Cavan and Armagh get their All-Ireland ladies football campaign underway this Saturday knowing a victory will go a long way to booking a quarter-final slot writes Declan Rooney.
Twelve months ago Armagh were trying to pick up the pieces of a 28-point defeat to Donegal in the TG4 Ulster Ladies Senior Football Final.
And while the Donegal winning margin was only half that this year, Aimee Mackin is desperate to get back on the field and shake off the same disappointment.
Last season, the sides met again in the TG4 All-Ireland quarter-final when Donegal scraped their way to a three-point win, but Mackin (21) and Armagh are fully focused on resurrecting their season against Cavan on Saturday at St Aidan’s, Bawnboy (2pm).
The sides meet in the first round of TG4 All-Ireland Senior qualifiers and with Munster Champions Cork also in their group, this is a pivotal fixture.
A very promising spring saw Armagh blow away a lot of teams in their Lidl Division 2 campaign, before they slipped up in the semi-final against Kerry.
Even though Mackin missed the victory over Monaghan in the Ulster semi-final due to tendonitis in her knee, Armagh had a first Ulster title since 2014 in their sights. But Donegal had other ideas.
“We played well to get to the league semi-finals. We won all but one of the group games and then Kerry beat us. We were rolling well when you look at that form,” said Mackin, who won the Gourmet Food Parlour Giles Cup with Jordanstown earlier this year.
“We had a stormer in the Ulster semi-final against Monaghan, but the day of the Ulster final, that’s when it counts and we didn’t make it count.
“We got a poor enough start which we weren’t happy about. But Donegal are a strong team especially if you give their forwards easy goal chances, they’ll take them.
“We were disappointed with ourselves, but fair play to Donegal they were out in full force and they took the lead early on and we struggled to get back into it after that.
“We had a few days to kick back and think about the whole Ulster final. But that’s sport and you just have to move on. We’re happy enough that we have a game in quick succession to help us move on. We can just think about this one with Cavan now.”
Armagh have been matched with Saturday’s opponents Cavan and Munster champions Cork in Group 1 of the All-Ireland stages, but two teams will progress into the quarter-finals at the start of August.
Perhaps it’s fate, but if Donegal win their group and Armagh can manage second place in theirs, we’ll see a repeat of the Ulster final again in this year’s All-Ireland quarter-finals.
While Mackin would love another crack off Donegal, she says their focus must be on Cavan this weekend.
“I think definitely. I’d say most of the girls would like to play Donegal again. But it’s not about that. They’re a great team and obviously we’d love to go back and play that game again. They’ve a very good team and on the day they were better than us,” said the Shane O’Neill’s club player.
“The aim now is to settle and take each game as it comes. Cavan is up next and we know all about them, they’re a real tough team. We played them in the league and I’m sure James Daly will be keen to get one over on us.
“Cork will fancy themselves to beat both ourselves and Cavan so this weekend’s game could be the decider between the two of us. But listen, on any day you can beaten and that’s how we look at it.”