Breffni boys leave Armagh feeling blue

Cavan and Armagh served up a superb afternoon of football with the winner in doubt throughout the second period until Cavan pulled away, crucially hitting six of the final seven points to overcome a spirited Armagh side. Dara McVeety led from the front while Cavan’s efficiency and accuracy before the posts allowed them to keep on top of the Orchard County for the duration of the contest.

Armagh could only ever get to within one of the eventual winners but were never fit to tie the game. In fact, after McVeety’s first point in the 5th minute, which matched Rian O’Neill’s opening score, the sides were never level again with Cavan managing to always keep their noses in front. However it was the moments before the 5th minute that will haunt Kieran McGeeney as he witnessed his side spurn two great goal opportunities.

Aidan Nugent had the first and trickiest shot on goal as his run along the end line meant the advancing Raymond Galligan could close the already limited space to knock the ball out for a 45. Just 60 seconds later Galligan was again called upon, with Jamie Clarke this time the man bearing down on goal. Galligan was well beaten this time as the Armagh man tried to pass the ball into the bottom corner, only to see his shot fizz past the post and strike the side netting.

Cavan blew a sigh of relief, and began to pile the pressure on the shoulders of the Armagh defenders as they chipped over the next four scores through Niall Murray (2), Conor Moynagh and Gearoid McKiernan in a six minute spurt. Moynagh’s point particularly caught the eye as the sweeper drifted forward to cut out an Armagh kick out and drive the ball over Blaine Hughes’ bar with the outside of his boot.

Rian O’Neill doubled his personal tally with another free before Cavan really found their groove, Murray, Killian Clarke, Oisin Pierson and ‘keeper Raymond Galligan all split the posts to widening the gap to seven, 0-9 to 0-2 after 24 minutes. Mark Shields also had a brilliant goal chance during this period but once more Galligan displayed his quick reflexes with another terrific save.

 Rian O’Neill tried to switch the momentum as he swung over a right footed point, but his score was soon cancelled out, Conor Moynagh providing the turnover which saw Cavan work the ball up the field once more. Martin Reilly and Conor Rehill combined to set up Gearoid McKiernan, his right footed point recapturing Cavan’s seven point advantage.  

Armagh burst into a 10 minute spell to see out the half, outscoring Cavan 0-5 to 0-1. Jamie Clarke and Niall Murray exchanged scores while Rian O’Neill’s 4th first half point saw the margin narrowed to six. It was the Jamie Clarke show in terms of scores until the half time break, the full forward striking three consecutive points (two frees) to see the gap dwindled to just three points, Cavan 0-11 Armagh 0-8.

Cavan were the side who made the blistering start after the interval, Niall Murray striking the upright after taking the ball round the keeper and rattling the post with his weaker left foot. Cavan regained possession of the ricocheted ball and won a free; Raymond Galligan once again called upon to give a master class of free kicks off the deck.

Oisin Kiernan’s point afforded Cavan some breathing space but the Crossmaglen duo of O’Neill (2) and Clarke (1) along with the tormenting Stefan Campbell (1) soon had Cavan panicking by cutting the Blues advantage to just a single point. Niall Murray restored their two point lead with a free kick before Clarke kicked his 6th of the evening, after great work from Paul Hughes combined with the fast hands of Rory Grugan saw the ball transferred to Clarke who done the rest.

Galligan stepped up once more to blast over his third point while the man of the match McVeety restored Cavan’s three point cushion on the 55th minute, now leading 0-16 to 0-13. An exquisite diagonal pass from last week’s game changer Cian Mackey allowed Martin Reilly to spin on to his left foot and send the ball between the posts.

Niall Grimley gathered possession in the centre of the park to set about another Armagh attack, ending this time with Rory Grugan turning inside his man and swinging the ball over the crossbar. Stefan Campbell’s direct running caused headaches for the Cavan defence all evening, his reward coming in the 59th minute as he converted his 2nd score of the game, with Clarke providing the assist.

Mackey attempted to produce the same heroics as seven days ago but this time was denied by the upright which allowed Armagh to counter attack with patience, working the ball to the ever reliable Jamie Clarke who confidently brought his side back to within one. Armagh continued to march forward but just couldn’t find that levelling score that may have changed the direction of the outcome.

Mackey’s contribution may not have been as keenly felt as the week previous but he did provide McVeety with an assist in the 63rd minute, McVeety cutting in from the left hand sideline to perfectly sway the ball between the sticks. The crowd were treated to another Moynagh specialty as the Drumgoon man advanced forward to slice the ball over the bar for the second time, leaving three the gap once again.

Mackey did finally split the posts as Cavan fans surely began to picture Clones on Ulster Final day but Armagh would have one more vital chance. Clarke danced through the Cavan defence and swiftly sent through Mark Shields for the second time to face Galligan, but his powerful shot flew over the top of the crossbar when the men in orange and white desperately needed it to crash under.

Armagh pressed high up the field in search of a game changing goal, which of course meant leaving more space in front of their full back line. Space was the enemy of Armagh’s man markers and Cavan had no problem exploiting the open ground with McVeety, McKiernan and Conor Rehill all charging forward to seal a famous win for the Breffni Blues.

Had Armagh got the levelling score they so desperately craved, or indeed landed just one of the goals from their golden chances, the outcome of the tie could have been much different. Cavan where hugely impressive in front of the posts and shared 11 different scorers on the day with McVeety, McKiernan and Moynagh sharing nine of the final total with free takers Niall Murray and Raymond Galligan also on form.

There can be no complaints as Cavan made every opportunity count and now face an intriguing battle with current Ulster champions Donegal in two weeks time. Armagh will also roll into Clones town that weekend as they have been drawn against Monaghan in the qualifiers. Time and date have yet to be confirmed.

Armagh: Blaine Hughes, Paddy Burns, Charlie Vernon, James Morgan, Paul Hughes, Ryan Kennedy, Aidan Forker, Jarly Og Burns, Niall Grimley, Aidan Nugent, Mark Shields (0-1), Jemar Hall, Rian O’Neill (0-6), Jamie Clarke (0-7), Andrew Murnin. Subs: Stefan Campbell (0-2) for A. Nugent, Aaron McKay for Charlie Vernon, Rory Grugan (0-1) for A. Murnin, Ben Crealey for J. Hall, Joe McElroy for J. Morgan, Ethan Rafferty for J. Og Burns.

Cavan: Raymond Galligan (0-3), Jason McLoughlin, Padraig Faulkner, Conor Moynagh (0-2), Martin Reilly (0-1), Killian Clarke (0-1), Conor Rehill (0-1), Conor Brady, Gearoid McKiernan (0-3), Oisin Kiernan (0-1), Dara McVeety (0-4), Niall Murray (0-5), Oisin Pierson (0-1), Thomas Galligan, Conor Madden.                                                                      Subs: Cian Mackey (0-1) for C. Madden, Stephen Murray for T. Galligan, Caoimhim O’Reilly for O. Pierson, Jack Brady for O. Kiernan