Orchard captain ponders dashed dreams
Captain Caroline O’Hanlon has admitted that actions and not words will define what effect Saturday’s deeply disappointing National League final defeat by Down has on the remainder of Armagh’s season.
“Straight after a loss like that, you can wallow in self-pity or talk tough about bouncing back and trot out all the clichés about defeat making you stronger, but it doesn’t mean much here and now,” reflected the experienced campaigner.
“It isn’t about how we react today but what we do over the next few weeks and then next time out against Tyrone that really matters. I’m confident we’ll get the right response but only time will tell how we handle this setback.
“Everyone’s absolutely gutted in there and that’s how it should be straight after you lose a final, particularly one that you genuinely expected to win in advance and were in control of on the day.
“Take nothing away from Down but we know we really left this one behind us and that will rankle for a while. Promotion has been our main aim since the start of the year and we’d worked hard for four months to get into this position only to let it slip away.”
Many neutral observers felt Armagh were the better team, even on the day despite a patchy performance, but that is of little consolation to O’Hanlon for whom any debate about who deserved to win is meaningless.
“We might have led for almost the entire game but all that counts is the result and Down won. They had more on the board at the end. They got the job done and we didn’t,” she insisted.
“It’s alright believing you’re the stronger side but then you must make it count. We started strongly but should have made more of it and also countered their momentum better in the final quarter. We contributed to our own downfall by not closing the game out.
“At face value it was those two late goals which cost us and we just ran out of time to get it back, but I don’t think you can dismiss it as simply as that. We need to dig deeper to look at why we were so vulnerable late on and examine everything about our overall performance.
“In doing so, we must strike the balance between being so negative about this that we risk destroying our confidence but being honest enough to really learn the lessons we need to take from what happened here.
“Although we’ve failed to achieve our objective of promotion and that’s hugely frustrating, there are positives to take from our league campaign and we must build on that, believe in ourselves and keep pushing to improve.
“This bad day at the office has cost us enough here and now without letting it undermine our future efforts and I’d like to think we have a strong enough group of players and management to absorb this and respond properly.”
“In material terms, not achieving promotion doesn’t affect anything now – it was an investment in next year – so we need to move on, and thankfully there’s a Championship campaign to prepare for. You wouldn’t want to end a season on that note.”
Being beaten by Down was something of a reality check for an Armagh team accustomed to winning – this was only the third defeat in 25 matches since Daly took charge – and a lot of hard work will be needed in the next few weeks.
But the hurt from Parnell Park combined with the prospect of an Ulster Championship semi-final against bitter rivals Tyrone should ensure everyone has the hunger to do what it takes to ensure Saturday was merely a blip on an upward curve.
Meanwhile, Armagh manager James Daly was left frustrated after watching his side squander a golden opportunity to secure Division Two football for next season.
The Orchard outfit came into Saturday’s showpiece on the back of seven straight victories and, up until the closing stages of the derby decider in Parnell Park, Armagh’s promotion bid was firmly on track.
But goals change games, late goals drastically so, and favourites Armagh were agonisingly pipped at the post by their Ulster rivals, leaving the players distraught and Daly deeply perplexed.
“We were in total control up until that last 10 minutes but then they got a goal out of nothing really and after that a bit of panic probably set in, which was disappointing.
“From there, they got back level and then the second goal left us an awful lot to do in very little time. The girls kept going and nearly got it back but Down were ahead at the hooter so good luck to them.
“It’s always sounds like an easy excuse when you lose and we won’t hide behind blaming others when we clearly had our own failings, but I wasn’t happy with how the game was refereed and that’s frustrating when girls have put four months of work into getting to a final.
“Promotion was a very important objective for us this season, and far more important than winning the trophy but that’s gone now so we’ll take a week off and then work hard in the lead-up to our Ulster Championship semi-final against Tyrone.
“I’m confident this group of girls will bounce back from this setback and beating Tyrone would be the perfect response but we’ve a lot to do if we’re to make that happen,” he admitted.
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