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Armagh v Cavan: Pre-match brawl stuns youngsters

By Declan Bogue

Armagh 1-12 - Cavan 0-9: Shocked youngsters looked on as Armagh and Cavan players clashed even before a ball was kicked in yesterday's Ulster Championship game, won by the Orchard County 1-12 to 0-9 at their Athletic Grounds.

The two county boards and teams could now face official action after GAA chiefs study referee Marty Duffy's report on the scenes.

The fracas occured when the Armagh team stood directly behind the Cavan flag for the pre-match parade, resulting in a flare-up with punches thrown right in front of the St Michael's Scout Band, who lead out the teams in Ulster matches.

Now, the GAA's Central Competitions Control Committee will examine Duffy's report before deciding on any possible sanctions. A number of players could face suspension for their role in the brawl, as the GAA will seek to obtain any footage available to them.

County boards may also be hit with financial penalties.

Normal service is resumed after that trippy episode in Brewster Park that produced 36 scores. Armagh beat Cavan in a spite-filled encounter and now face the winners of next Sunday's tie between Monaghan and Tyrone in the Ulster semi-final, fixed for Clones.

But let's address the elephant in the room.

The Athletic Grounds have hardly been a happy home in many senses lately. Since it was refurbished and reopened in 2011 they had played 25 times here in the Armagh city venue, but won only ten encounters.

Perhaps the Armagh team had that stat in mind, to go along with the hurt and embarrassment of last year's defeat in Breffni Park when they lined up behind the Cavan flag for the pre-match parade behind St Michael's Scout Band.

Ciaran McKeever led the team and took the toss, which would appear to state that Jamie Clarke is no longer captain of Armagh. Then he stood behind the Cavan flag.

When the Cavan team went to take their position, all manner of hell broke loose. Footage revealed a flurry of punches being landed with both teams collapsing in a wrestling, writhing heap on the floor.

After the situation was calmed, Cavan took their place behind their flag again, but McKeever walked up their line and stood in front of their captain, Alan Clarke.

Armagh manager Paul Grimley acted as peacemaker, instructing McKeever to stand in the correct line. It was messy and nasty looking and any amount of flinty rebuttals that this in some way adds to the traditional Ulster Championship intensity should be challenged vigorously.

In the meantime, sanctions are in the offing as the Croke Park disciplinary bodies consider their next step.

Afterwards, an Ulster GAA spokesman said it will not be within the Ulster Council's remit to hand down punishments, commenting: "We cannot comment until the referee submits his match report. It will be a matter for the Central Competitions Control Committee to address."

Flare-ups such as these happen, but should never be acceptable. Cavan's Martin Dunne, who scored eight points in this fixture last year, is due to have an x-ray on what is believed to be a suspected broken hand sustained in the melee, according to his manager Terry Hyland.

"It would appear to have happened at the start of the parade. In that incident.

"His hands and his arm are injured, I hadn't time to talk to him with the game about to start but it happened at that juncture," maintained Hyland afterwards.

When asked if the Cavan Gaels man might have been targeted by Armagh players, he responded tersely, "He was well spoken about in the Press during the week."

Onto the football then.

Without Dunne at the head of their attack and Cian Mackey who was ruled out of the starting line-up, Cavan had no edge. They placed David Givney at full-forward alongside Eugene Keating who chipped over two early frees.

But after that, they completely lost their way, taking 39 minutes to land their next score and their first from play.

The midfield sector was also owned by the Orchard men when they turned over no less than seven of the Cavan kickouts in the first half, pushing up on Cavan sweeper Alan Clarke to force Conor Gilsenan to kick long, where they gobbled up the breaks.

Up front, the industry of Stefan Campbell and Kevin Dyas made them effective link-men and when they attacked they brought defenders forward to create overlaps and moved into half-time three points up.

Four scores came from frees, Eugene McVerry the third man to be trialled as a right-footed kicker and nailing two, Jamie Clarke helping himself to a brace.

It wasn't all positive for Armagh though as they ran up 11 wides in the first half.

Desperate to get their hands on the ball, Cavan brought Givney out the field and put Niall McDermott closer to goal and they might have got back into it when a Givney delivery was fielded by Eugene Keating but his shot was kept out by Philip McEvoy.

Keating then missed a simple free before half-time and as the sides were leaving the field he received a blow to the back. Referee Marty Duffy chose to book Keating, just one example in a long line of ludicrous decisions.

Cavan almost had a goal when Martin Reilly's diagonal ball was touched on by Keating. McEvoy was there again to keep it out and while a touch of goalline pinball developed, Charlie Vernon was on hand to boot it off the line.

Givney flashed into the game for a strong period, chalking up a point along with Gearoid McKiernan and Feargal Flanagan to leave only three points in it with 20 minutes remaining to play.

However, a sideline ball was worked to Jamie Clarke, his looping ball in wasn't dealt with by Flanagan and Caolan Rafferty scooped it up and rifled it past Gilsenan from a tight angle to leave the margin at six points. Almost immediately, you knew that Cavan would be tuning into Monday morning's qualifier draw.

Aaron Kernan was introduced and feasted on the tiring Cavan defence, racking up three points. Cavan's frustration manifested itself in two late black cards.

It was a day that Armagh refused to take a backward step and it served them well, with Ciaran McKeever indulging in a little dark art straight from the Martin Johnson playbook.

But flags, eh? They cause some bother in this part of the world.

ARMAGH: P McEvoy; J Morgan, C Vernon, A Mallon; M Shields 0-1, B Donaghy, C McKeever; K Toner, A Findon; E McVerry 0-2, 2f, K Dyas, C Rafferty 1-0; S Campbell, E Rafferty 0-2, 1x'45', J Clarke 0-4, 2f

Subs: A Kernan 0-3, 1f, for Shields (40), K Carragher for Campbell (51), T Kernan for McVerry (57), G McCooey for Clarke (69)

Yellow cards: McKeever (49m), E Rafferty (60m)

Black cards: E Rafferty (70m)

Red cards: E Rafferty (70m)

CAVAN: C Gilsenan; J McLoughlin, R Dunne, F Flanagan 0-1; J McEnroe, A Clarke, D O'Reilly; G McKiernan 0-2, 1f, D Givney 0-2; D McVeety, N McDermott, M Reilly; E Keating 0-2, 2f, J Brady, K Brady

Subs: C Mackey 0-1, for O'Reilly (HT), T Mooney for McDermott (HT), R Maloney-Derham for K Brady (HT), M Argue for Clarke (57), J Hayes for McEnroe (BC, 62), M McKeever 0-1, for Maloney-Derham (BC, 69)

Yellow cards: McVeety (2m), McLoughlin (23m), Keating (35m), Argue (69m)

Black cards: McEnroe (62m), Maloney-Derham (67m)

Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo)

Attendance: 14,991

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