a very valuable campaign during which we were able to try things including different styles, various permutations and new players.
“Although we were beaten twice by Westmeath, we gained momentum and confidence from the league and the Championship campaign has gone well so far, winning the Ulster title and getting to this final without losing a match along the way.
“The girls have been super throughout the year, with the younger ones stepping up and the senior players providing real leadership on and off the field. They’ve worked hard all year and now have the chance of earning reward for that.”
Up until this point, Armagh could only lose out on their target of lifting the All Ireland intermediate trophy but on Sunday they can actually win it and Daly is glad to have arrived at the final hurdle.
“We had our overall objective but you can’t look ahead of any given game so it’s nice now to be able to focus on the final. It will be great for the girls to play at Croke Park and hopefully they can enjoy the occasion and be inspired by it.
“The girls who have been there before on All Ireland finals day are helping prepare the players by talking to them about what to expect, even in terms of the little practical arrangements.”
Daly is full of praise for his captain Mags McAlinden – “a natural leader who is always working with the young girls” – and O’Hanlon, arguably the country’s top player.
“Caroline sets such high standards and working with someone like that up close can only rub off on everyone else. She’s exceptionally professional and does everything at 100 percent.
“But the young girls have also played an important part in enthusing everyone – they’re uninhibited and full of running and they’ll have the freedom to express themselves in Croke Park,” he insists.
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