By Jackie Cahill
Armagh star Caroline O’Hanlon has hailed teen sensation Aimee Mackin as a “phenomenal talent.”
Mackin exploded onto the senior intercounty stage last year with a string of impressive displays that saw the Shane O’Neills attacker earn a first Allstar award.
And Mackin has already served notice of her intent in 2016, scoring a remarkable individual haul of 2-7 against Kerry in last Sunday’s Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 1 clash.
Armagh’s victory made it two wins out of two ahead of next Sunday’s rearranged fixture against Ulster rivals Monaghan.
And while O’Hanlon believes that consolidation was the primary aim for last year’s Division 2 champions, a third victory of the season would see the Orchard County take a big step towards the playoffs.
Under the guidance of 2002 All-Ireland SFC medallist Ronan Clarke, Armagh could be a team to watch this year and former boss James Daly guided them to the last two All-Ireland semi-finals.
Mackin is already tearing up trees this year and sister Blaithin also got in on the goalscoring act against the Kingdom.
Aimee is already firmly established as an Armagh senior and O’Hanlon reflected: “She exploded onto the scene in terms of national level last year but she’s been very much on the radar in the county for a while now.
“She’s very grounded and sensible, and her family are great supporters.
“Aimee is not somebody that gets carried away. She’s a very humble player, works very hard and has been able to transition that onto the senior stage.
“She’s in great form and playing at colleges level as well (with Queens).
“She’s a phenomenal talent and we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg so far.
“She’s a brilliant finisher, deadly even with half chances, with very good speed and you have her younger sister coming onto the scene. Blaithin has loads of potential and is a great athlete too. I’d have high hopes for her.”
So far, the transition from Daly to Clarke has been a smooth one in Armagh and O’Hanlon has been impressed by the new manager.
She explained: “Armagh is so small and Ronan would have had an idea of what was going on in general.
“He’d have known a few players before and he also has the experience of playing, which commands instant respect.
“Most of the players on the team would have been fans of his and that starts you off on the right foot before you even begin.
“Lisa Woods (former Fermanagh manager) came with glowing references and Ronan’s brother Conor have a gym together and is very good on the strength and conditioning work.”
O’Hanlon, who’s also a netball international with Northern Ireland, admitted that staying in Division 1 this year is an “absolute must” but a perfect start so far has already gone a long way towards securing Armagh’s top-flight status.
She added: “We were confident, too, having been in the top four of the championship for the last two years.
“We know the ability is there but with new players and a new management team, it’s very hard to know where you’re at.
“We have to take a lot of confidence from the win against Kerry. It’s a very difficult League with a lot of travel and things like that and while you’d try to avoid them, we look at the other results as well.
“We’re playing Monaghan on Sunday and a lot of teams have had a few surprise results. Cork have lost a couple and Mayo beat Dublin so we don’t really know what teams are like.
“It’s difficult to make really definite targets but we’re confident going into any game.
“Monaghan have lost a few players but there’s a very strong club scene there with (All-Ireland champions) Donaghmoyne and Emyvale.
“There’s plenty of talent in Monaghan so I certainly wouldn’t underestimate them.”