The sea of Armagh jerseys will once again flow through Clones Town on Sunday, for the first time since 2014. Oceans of Orange and White crashing through The Paragon, The Round Tower, the chip shops, the bars, the corner shops, while the tune of ‘hat scarves and headbands’ whistles in their ears. Reminiscing of days gone by, with the dream of more good days still to come.
Armagh fans can finally relive the buzz and magic that comes along with Ulster Championship games in the provinces main venue, with the hope of an Ulster Final on the horizon, a feeling they used to know all too well. The excitement will turn to nerves come four o’clock however as Mickey Graham’s Cavan men try to create their own history.
Armagh’s last final appearance came in 2008, seeing the end of the counties most dominant period in Ulster, as they were crowned champions 7 times in 10 years. Cavan similarly have suffered a long famine, their last Ulster final appearance coming in 2001, while they last captured the Anglo Celt cup in 1997.
Of course these sides have some recent history, crossing swords in the Ulster Championship in 2013, ‘14 and ‘16, Cavan coming out on top twice, with Armagh securing victory in 2014. Each game produced huge talking points, none more so than the bust up the teams shared before the parade in 2014. 2013 is remembered for Martin Dunne kicking 0-9 while the Orchard county failed to play with a sweeper while who could forget Paul Courtney’s appearance in the Armagh goal during the 2016 tie.
Both sides come into this game revived, Kieran McGeeney’s men getting over the line in the Ulster Championship at long last, while there is a feeling that this Cavan team has finally come of age, their first half demolition of Monaghan enough to see them through to the semi final stages.
This game has been built up as the battle of ‘Armagh’s Attack’ vs ‘Cavan’s Defence’, with Armagh undoubtedly having the stronger of the two forward lines. However, Martin Reilly, Dara McVeety, the roving Gearoid McKiernan and Conor Madden are not to be underestimated as these men played huge roles against Monaghan, who have one of the meanest defences in the country.
Armagh’s match ups will be hugely important as Cavan’s frequent movement in their forward line has the ability to pull Armagh’s rear guard out of shape and create pockets of space for the likes of Reilly and McKiernan to exploit. Reilly hit the headlines the last day out for his kick passes into the full forward line but a lot of his work was done in his own defensive third, which may suit this Armagh half back line as Kennedy and Forker can attack as well as they can defend.
It’s the full back line which Cavan will really target, the long high ball into the square causing havoc throughout the Down game, although Down didn’t utilise this tactic as often as they would have liked, they still got great success off it. Brendan Donaghy will of course be the sweeper and the main man attacking those high balls, his aerial ability unmatched by the other Armagh defenders.
At the other end of the field Conor Moynagh will be the free man, his responsibility will be to cut off the supply to Armagh’s most dangerous line, Jamie Clarke, Rian O’Neill and Andrew Murnin. Murnin, if he starts, adds a new dimension to this Armagh inside line, as not many counties have a full forward line of three players that each need man marked.
Padraig Faulkner will most likely pick up Rian O’Neill with Jason McLoughlin going toe-to-toe with Clarke however Cavan don’t seem to have another recognised man marker, perhaps Killian Clarke will drop back to defend the aerial threat of Murnin. Moynagh’s role will be difficult as the last day out Monaghan’s biggest danger was Conor McManus, while it’s hard to pin point Armagh’s ‘biggest’ threat.
Moynagh will of course have plenty of assistance, with Cavan likely to filter back quite quickly to counteract Armagh’s kicking game and deny goal opportunities, as they have done with great successes all year long, conceding only three goals over the course of eight games, while breaking out of their defence at pace when presented with a turnover.
The middle of the field is where the game could be won or lost, with Cavan’s Raymond Galligan often quite happy to pelt his kick outs down the middle, in the faith that his side has enough strength and bodies to win it either in the air or on the ground. Niall Grimley’s inclusion will be huge for Armagh and his partnership with Jarly Og Burns will fill the Armagh followers with the hope that they can at least break even in this sector of the field.
The pressure is off this Armagh side, as they have finally got a win in the Ulster championship and they head into this game as underdogs. How can Cavan deal with the demands of the favourites tag? Can they bring the same intensity that they did for their derby game against Monaghan? On the evidence of two weeks ago Cavan seem to be the most likely to make the Ulster Final, but there’s no denying that this Armagh team has enough talent to overcome the Breffni men.