Armagh target Tyrone in Ulster semi-final
Orchard rock Caoimhe Morgan is adamant that resurgent Armagh remain underdogs going into Sunday’s Ulster Senior Championship semi-final against bitter rivals Tyrone in Inniskeen (7pm).
After several lean years, the Orchard outfit are on an upward curve and looking forward to their return to the top tier after dropping down to win the Ulster and All Ireland Intermediate titles last season.
By contrast Tyrone appear to be in something of a state of flux having dramatically changed their management team earlier this month – which hardly appears ideal preparation for a Championship campaign.
But Lissummon’s Morgan, who captained Armagh to victory over Tyrone en route to their most recent appearance in the Ulster final in 2010, is determined not to let the opposition off the hook of favouritism ahead of this weekend’s big battle.
“We absolutely believe in our ability to win this match and reaching the Ulster final is one of our objectives for this season but there’s no doubt an Armagh win on Sunday should count as an upset,” she says.
“It’s nice that people are taking notice of Armagh again over the past 12 months and we’re positive ourselves that progress is being made and we’re better equipped to compete in the Senior Championship than we were last time.
“But talk is cheap and the facts say we didn’t get out of Division Three of the National League this spring whereas Tyrone retained their Division One status so any attempt to suggest we’re favourites would be stretching credibility.”
An All Star recipient back in 2006, corner back Morgan has made an impressive return to the Armagh ranks this season after giving birth to her first child, daughter Cadhla, last October, bringing a typically combative edge, experience and vocal leadership.
As the team’s senior stateswoman and a veteran of many battles against Tyrone, the 29-year-old certainly isn’t getting lulled into any false sense of security based on perceived problems in the opposing set-up.
“We’re not wasting time or energy trying to second guess another team’s business because doing so would achieve nothing and just be a dangerous distraction,” insists Morgan.
“Our full focus has been on Armagh and getting ourselves right for a tough game which carries the prize of a place in the Ulster final never mind the chance to beat Tyrone for the first time in a while.
“We’ve had a fierce rivalry with Tyrone through the years and, in my experience, peripheral factors don’t mean much once that ball has been thrown in. There’s always speculation about this or that but it has little effect on a game.
“I’m sure the Tyrone players will feel that whatever may have happened previously is now behind them and what better way to move on than by beating Armagh and giving themselves an Ulster final to look forward to?
“But we have our own burning need to secure something tangible after the disappointment of losing the National League final to Down last month, a match we went into with high expectations that we didn’t deliver on.
“Instead of simply making excuses about being beaten by a couple of late goals that day, we’ve gone back and examined everything we do in terms of our approach, preparation and game plan and worked really hard in the intervening weeks,” she explained.
Armagh will be boosted by the return of captain Mags McAlinden, who has been sidelined with a knee injury since lifting the Mary Quinn Cup in Croke Park last October.
With others stepping up impressively in her absence, having the very experienced Clann Eireann forward available again gives Armagh manager James Daly a great range of possible permutations as well as increased cutting edge up front.
Caroline O’Hanlon was sublime in Armagh’s last victory over Tyrone three years ago and the 2012 All Ireland Intermediate Player of the Year needs a big game again on Sunday alongside Sinead McCleary and rising star Fionnuala McKenna.
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