Card frenzy as Orchard cut down in fiery battle
Bank of Ireland McKenna Cup: Armagh 0-11 - Cavan 2-8
Any lingering notion that the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup is nothing more than a gentle preamble into the more serious business of the GAA season was emphatically kicked into touch as Cavan triumphed 2-8 to 0-11 over Armagh in this turbulent, fractious encounter at Oliver Plunkett Park, Crossmaglen yesterday.
Five red, four yellow and two black cards provided telling evidence of a feisty narrative that blasted rather than tamely nudged the door to 2016 open.
And the match provided plenty of food for thought for Orchard County boss Kieran McGeeney.
"The first-half was a write-off from our perspective although the second-half was better but overall it was not a good spectacle," admitted McGeeney. "We found it hard to get going. Every time we got the ball there appeared to be a foul. It's not a great start but the second-half at least gives us something from which to push on."
For Cavan, though, the win provided encouragement that manager Terry Hyland was happy to embrace despite the manner in which the contest was besmirched.
"The McKenna Cup always provides battles for everybody," declared Hyland. "We were that little bit more organised and the two early goals gave us breathing space. We set up defensively and tried to hit Armagh on the break and that sums up our game.
"At half-time we spoke about the effort we needed to keep putting in and while we had some fine individual displays this was in essence a fine team win."
Indeed, Cavan, inspired by Niall McDermott and Dara McVeety, looked set to enjoy a stroll in the park when they careered into a 2-6 to 0-3 lead at the interval even though they played for the greater part of that period with 14 men and for the last 15 minutes with 13.
David Giveny was first to exit proceedings in the sixth minute and he was followed to the dug-out by Joshua Hayes in the 20th minute yet Cavan, bolstered by fine twin strikes from Niall McDermott in the seventh minute and Christopher Conroy in the 20th minute, managed to maintain their shape and held their hosts to just one point from play in the opening 34 minutes.
Cavan's ability to break and use space intelligently discomfited Armagh and Hyland's men were good value for their handsome interval advantage.
Armagh enjoyed their best spell in the third quarter when Gavin McParland, Brendan Donaghy, Michael McKenna, Stefan Campbell and Ethan Rafferty trimmed the lead to 2-7 to 0-8.
Yet even though Cavan only managed to score twice after the break, Armagh contributed to their own misfortune by having Aaron Findon sent off in the 56th minute before Donaghy was dismissed four minutes later.
In a tense finish Armagh scooped points through Stefan Forker, McParland and Rafferty but even though Killian Brady became the third Cavan player to incur the ultimate sanction, his side still held out to win.
Armagh: M McNeice; R McCaughley, C Vernon, M Murray; S Forker 0-1 (f), C McKeever, A Forker; A Findon, N Grimley; R Grugan, N McConville, S Campbell 0-2; E Rafferty 0- 4 (2f), A Murnin, G McParland 0-2. Subs: J McElroy for McCaughley (25), B Donaghy 0-1 for Murnin (Black card - 27), M McKenna 0-1 for McConville (half-time), E McVerry for Grimley (53), J Feeney for Campbell (53), J Hall for Vernon (Black Card - 58). Yellow cards: Findon (33), McKeever (39).Red cards: Findon (56), Donaghy (61).
Cavan: A O'Meara; J Hayes, K Brady, P Faulkner; C Brady, N Murray, D McVeety; B Sankey, L Buchanan 0-1; C Conroy 1-2 (1f), N McDermott 1-1 (0-1f), E Henry 0-1; D Givney, T Moore, M Reilly 0-1 (f). Subs; T Hayes 0-2 for Moore (44), T Carr for Conroy (46), B Tully for Henry (51), L Murphy for Sankey (52), P O'Connor for McDermott (66), J Brady for McVeety (68). Red Cards: Givney (5), J Hayes (20), K Brady (70).
Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry).