Armagh and Donegal target winning start to All-Ireland senior campaign

The Orchard host Meath on Saturday, while the Tír Chonaill girls meet Kerry in Ballybofey on Sunday

Meath v Armagh
Armagh have already recorded a victory againt today’s opponents Meath this season, winning 2-12 to 0-8 in a Division One game in Ashbourne Picture: Sportsfile (Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

TG4 All-Ireland Ladies’ SFC round one

Group 1

Armagh v Meath (Saturday, the BOX-IT Athletic Grounds, 2pm, live on Sport TG4)

ALL eyes will be on Ulster champions Armagh this afternoon and how they manage without Aimee Mackin as they begin their All-Ireland campaign at home to Meath.

Mackin picked up a season-ending cruciate knee ligament injury midway through the second half of their Ulster final win over Donegal last month.

The Orchard county managed to get over the line without the Allstar forward but they needed extra-time, and even then it was only by the narrowest of margins, 0-17 to 1-13.

Louise Kenny also went off injured in that game and manager Gregory McGonigle also has to plan without her for this one.

Armagh have been unable to make the impression and impact they would have hoped in the All-Ireland competition in recent years. While there are two important group games to be played first – this one against Meath and then next weekend against Tipperary – the current Division One champions will ultimately have their sights set on the bigger prize. But, they have struggled to get beyond the quarter-finals in recent years – their last semi-final appearance was in 2020 – and getting past that last-eight stage again will be one of their first targets.

Having made a remarkable return to top-flight league football by winning the Division One title, defeating defending champions Kerry in the final, Armagh could not have had better preparation for the championship, playing the top counties week in, week out.

Donegal pushed them all the way and that will also stand to them as they prepare to take on the 2021 and 2022 All-Ireland champions for the second time this season, having defeated them in the league, 2-12 to 0-8 in Ashbourne.

The sides were drawn together in the same group in 2022 and played out a 0-9 apiece draw in Pearse Park, Longford while the previous year, Meath beat Armagh in the quarter-finals 3-15 to 1-14.

Meath come into this game off the back of a heavy Leinster final loss to Dublin and they will be keen to get back to winning ways.

Group 2

Donegal v Kerry (Sunday, Páirc Seán Mac Cumhaill, 1.05pm, live on TG4)

DONEGAL welcome last year’s All-Ireland finalists Kerry to Ballybofey tomorrow.

The last time these sides met in the championship was back in 2021, when Donegal won by 2-13 to 2-9, a result that saw Kerry enter a relegation battle, although they did go on to retain their senior status.

Since then, though, they have been at the top or close to it. They won the Division Two league title in 2022, followed that up with the Division One title last year and reached this year’s final, only to lose to Armagh. They also contested the 2022 and 2023 All-Ireland senior finals, though getting their hands on the Brendan Martin Cup remains elusive.

Donegal lost their provincial title to Armagh just a few weeks ago, with yet another final between the two going right to the wire.

They were very well set up against Armagh in that final and they will look to be equally as organised and drilled for Kerry, who will find it tough to break them down.

There might only be three of the starting line-up over 25 – captain Niamh McLaughlin, Katy Herron, whose late goal took the Ulster final to extra-time, and Evelyn McGinley – but a lot of John McNulty’s young squad have been playing senior football for the last four, five or six years. Susanne White, Amy Boyle Carr, Shannon McLaughlin, Tara Hegarty, Katie Long and Roisin Rodgers have all been gaining valuable experience.

Players like Abigail Temple Asoko, Claire Friel, Katie Dowds, Jenny McGettigan, Eva Gallagher, Leeza Cunnigham and Jodie McFadden are all still in the early years of their senior career, but they have bought into the process and Donegal when they stick to their gameplan can prove very difficult to break down. Niamh McLaughlin and Herron’s influence and experience helps them quickly break from defence to attack and cause the opposition difficulty.

Kerry will certainly not fancy the long journey to the north west. The Munster champions had to come from behind to win their first provincial title since 2017, two Emma Dineen goals proving crucial in their 2-15 to 0-13 win over Cork.

Danielle O’Leary, though, finished with 10 points in a game that saw Louise Ni Mhuircheartaigh sprung from the bench nine minutes into the second half, as she hit three points.


Group 3 Laois v Cork (O’Moore Park, 3pm, live on Sport TG4)

Group 4 Dublin v Mayo (Parnell Park, 2.50pm live on TG4)