By Shaun Casey
THE last time Armagh faced Carlow, the sides engaged in an enthralling encounter that the Orchard eventually won by six points.
Rachael Merry was instrumental that day, coming off the bench to score a crucial second-half goal and set up another.
The Granemore sharpshooter suffered a terrible injury before the All-Ireland campaign commenced in 2021, when she tore her hamstring off the bone in a challenge game.
“I done it right before the All-Ireland quarter-final. It was a challenge game the week before that match, it was in a tackle. I slipped funny and it just went,” she said.
“Whenever I got the MRI and all it broke my heart to be honest, whenever I realised I was going to be out for so long.
“But then I flipped it and was determined to get back as soon as I possibly could. They told me nine months and I got back in six. I’m three months ahead of schedule so that’s why I’m just taking it easy and try to ease myself back into it.”
After six months of rehab and recovery, Merry made her comeback appearance in last week’s one-point defeat to Cavan.
“At the start I couldn’t even walk for about eight weeks or so, I was in a big leg brace.
“Basically I had to do a lot of the rehab myself and then the more I came out of it, a few months in, I went to Bubba (a local gym) and was doing a lot of PTs with him.
“I’ve probably only been back fully training for the last two or three weeks. I probably wasn’t even expecting it (game time) to be honest. I got 25 or 30 minutes, so I was happy enough with that but I’m definitely still a bit rusty now.”
The new management team, led by Jim McKernan, have been a big aid in getting the accurate attacker back on the field.
Armagh were missing their star player Ciara Donnelly last weekend and with Leanne Donnelly and Merry only coming back into the fold, preparations haven’t been the best.
“They’re brilliant (the management), they’re very understanding. They knew all about the injury and they basically said to ease myself back in and not be trying to do too much too soon.
“I’d say we’ve been transitioning this year, we’ve a lot of youth coming in. We were missing a lot of the Ballymacnab ones for a while and then Leanne and Ciara (Donnelly). It was disappointing to lose (against Cavan) but at the same time we’re not too worried about it, we should be ok.”
Still the eyes firmly remain on capturing the Junior All-Ireland crown, just as they did in 2020. Armagh reached the decider last season, but Wexford edged an entertaining game. Merry insists their pushing hard to get back to that stage.
“The team goal would definitely be winning this All-Ireland and if you win the league, it’s a boost but we are mainly looking towards August and getting over the line.”