By Declan Rooney
Armagh claimed the final spot in the TG4 ladies All-Ireland SFC quarter-final but Eimear Scally fired Cork into the next round on the back of an impressive win at Duggan Park in Ballinasloe.
A draw between Monaghan and Armagh in the opening game of Group 2 meant this group would always go down to the final minutes, and in the end substitute Aimee Mackin kicked three precious points for Armagh as they go on to face Donegal, while Cork face Westmeath.
A fractured start to this game where a deluge of rain, an early injury to Rebecca O’Reilly and the sin binning of Sharon Reel resulted in both teams struggling to assert their domination.
A high hit on Doireann O’Sullivan meant Reel was shown a yellow card by referee Gus Chapman after five minutes, but we had another six minutes to wait for the first score when Orla Finn scored for Cork.
That triggered the positive play to begin, and 13 minutes later all of Cork’s six staring forwards had pointed from play as their sharp interplay and pace up front caused trouble for the Ulster girls.
Libby Coppinger was second on the board for Cork, before Aine O’Sullivan and Ciara O’Sullivan kicked good scores for a 0-4 to 0-0 lead after 15 minutes.
Armagh needed to avoid a defeat of greater than 15 points to progress to the last eight, and their hopes were boosted massively in the 17th minute when Blaithin Mackin caught a long delivery at the edge of the square and hit the net on the turn.
Cork responded with three scores in a row though to reclaim their four-point cushion, while the lightening pace of Eimear Scally in the full-forward line saw her kick the score of the first-half as the interval approached.
Armagh were plagued by missed chances in their Round 1 draw with Monaghan and five first-half wides blighted their efforts, but Caroline O’Hanlon and Fionnuala McKenna combined to keep them in touch as they trailed by 0-10 to 1-3 at the break.
There was no let-up afterwards as Cork continued to carve out scoring chances and their lead increased thanks to their stunning efficiency in front of goal – they only kicked two wides in the first 40 minutes.
Scally took on her marker and kicked the first point of the half, and her goal arrived five minutes after the restart when she marked Coppinger’s good build-up play with a composed, low finish.
That goal all but guaranteed Cork top spot, but the winning margin was the key factor in this pool. With 14 minutes remaining Cork were 13 points ahead as Finn, Scally and substitutes Orla Farmer and Saoirse Noonan added scores, although a couple of frees and a late third from Aimee Mackin – who was deemed fit enough to come on – settled Armagh and they held on.
Scorers – Cork: E Scally 1-4, O Finn 0-5 (3f), C O’Sullivan 0-3, A O’Sullivan 0-2, O Farmer 0-2, D O’Sullivan 0-1, L Coppinger 0-1, S Noonan 0-1
Armagh: A Mackin 0-3 (2f), B Mackin 1-0, F McKenna 0-2, C O’Hanlon 0-2.
Cork: M O’Brien; E Spillane, R Phelan, M Duggan; M O’Callaghan, S Kelly, A Kelleher; A Hutchings, H Looney; C O’Sullivan (c), L Coppinger, D O’Sullivan; A O’Sullivan, E Scally, O Finn.
Subs: C Collins for Kelleher (h-t), S Noonan for A O’Sullivan (38), O Farmer for D O’Sullivan (38), A Barrett for Kelly (56).
Armagh: C O’Hare; T Grimes, R O’Reilly, S Marley; M Tennyson, M McGuinness; C McCambridge; S Reel, C O’Hanlon; L McConville, F McKenna, M Morriarty; B Mackin, A McCoy, K Mallon.
Subs: M Sheridan for O’Reilly (9-16, blood & 38), A Mackin for B Mackin (43), N Reel for O’Hanlon 60.
Ref – Gus Chapman (Sligo).