By Paul O'Neill
Armagh v Cork, Pearse Park, Longford, Saturday, 3.30pm
After running Cork close last season, captain Caroline O'Hanlon believes Armagh will go into their Ladies Football Championship re-match with an improved team.
A place in the TG4 All-Ireland final against Dublin will be up for grabs at Pearse Park, Longford, on Saturday when Armagh take on reigning champions Cork.
The tie in the last four will be the first meeting of the sides since Cork came out on top by 0-16 to 2-09 in a dramatic qualifier 13 months ago.
That was the last competitive defeat suffered by Armagh and since then the Orchard County have won all of their games in both the Championship and National League.
Admittedly, they were competing in Division Three of the League but in the Championship all of their opponents so far were in Division One this season.
Arguably their most notable Championship success came in the Ulster decider where they comprehensively accounted for Monaghan, who featured in last year’s All-Ireland final.
Now Armagh are set to go head-to-head with Cork and O'Hanlon reckons they are ready to give Eamonn Ryan’s outfit another run for their money this time around.
She said: "When you look at where we are now compared to last year when we were knocked out of the Championship, I think we are that bit stronger.
"Players like Lauren McConville and Aoife McCoy have come in and added an extra dimension to the team and all-in-all I feel we are more balanced.
"Also Aileen Matthews and Patricia McAvoy have joined the management set-up, bringing a wealth of experience of the game at this level as former Armagh players.
"The side seems to be progressing all of the time and while the Cork game will give us a good indication of how far we have come, I am happy we are well equipped to put it up to them."
O'Hanlon has an extra incentive to get the better of Cork because in that last encounter she failed to convert what seemed like a straightforward free-kick in the closing stages as Armagh went down by one point.
"It was bitterly disappointing to lose by the narrowest of margins – especially given what happened with my late free," recalled O'Hanlon.
"I mistakenly thought we were behind by two points and, with time almost up, I dropped the ball in around the goalmouth to see if we could manage to get the goal which we apparently needed.
"The goal did not materialise and unfortunately, before we knew it, the game was over. It was a case of so near but so far and it was hard to take.
"For different reasons our preparations for that game had not gone as well as we would have liked and while Cork were the better team in the first half, we found our feet more after the break and gave a decent account of ourselves."
"We can take heart from how we have fared so far in the Championship – particularly against Laois in the last round" - Armagh's Caroline O'Hanlon
She continued: "For sure we could hardly have asked for a tougher draw for the semi-finals this year but if you want to succeed in the Championship, you are probably going to face bigger sides the further you advance.
"But we can take heart from how we have fared so far in the Championship – particularly against Laois in the last round.
"That was our first game in almost six weeks and we were a bit nervous beforehand about possibly struggling to get into the game, while it was also the first occasion in the campaign where we were the favourites to win. It was a big test for us but thankfully we came through it."
A victory over Cork would be another highlight this year for O'Hanlon, who already has plenty of standout moments to savour.
The dual star also played netball for Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games in July, helping them to claim an impressive seventh place overall. And she said it is an experience which is likely to stay with her for a long time.
O'Hanlon concluded: "I did not imagine that being involved in the Games would be as special as it turned out to be.
"It was a fantastic experience from the netball perspective and also in terms of the buzz and hype that surrounded the whole event. And with it taking place in Glasgow, it was as good as having it at home because it was easy for family and friends to come along and support us.
"Taking seventh spot was a great achievement for us as we are ranked just outside the top 10 in the world.
"We were outsiders going into the Games – just like Armagh have been for much of the Championship – and we enjoyed upsetting the odds a bit."